Asthma: "My case was considered very serious by the doctors in the intensive care unit"
Published Jun 9, 2021 • By Aurélien De Biagi
Plumette57, a member of Carenity France, has had asthma since childhood.
Discover her story below!
Hello Plumette57, thank you for accepting to share your story with us here on Carenity.
First of all, could you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Hello, my name is Astrid, I am 66 years old and retired from the hospital civil service. I worked in hospital administration for 30 years. I am married, the mother of 2 children and the grandmother of 3 grandchildren. I live a quiet life in a small village. I like to go for walks with my 2 dogs and ride my electric bicycle when the weather permits.
How long have you had asthma?
I have had asthma since I was 4 years old, following a badly treated case of measles.
My asthma has been well controlled since 1995. I was part of a clinical trial on fluticasone in Strasbourg from 1994 to 1995 and the results of this trial were more than beneficial for me, a real renaissance. Before that, I would have many asthma attacks.
What symptoms do you have on a daily basis?
I am doing well on a daily basis, my asthma is well controlled. In high pollen season like now, I take a bit more of my inhaler and my sprays but overall I'm fine.
How is your asthma today? What impact has it had on your professional and personal life?
My asthma is well controlled, I have had emphysema since my early teens but it is stable.
I have been doing very well since I retired. I was often ill throughout my career, the stress didn't help nor did the atmosphere polluted by the smell of photocopiers and the like (I worked in human resources, so there was a lot of paperwork, paychecks, etc.). My pulmonologist even wanted to put me on disability, my respiratory values had dropped enormously. Before the fluticasone trials, my MMEF (maximal mid-expiratory flow), for example, was at 14%. Now I am stable at 28-30%.
Of course, my health condition had a definite impact on my personal life, I didn't go out much and when we had company, I sometimes cut the evening short to go and lie down in the bedroom. And when we went on vacation, I didn't do much. I was very quickly out of breath and tired. I think my first husband and my children suffered because of it. Since 1995 and the fluticasone (now Advair), I have been able to start doing some physical activity: running, mountain biking, swimming... My pulmonologist always encouraged me to jog to work my lungs because of my emphysema.
I divorced and with my second husband, I started mountain biking regularly, continued to jog, went on vacations with peace of mind, and did pretty much everything a healthy person does.
Did you have to adapt your lifestyle to your asthma (quit smoking, change occupations, etc.)?
No, I've always lived a quiet, healthy life out of obligation, otherwise I'd have an asthma attack.
What treatments have you tried or are you using now? Were they or are they effective? Have you had any side effects? If so, what kind of effects?
I have been taking theophylline since I was a child. I am still taking it and I hope that there will never be a shortage because I tolerate it very well. So my current treatment is theophylline (Uniphyl®), Advair®, Singulair®, or Ventolin® as needed, plus any aerosols as needed. I also have hyperthyroidism (but I guess that's irrelevant). This treatment is effective and when I feel a bit more discomfort, depending on the weather, I add a bit of prednisolone. I sounds like a lot, but I manage it all.
You've talked about pneumothorax (collapsed lung) on the forums, can you tell us more about it? How did it happen?
Yes, I had a spontaneous lung collapse during my first pregnancy in 1979 (I was 24 years old). The doctor, given my state of pregnancy, forbade me to take my treatment. I was in a state of asthmatic illness for days, I thought I was going to die, the pain on my side was dreadful during the day and especially at night... I have very bad memories of it. One morning, the pain had completely disappeared but I was out of breath, my husband had to carry me to the hospital where they put in a drain to get the air out. Fortunately this did not impact my pregnancy, I was 3 months pregnant. After this episode, I went to see another doctor who immediately prescribed Ventolin. He didn't understand why the doctor who was treating me didn't do it, it would have saved me all the suffering. I had another partial lung collapse the following year.
You have also been in intensive care for your asthma, can you tell us how it happened?
Yes, we had decided to go to Paris for a weekend (this was in June 1990). I wasn't in very good shape that Saturday but as everything was organized, I thought it would be fine, I had my treatment with me. Except that Paris is very polluted and we were walking a lot. The more the day went on, the worse I felt. I think I took more Ventolin than I should have. I should have taken some prednisolone in the morning but I had left it in the hotel room. When we got back to the hotel after a long day which had been very tiring for me, I couldn't do anything because I was constantly out of breath. I couldn't go to bed, I just stood in front of the open window and collapsed. I don't remember anything but my husband told me that the doctor on duty who was called told him I was dead. The ambulance took 20 minutes to resuscitate me and I spent a week in intensive care at the Hôtel Dieu Hospital in the 4th arrondissement of Paris. My case was considered extremely serious by the doctors in the intensive care unit.
How are you coping with this pandemic with your chronic illness? Have you been vaccinated against COVID-19 or would you like to be?
I have been very careful since the beginning of the pandemic. I was so afraid of catching the virus. And yet I got infected, through my brother-in-law, in February this year. I thought I had bronchitis as I often do at the beginning of the year but it turned out to be COVID. I called my pulmonologist who never answered me, so I called my old retired pulmonologist who has become my friend since all those years when he took care of me. He prescribed me a treatment given in hospital (which my primary care doctor refused to do because it was not part of the primary care protocol). This protocol saved me from hospitalization. I had a hard time, my O2 saturation went down to 91, but not below. It took me 3 weeks to get better and now I'm fine, I've even started cycling again.
I'm going to get vaccinated of course. It's only been 3 months since my infection so I've been waiting a bit, I'm thinking of getting vaccinated in July.
What did you think of your medical or psychological care?
I only had medical support from my retired lung specialist friend. My primary care doctor never checked up on me during my COVID case (he dared to say to me when I called him to get him to write the prescription with the drugs my friend advised me to take: "Who is this Dr. ___ who's advising you? Isn't he a bit out of the loop? Isn't he retired?") and my "official" pulmonologist is completely non-existent... I've since changed specialists because of the whole thing.
Psychological support? I don't think that either doctor has heard of it, I didn't receive any sort of support.
What advice would you give to other patients living with asthma who are reading this?
My advice for living well with asthma is: Lead a healthy life... go out, walk a little even if it's hard, as my pulmonologist (a retired friend) always told me: you have to work your lungs, get some fresh air, push a little within reason.
Take your treatment very regularly, don't say to yourself: "Oh, I'm fine today, I don't need any medicine". Don't wait until you are out of breath to take your inhaler.
Do breathing exercises or meditation (it helped me during my COVID).
I am 66 years old today, I have had a lot of problems, very severe asthma, breast cancer, hospital-acquired infection due to a failed breast reconstruction, and hyperthyroidism among other things. Currently I have a suspicious polyp that is going to be removed. I remain optimistic. My husband helps me a lot on a psychological level, he boosts me, encourages me. This is very important.
You always have to say to yourself: Tomorrow will be better.
Many thanks to Plumette57 for sharing her story with us on Carenity!
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