Monday, January 30, 2017

Public Information Coupled with Prophecy

I'm betting you all hear someone at some point, every year, say, 'This bloody cold has been bugging me for weeks now' or something very similar.

Here's the thing - a cold virus lasts between 24 and a little less than 72 hours. Plus, unlike flu viruses, the number of which can be counted in the tens, cold viruses can be counted in their thousands and this is fundamentally the main reason why scientists will not come up with a cure for the common cold anytime soon. That doesn't really address the opening sentence though.

When you get a cold, your natural immune system does what it is designed to do, it fights the cold virus and it kicks its arse. Cold viruses are nasty little buggers, but they aren't usually killers. However, depending on your current state of health when you get a cold, you could be open to a number of other things, which aren't colds but we associate them with colds and therefore believe them to be either the same cold or another - a misnomer that a well known newspaper debunked recently. The fact is when we get a cold and we kick its arse, it depletes our immune system to the level of allowing other, related, ailments to gain a foothold. You know all that green snot you get about four or five days after you have a cold. That isn't the cold, it's sinusitis - an inflammation of your sinuses caused by some other bug that has managed to inveigle its way into your head. What about that cough? That must be the cold? No, it's probably inflammation of your airways because of the cold. What about the headaches and the aches that stick around? Well, the headache could be caused by a number of things, probably the coughing or the sinusitis. The aches are simple; we all get them, but being run down from having had a cold makes you feel achy.

But... what about when the cold actually comes back. You know, almost the same symptoms but about two weeks after? Yep, that's a cold. Only it's not the cold, its another one, because your immune system has fucked up one virus, but not another similar one which now uses your immune-deficient system to piggyback into another bout of you feeling crap, having a runny nose and general shitty-ness, known in some circles as 'man-flu'. But it isn't the same cold and you're unlikely to suffer from that one ever again (because there's thousands of cold viruses, you could catch a different one every week for 1000 weeks and there'd still be thousands left to bugger you up).

So when someone says, 'this bloody cold will never go away' you just know that they're suffering from related ailments connected to them having had a cold, which have then rolled onto another cold.



Now, as many people who know me will be aware I have COPD or in my case Chronic Bronchitis and it is incurable and it will rob me of years of potential life. It is what my mum died of and in 2012 I discovered I would follow suit. Being diagnosed with it at 50 was scary and as my mum was 64 when she died it is even scarier, considering I moan incessantly about how fast time flies.

I addressed the problem immediately and stopped smoking on August 10, 2012. I have fallen off the wagon a few times, the worst being last summer when positives turned to negatives and instead of falling into another bout of depression (another problem with COPD is you tend to get chronic illness depression) I started smoking again, specifically my old friend cannabis.

It was done almost as a celebratory thing. Look that sounds twisted but bear with me. I was initially diagnosed as 'severe' which is also scary seeing as there are only four stages of COPD and the final one has the word 'palliative' associated to it and if you don't know what that means, Google it. When, last spring, I was told I was now 'moderate' it appeared that 3½ years of cessation had been extremely beneficial; my COPD nurse was really surprised and over the moon and my lung capacity charts were incredibly heartening. So when I lost my new job in May, I went round a friend's house, got stoned. I mean, my lungs were better now so why not let my hair down?

It didn't take me long to realise that I was probably now doing far more damage than ever before, because I was now looking to socialise with people I know who smoke. Hell, I even got a job in a taxi firm with NO no smoking policy in their offices. I've now fallen back onto the wagon, which considering what happened is probably a good thing, but for a couple of months I was stupid.

Now, here's the irony. If I get bronchitis (and I'm prone to about two bouts a year, which is really surprisingly good considering the word 'chronic' and what it means), it has this rather bizarre effect on me. For about three days, until the shit [read: phlegm] really hits the fan, I can breathe better than I have for about seven or eight years. I've often joked that if I could have the bronchitis without the infection I'd be happy because I don't seem to suffer from the 'obstructive' part anywhere near as badly as I do when I'm 'healthy'. I also joke with people that the thing that scares me the most isn't a chest infection, but a simple, common or garden ... COLD.

My specialist nurse practitioner said to me during my first appointment after diagnosis that colds were not good for COPD sufferers and they were as serious as the flu was for the elderly (now I have regular flu shots every year and I've had the pneumonia shot which keeps me free from that for a few more years). I said to the wife two weeks ago when she had two days off of work with a really horrid cold bug that I couldn't remember the last time I had an actual cold virus. Tempting fate or what?

On Thursday, I woke up at about 8am with that slightly 'electric' feeling coursing through my veins; that 'uh-oh, something aint right' feeling and when I hacked up a load of unpleasant coloured mucous (it's something I've grown accustomed to, not the unpleasant colour, just the mucous) and my throat felt like it had been caressed with razor-blades, my first thought was bronchitis. It wasn't.

