I’m proof that improvement is possible after a COPD exacerbation

Carefully following her care plan has had exciting results for this columnist

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by Caroline Gainer |

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Progress is often painfully slow when managing chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and recovering from exacerbations, but improvement is possible. Please allow me to relate an example from my personal experience.

Since I was released from the hospital on Aug. 16, 2022, following an exacerbation of my disease, I have religiously complied with my discharge plan, which includes exercising, practicing breathing techniques, eating well, getting enough sleep, taking my medications, and maintaining a positive mental attitude.

I followed these practices in hopes that I could reduce my supplemental oxygen needs, allowing me to have some non-concentrator time. I didn’t want to be permanently tethered to a concentrator.

As of this writing, I’m on my fourth day of breathing room air except for when I’m sleeping or partaking in vigorous activity. I believe that three things explain my improvement: The above practices are working. My body is finally healing. God chose now to work a miracle for me.

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My journey with long-term supplemental oxygen due to COPD

The journey

On Aug. 7, I woke and couldn’t breathe. My oxygen level was in the low 80s, and it wouldn’t come up, even with my stationary concentrator turned up to 6 liters per minute (lpm). I got my portable concentrator, turned it up as far as it could go, put both cannulas in my nose, and lay down. My oxygen level reached the high 80s, but according to the Cleveland Clinic, a person should go to the emergency room if their blood oxygen level is at 88% or lower.

I called an ambulance and was transported to the hospital, where I was admitted. My doctors started me on Vapotherm high velocity therapy at 9 lpm of oxygen during the day. The BiPAP machine, also set to 9 lpm, was my friend at night.

During my admission, I had to be weaned down from the high-flow oxygen so that I could safely return home, where my concentrator provided a maximum of 6 lpm.

When I transitioned home, I was prescribed home healthcare, which consisted of a visiting nurse and a physical therapist. I couldn’t walk down my 9-foot hallway without having to stop and let my oxygen level recover.

After evaluating me, the physical therapist told me to practice walking halfway down the hall, stopping to recover, and then walking back. She advised me to walk every two hours. My usual practice would involve twice as much activity, but I was fragile, so I complied with her instructions.

Once I was able to walk the hallway without stopping, we started some seated strength training with bands. From there, we transitioned to sit-to-stand exercises, and then to standing and moving exercises with resistance.

The next step in my recovery was pulmonary rehabilitation, which I did virtually. The pandemic had closed our local rehab center and it hadn’t yet reopened. I was fortunate to be asked to evaluate three virtual rehabilitation programs.

I maintained the general exercise routine recommended by my pulmonary rehab program, but I made some small changes so that I’d be exercising different accessory muscles. In addition, I combined my pursed lip and diaphragmatic breathing practices into a single exercise, and began practicing the harmonica more consistently.

I was starting to notice the benefits when my oxygen hose detached from the concentrator one morning last week. I fed my animals before realizing what had happened, and then quickly reattached the hose. But when I measured my oxygen level, it was at 92%. I had expected a reading in the low 80s.

At first, I thought I was mistaken. I decided to remove the cannula from my nose and see if my oxygen fell below 88%. My oxygen kept climbing — all the way to 98%. I was so happy that I did a little seated dance with a few praises of the Lord thrown in. I waited a day before posting my good fortune to COPD360social, the COPD Foundation’s online community, because I was afraid it was a fluke.

If you’re living with COPD, keep on following your care plan and trust that it’s working. You may not achieve the same results that I have, but the practices are still doing good things for your body. By continuing healthy habits, we can enjoy the benefits of healthy living.


Note: COPD News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of COPD News Today or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.