Understanding COPD: Try being in their shoes



Would you want to spend a day in your life trying to be in the shoes of a COPD patient?Not many would agree to be in such a situation, but this TV celebrity decided to take on the challenge.

Nadia Sawalha, a UK TV persona, spent a day as a COPD patient. With a tight corset wrapped over her abdomen and a mask over her nose and mouth to try to constrain breathing, she was able to simulate the breathing conditions of COPD sufferers. And with this set-up, she went about her daily activities, including going shopping and attempting to cook up a recipe.

Nadia remembers her late grandmother, who had COPD. She recalls that when being with her “nan,” as she fondly called her grandmother, they would often stop every few minutes on walks, with her nan looking around.  She remembers herself asking, somewhat annoyed, “Why does she keep stopping?” Now, she understands the feeling and why her nan kept pausing, bending over, or holding on to walls. “She was just desperately trying to take a breath,” says Nadia.

With the COPD simulation, the UK celebrity described how she had difficulty doing simple things we take for granted, such as going up the stairs, buying groceries, and even trying to cook. Since she loved cooking and the kitchen, she narrates how frustrating it was for her to have difficulty reaching up and down for things she needed, since the wheezing and gasping for breath always seemed to get in the way. “Its as if when your airways narrow, so does your very life,” says Nadia.

When asked about how she found the experience, she said that it was “truly horrific.” She recounts the feeling of “trying so hard to open your lungs” and being unable to have a conversation “because all you can think about is your next breath.”

All in all, she says that the experience has made her feel closer to her nan. It has also made her understand the challenges COPD patients go through everyday, and that she was fortunate to still have normally functioning lungs. Being a former smoker, she is now a staunch advocate of early COPD diagnosis, especially after knowing how it feels like to lose a percentage of your breathing capacity. She implores people to get checked immediately if they think they may have COPD, saying that “it is not something you always get tested for, so it’s good to ask your doctor.”

Nadia believes that staying active is one of the best things COPD patients can choose to do. Though there may be challenges, and though it may be much easier to stay in bed or slack off on exercise, keeping active will pay off and prevent you from feeling worse. “People use wheelchairs and ramps at home, when really, they need more exercise,” states Nadia.

Upon taking off the corset, she breathed a sigh of relief, saying that the experience made her realize how lucky she was. Though people with COPD cannot do the same and just take off any virtual corset to feel better, with the right treatment and proper daily habits, there is hope to feeling much better.

Though we aren’t challenged to do the same and experience a day in a COPD patient’s shoes, the message here is clear. An understanding of COPD is much needed in today’s society, especially where we see patients walking around with portable oxygen equipment. Becoming more aware of this condition helps us be more considerate toward our involvement in producing pollutants like cigarette and automobile smoke or in the use of chemical irritants like cleaning solutions. If you know someone with COPD, it’s a good idea to pause for a while, take a deep breath, try feeling what they’re feeling, and think about how you can help.