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6 Tips for Shielding with COPD

Reading time | 9 mins

Six months ago, I took early retirement on severance from the company I worked at for twenty-two years.  My official retirement date was 2023, but due to my failing health, I decided that I would take early retirement at the earliest opportunity – after taking into account the financial implications of such a move. 

Luckily for me, the stars seemed to align late last year, and I was offered the chance to take voluntary severance. I gladly accepted the kind offer!

A bit of background on my journey with COPD

At the time I had been off work for eight months, sick with breathing difficulties and vomiting which was later followed by a particularly acute exacerbation of my COPD symptoms. The COPD had been diagnosed a few years earlier. 

This exacerbation left me hospitalised for three days, and I have never felt so ill in all my life. 

I couldn’t walk more than a few steps without fighting for breath and I was coughing (or should I say barking) constantly. I hated it in hospital and left as soon as they would let me.

Once home, I had a team coming every day to monitor me. They also supplied me with equipment such as a reclining frame for my bed so that I could sit upright to help with my breathing, nebulizers and all the associated medications.

It took a few weeks to return to anything like normality.

During that period I suffered two bouts of unconsciousness when fighting for breath, and obviously, the doctors wanted to know why.  At first it was thought that I might have had a couple of transient ischaemic attacks (TIAs or mini strokes), but on further investigation the specialist concluded that it had been panic attacks, caused by me struggling to breathe. 

I had heard that panic attacks were terrifying, and believe me they are, as any of you who suffer from them will know. The uncertainty of my ability to stay conscious meant I definitely couldn’t return to work (needless to say this a slight disadvantage in a working environment).

Anyway, long story short, my health has been much better ever since, and I now know that I have to treat myself properly for it to stay that way. 

Which brings me to the reason for this article

So why am I writing this? I want you to look after yourself and your loved ones during lockdown in its various stages.

My ramblings above are there for a reason. They are to show that we need to take COVID-19 very seriously, especially if you live with COPD.  I quickly realised that if I contracted the virus, it was quite likely that I would be in trouble.

I wanted to share a few practises that my family and I have stuck to over the period so far. We implemented these taking into account the information we had at the time, so if you want to copy some of it, be sure to adapt accordingly as newer guidelines and research appears.

Identify the people around you who are most vulnerable

The means family and friends or anyone you come into contact with regularly. By now, most people will know if they fall into that category, but if you don’t, you can found out here. Special care should be taken around these people, as it’s likely they will be staying at home and keeping contact with the outside world to a minimum – also known as “shielding”. In other words, by your actions and behaviours, you can shield your vulnerable loved ones from the risk factors associated with the disease. 

Myself and Denise live in an end of terrace house, with my mother-in-law living next door.  She is an 84-year-old widow, and like myself has COPD.  Obviously, she is at very high risk, and my wife was understandably concerned about her mum’s ability to understand how to protect herself.  Right at the start, we decided that she would move in with us for the twelve week lockdown period.  That way, we could control her protection in line with ours. 

If you fall into the “vulnerable” category yourself (like me), the best way to do this is to make sure that you follow the government guidelines to keep yourself safe.

Tell friends and family how it is

Please do not be afraid to speak up if you believe friends and family are putting others at risk by their actions. The potential consequences are too great!  I know it’s not the “British” thing to complain, but do it.  

Myself and my wife Denise are very lucky to have a large family who we didn’t have to prompt to do the right things. They listened to the guidelines on who the vulnerable were, and decided on a course of action to look after their family and friends.  Unfortunately, this type of support network isn’t the case for everyone, with many people only able to call on a few people that they can rely upon, if any at all.

Create an alternative shopping arrangement

Our three daughters and their partners get whatever we need for us. They observe the rules in the supermarkets and leave the items on the path in the back garden.  When they leave, we take items out of the bags, throw the bags into the recycling and spray all the items which are watertight with a disinfectant spray and leave them to sit for about half an hour.   

