Paul's Heart

Life As A Dad, And A Survivor

Like Asthma But Different

I noticed something recently with my being confined, socially distanced.  Having nowhere to go or travel to, for 98% of my day, I stay indoors, in the air conditioning in Florida.  While staying cool, it is creating an issue with one of the late side effects that I deal with from my cancer treatments thirty years ago.  I have a condition called “restrictive lung disease” as a result of radiation therapy and chemotherapy.

I need to state up front, the picture above, a healthy set of lungs, is not mine.  And to be clear, the following pictures of lungs that I will show are not mine either.  But they will illustrate my concerns.

This x-ray shows an image that could be mine, but is not.  I see chest wires which indicates the patient likely had heart surgery, and I see EKG wires I believe.  In any case, this image shows damage to the lungs as a result of radiation damage.  How much radiation do you have to receive to have this damage?  I honestly do not know.  How much did I receive?  4000 grays of radiation.  And if you know anything about radiation, such as techs or nuclear power plant workers, you know this is not good.

When I first discovered that I was struggling to breathe, I underwent a series of pulmonary function testing, as well as other imaging studies.  I was found to have several unidentified spots on my lungs (that are being watched if they change over to cancer), and the lower left lobe described as “dead”.  My lung capacity measures 76%.

So what does this mean?  Well, if you cup your hands over your mouth and nose tightly, and either try to talk or do some sort of activity, you will find it has become difficult.  That is sort of what it feels like.  But it gets more complicated.  In extreme weather conditions, hot and humid, extreme cold, or cool wind, it causes my lungs to restrict even further.  The best way to describe this feeling, is like an extreme asthma attack.  The only difference, an inhaler does not relieve it.

When I get hit with these attacks, regardless of the cause, the only way that I get relief, is to sit somewhere quiet and more temperature comfortable, close my eyes, and just concentrate on my breathing.  How long the exposure determines the length of the recovery.  I have been able to do it in fifteen minutes, and it has taken me an hour in others.

I live in one of the more hot and humid states in the country.  I did not always live here.  So, for me to have moved here, caused a lot of people to scratch their heads, myself included.  But there is a simple logic involved in how I have actually dealt with this situation, I control my exposure.  I avoid the hottest periods of the day.  I do not spend lengthy periods of time outdoors, and do not do anything physically strenuous.  And for the most part, my body has acclimated to this climate.

When I lived in the northeast area of the country, I dealt with multiple episodes of lung issues, repeatedly ending up in the emergency room.  One of which nearly killed me, septic pneumonia.  This picture is what a lung affected by pneumonia looks like (again, not mine).

I have held my own here.  I manage my lung issues as best as I can.  My episodes are not as often.  Even my children have witnessed these attacks both in warm and cold climates.  I have assured them, that I know how to deal with them, and they do not need to worry about me.  Just to keep me company and they will see how I deal with these episodes.  This is not something that requires medical attention, just an opportunity to restore.  So, for the most part, all I have really concerned myself with my lungs, has been pneumonias and those spots.  Until…


Of course, like everyone else, the initial reaction was “great, another virus.  Big deal.”  Soon, it was realized, it was a big deal, especially for those with pre-existing and compromising conditions like I have, no spleen, and lung damage, just two of the five boxes I check off for vulnerability.

The concern with the lungs?  Pneumonia.  But a more stubborn and so far, no treatment for this pneumonia.

In other words, if I get Covid19, it will kill me.  Not fear, not fact.  My lung issues are well-known and documented.  I need to avoid this at all possible.  I have previously stated, a vaccine is not likely an answer for me either depending if it is “live media” or “deactivated”.  I cannot receive “live” vaccines because of my immunity issues.

So anyway, I have done what I can to avoid contracting this virus.  I have stayed indoors for probably 95% of my day, in a constant and comfortable seventy-four degree climate.

Well, as things begin to open up, and our temperatures and humidity have begun to creep up to the typical seasonal figures, that 5% is now being impacted.  What this means, is at one time, I averaged my outdoor time about 50-50 pre-Covid19.  I have to once again, work on my exposure levels so that my lungs are not under such duress.

The good thing for me, I know what happens, I know what causes it, and I know how to deal with it and reverse it.  This is just one of those extra things that myself, and other long term survivors have to deal with, on top of the actual risks of the virus itself.  I do what I can to keep my lungs in the best condition I can in spite of the limits.

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