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Asthma: "It's a battle"

Published Jun 17, 2021 • By Aurélien De Biagi

GILBERTJOEL, a member of Carenity France, has both asthma and COPD.

He tells us about how both conditions have affected his life - from initial symptoms, diagnosis, and living with both diseases.

Discover his story below!

Asthma:

Hello GILBERTJOEL, thank you for agreeing to share your story with us here on Carenity.

First of all, could you tell us a little bit about yourself?

I am 74 years old and retired from the Post Office where I was Regional Director. We live in Pont-Aven (in the Finistère department of Brittany in western France) in a house with a little wood just off the back garden. My wife and I have faced some serious health problems together, especially for my wife (breast cancer). We have been married for 48 years, we have 2 children and 4 grandchildren, whom I've been helping this past year through the pandemic (mostly in French, history and philosophy). We have a very strong and loving family life. I like to get involved in many organizations and institutions, I also like politics as I was a supporter and activist for socialist values for 50 years. I love life, solidarity, sharing, the French republican values of freedom, equality and fraternity, but also secularism. I love the fight against all forms of segregation, I love poetry, painting and communication. I believe deeply in Humanity

When were you diagnosed? What were the circumstances?

I discovered that I had asthma in 1995, during a climb on a very beautiful ridge (the Chalam ridge) in the Jura mountains on the French-Swiss border. I arrived at the summit with my lungs and airways completely blocked. A cardiac stress test later revealed exercise-induced bronchoconstriction, aka exercise-induced asthma. A few months later I was working in the Marne and one foggy morning I almost passed out from suffocation. A pulmonologist's diagnosis was clear: asthma and, without doubt, genetic asthma. I had lost 1/3 of my respiratory capacity.

How did you experience your first asthma attack? How did you feel?

I felt total panic from the feeling of suffocation I was trying to counteract. I knew nothing about this disease. My father had had asthma attacks but we didn't talk about it as children. So I found out much later! I was 48 years old at the time and the sport I practiced at a high level had compensated for the asthma. So I had never experienced an attack in my youth. My profession took me to many departments: from the Ile de France region of Paris, to the Jura department near Switzerland (1992) - then to the Marne in northeastern France (1995) - then to the Indre et Loire in the west (1997) - then to the Finistère in Brittany (2001) - then to the North and finally back to the Ile de France, hence the difficulty of having my lungs monitored by the same doctor!

Has asthma ever limited your activities? What symptoms do you experience in the day-to-day? What stage of asthma are you in now?

It limited me in sport, but not in any other activities which were more intellectual in nature.

Today I have excellent treatment and I have few symptoms. No suffocation attacks. A little coughing and sputum.

My asthma has evolved into stage 1 COPD.

Asthma attacks can manifest themselves in different ways for different people, how do they manifest for you? How have you prevented them?

What has helped me is taking 3 tablets a week of azithromycin during the winter period (October to April). I have even improved my breathing capacity a little. Otherwise I follow my treatment very carefully (Gliclaside in the morning, 2 tablets, one tablet of Metformin 500 at noon and 1 of 850 in the evening and a flutiform inhaler (morning and evening).

Do you smoke? If so, how many cigarettes do you smoke a day? 

NO. I smoked very little in my life and I stopped overnight without any effort in the Jura where I had reached an excessive level (pipe and cigar). I then gave up my induction into the very prestigious and sought-after association of "Saint Claude Pipe Smokers" where I had been sponsored.

Did you have to change your lifestyle in any way because of your condition?

As far as smoking is concerned, that was a clear-cut decision. For the rest, my illness was not an obstacle.

What treatments have you tried or are you currently taking? Have they been or are they effective? Have you had any side effects?

I mentioned what I'm taking above. I changed the names of the drugs over time but it has been pretty much the same. Yes the treatments were effective.... but in the long term!

Do you think there may be a link between asthma and COPD? How do these conditions impact each other?

I honestly don't know. I learned that I had COPD because this indication appeared on a registration file for a treatment I did in Charentes Maritime. I said I had asthma and the doctor told me "no, COPD" and we left it at that! My pulmonologist talks to me about "progress" and not about disease! So I never fixated on the name itself but rather on the hope of progress.

How have you coped during the pandemic? Have you gotten vaccinated against COVID-19 or would you like to be? 

I got COVID from my wife who contracted it during her chemotherapy sessions. My case, unlike hers, was completely asymptomatic (I am also a type 2 diabetic). A CT scan showed that we both had damage in our lungs (September 2020); but no one knows if it is serious or not and if it will persist or not! I have not had any breathing difficulties. At the end of March I still had 86% COVID antibodies, so my GP didn't think I needed the vaccine. I did it today, May 14, voluntarily, to regain my rights as a citizen, since not being vaccinated takes away certain possibilities (restaurants, travel, public cultural events, etc.). I got vaccinated to fight against liberticidal decisions and not for medical reasons about which two doctors I consulted did not have the same medical opinion!

What did you think of your medical or psychological care?

On COVID and its consequences on asthma, it is totally non-existent. There are more doctors on television than there are with the patients, except in extreme cases of resuscitation. All the doctors I have consulted with specific questions confess their ignorance.

What advice would you give to patients who are also living with both asthma and COPD? 

It is essential to follow your treatment to the letter and continue to live your life. It's a battle and you'll never win if you don't put all your strength of conviction into getting better. Nothing can replace the desire to win, nothing can say that you will lose... Unless you are not serious about your treatment!

Many thanks to GILBERTJOEL for sharing his story with us on Carenity!

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avatar Aurélien De Biagi

Author: Aurélien De Biagi, Health Writer, Pharmacy Student

Aurélien is a fifth year PharmD student at the University of Lorraine in France and writes health articles for Carenity. He is particularly interested in the neuropsychiatric and cardiovascular fields.

He hopes... >> Learn more

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