Items which cannot be sprayed such as packets with breathe holes or cardboard cereal packets etc. we either wipe with disinfectant wipes or wipe with a dampened cloth with the disinfectant spray.  Then we thoroughly wash our hands.  After half an hour we either rinse the products in water, or wipe with a water dampened cloth.  When this process is done, we thoroughly wash our hands with soap, and the job is done.

If people can help you with your shopping, remember to remain (at least) two metres apart in situations where, for instance, you are taking bags of food from them. However, to ensure safety, you must assume that those people have been infected, and have left traces of the disease on anything they have touched.  This goes for parcel deliveries, milk deliveries, or any item that arrives from the “outside world”.  In these instances, I refer you to the disinfecting methods previously mentioned.

Keeping in touch with family and friends

From our own family’s point of view, we have had our three daughters and their partners and our seven grandchildren come to visit, one family at a time. They would sit on the chairs just inside our back garden, while we would sit about four metres away at the other side of the garden.

Our biggest challenge has been having our family and friends close to us, and being allowed no physical contact.  In the case of grandchildren and babies, it’s almost torture! 

But at least we are having contact in most other ways.  We also play games on WhatsApp like Bingo, Family Fortunes and have had a few general knowledge quizzes.  Sometimes we decide on a theme and send silly drawings to each other. This is how we as a family are surviving this crisis. 

I know that we are very lucky in having so many people around us, and this is unfortunately, not a recognisable situation for some people.

For those of you who have very few, or no close family and friends around you, if there is anyone that you can speak to on the phone, please do so. Even a ten minute chat every now and again can stop you feeling totally isolated.  

Accessing healthcare

Don’t forget your GP’s surgery is still there and only too happy to help with any health queries or worries.  This includes COVID-19-related issues, and perhaps even more importantly, all other non-COVID-19-related health issues.

Your doctor will have taken steps to allow them and their team to cope with the regular work load and the current pandemic.  You can also talk to support services such as social care services if you have any other worries.

There is nothing wrong with just saying “I’m worried and I don’t know what to do.” You will have alerted people who will put things in motion to help you.

My own experience of how the N.H.S. has managed my health issues through this crisis has been very positive.

Because of my various health problems, I have to have various checks (blood sugar, blood pressure, cholesterol, breathing test updates etc.,).  I will also have occasional appointments with specialists.  My doctor or the hospital have automatically kept me informed of any changes to dates and have informed me if my face to face appointment was replaced by a phone call.

During the call they would determine whether I needed to attend the surgery or hospital for my check-up or appointment.  In most cases I didn’t.   

There were two occasions where phone calls couldn’t do, as I had to have blood tests and other physical checks.  The doctor’s receptionist phoned me a few days before my appointment time, and told me to arrive at the side entrance to the surgery and gave me a phone number to ring when I arrived outside. This meant I did not have to go through the main reception area. 

A tool I’ve found to be very useful at my own doctors is an app called MyGP, but I understand that a similar service is provided at most GPs under a different name.  If you are able to use this type of app, or have someone looking after you who is, I strongly recommend it.  It allows you to re-order medication, either singularly or collectively, see your medication history, book appointments and loads more genuinely useful features. 

Maintaining an exercise regime

I am supposed to go for a brisk walk every day due to my vascular disease (I have a stent in my left leg), but obviously this has not been possible.  It’s a shame, because this helps with my COPD too. Instead, I am now doing a set of exercises which I did on a pulmonary rehabilitation course.  

Your doctor will be able to advise on this – in fact it is possible that you have already attended one as a COPD sufferer.  Alternatively, you could go online and search “exercises for COPD patients”. 

I sincerely hope some of this information will be helpful to you. These are worrying times for us all, and it’s likely we’ll be in it for the long haul. But as we all know, it will pass, so please take care and I wish you the very best health possible.

NPS-TPE-NP-00018 July 2020