I'd started to feel vaguely human again by Thursday night I figured I'd maybe picked up one of those 24 hour bugs, but Friday morning arrived and I again felt like shit - but worse. I still did my stuff, the chores around the house, the cooking, dog walks, but by Friday afternoon I felt bloody awful, like I shouldn't have done any of the things I usually do. By the evening I was proper ill.

We'll skip Saturday for a second and fast forward to today. I got up at 9am and by mid afternoon I was feeling pretty good. By 11pm - while writing this - I was pretty much back to normal, with only the residual effects giving me grief. I have a sore chest from all the tickly coughing and I'm a wee bit snotty still, but honestly, I feel considerably better. (although in the two hours since writing this all and then taking a break from it I have had two almighty sneezing and coughing fits...)

On Saturday morning, I really thought I was going to die and when I didn't I realised that I now knew how I was eventually going to die. From the common cold. I am a Martian. I must be....

One of the worst things about getting old is the need to have to get up in the night, sometimes more than once, to have a pee. Despite the cold weather, it's never really been that much of a problem, even if I sometimes would forget to breathe while peeing because I was so cold and had something akin to an asthma attack as a result. It sounds stupid but apparently I'm far from unique on this front, except most people who do it (or don't as the case may be) don't have chronic respiratory problems...

I take something called a carbocisteine, which, without going into fine detail, helps me shift unwanted junk off my chest, especially in the morning, because at night my airways produce lots of stuff to protect them from the fact they are permanently damaged - this isn't anywhere as positive as it sounds. However, at 8.15am, it had been over 8 hours since my last dose and after walking downstairs to get the paper and take my morning tablets, I realised that I could barely breathe. In fact, I couldn't catch my breath at all and anyone who is asthmatic without an inhaler will tell you, when you can't breathe you panic and if you panic you forget about breathing and a normally vicious circle turns into a psychopathic nutcase of a circle. I've managed to train myself to calm down and override the panic, so imagine what was going through my mind when I discovered that not only was I panicking, but I couldn't calm myself down and I started to realise I was suffocating.

Oh boy... think you've been scared? Try imagining you're suffocating...

Also, just to add insult to injury, it was cold on Saturday morning, very cold, and one of my triggers to calming myself down is to wrap myself in something warm to focus on. I was standing in the kitchen, freezing my arse off and I couldn't breathe. I had visions of the wife finding me dead on the kitchen floor. I kept having blasts on my Ventolin, but as any COPD expert will tell you, it's better for asthma sufferers and not a lot of good for anything else, and it wasn't working. I couldn't even hyper-ventilate, which is also a trick to combat it, because I couldn't get enough breath to do it fast enough.

Eventually, I managed to get myself under control, but not before scaring the living crap out of myself. I did it by literally remembering something from the Dr Strange film we'd watched the night before, about having to learn to do something or you'd die. I focused the cold out and slowly, but surely began to breathe deeper and more evenly. The rest of Saturday was awful, truly awful and I then had another, less severe, attack at 3.45am Sunday morning. Fortunately that took a couple of minutes to get over - as I was in a warm bad - the one on Saturday morning took a lot longer to get under control (or it might not have been, it just felt like an eternity).

Some time in the future I am going to get a cold at a point where I am not as strong as I am currently and it will kill me. I no longer have any doubt about it. I think that it might have been exacerbated by my bit of falling off the wagon in the summer, but the reality is colds are up there with cancer, heart attacks and being shot by an American as potentially deadly things.

As a result I've decided to be pro-active. Up until last summer I'd got myself to a pretty fit level, probably fitter than I had been for a long time. I strengthened all the core muscles, I walked 2 miles a day with the dogs and I pushed myself to the point where my recovery levels even impressed me, but I potentially ruined it, so I have to do it all again, even though I'm older and have probably done some more irreparable damage.

I've enquired about Tai Chi, as this has been recommended by a number of organisations and I've been encouraged to join a COPD choir - which presently scares me more than dying. Once the residue of the cold is gone and I've avoided every living being for three weeks so I don't catch another, I am going to start pushing myself again, even if it kills me...

I kind of feel that I'd rather die of a heart attack doing something, than in a wheelchair, with an oxygen mask on gasping for breath that never reaches my shrivelled lungs. I'm never going to do anything really strenuous again, but I'm 55 in April, I probably won't want to. I'd really like 15 more years, anything over 70 would be a bonus and a half. To be able to do that I need to look after myself and avoid cold viruses. The problem is there's 1000s of the buggers and there's only one, quite damaged, me. I've always liked crappy odds...

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