Something we take for granted is our body as a whole. The fact our heart beats, that we are able to use our senses to gravitate the world around us and that most of us will accept that our bodies are functioning with little active thought. Of course, like anything it is never perfect and we have problems. But for the most part, we are all oblivious to the phenomenal work that takes place to keep us alive and well. Our lungs are something that fascinate many. We’ve all heard the facts that if you were to stretch it out to full size it would smother a football pitch? Just like when you curl your hand into a fist, you’ve got a rough estimate of the size of your beating heart. But the fact we breathe, we transfer oxygen and carbon dioxide around our body and we are able to keep our saturations at a set level whether we are standing or sprinting is something that is an anomaly to many of us outside the medical or healthcare profession.
If you were to ask a person next to you, their worst idea of death, a rather morbid question I know, the majority may return with drowning or suffocation. The active passing of knowing you cannot breathe. Think back to whether you’ve had a panic attack, how did it feel to think that you might not take a next breath? Or that no matter how much you increased your respiratory rate, you still felt faint, rushed or uncomfortable? It’s a spiral downwards. Breathing is something we take for granted, much like we do our own body. It’s a subconscious act of survival that keeps us going. Everything in our mind tells us we need to breathe to live and without oxygen, it would take only eight minutes for our brain cells to start dying off and cause damage or worse.
So what if your brain was functioning correctly, your whole body in fact was working as it should, but only your lungs were failing? How would that feel? Think of how much you rely on oxygen and an easy steady breathing pattern to keep you going. It helps you take the dog a walk, put the kettle on, stand up and stretch your legs, it helps you concentrate and focus on something you’re doing and it helps you speak the words from your mouth. Everything relies on oxygen, so what if your saturation levels were to drop and no matter how hard you tried or how fast you actively breathed in or out, nothing changed and you would struggle.
It isn’t uncommon to stumble across a person with a lung disease as there are so many variants, and of course, with so many of us living older and wiser beyond our years, our body just isn’t capable of keeping up in all areas. We all know of cancer whether it be directly corresponding to the lung or having spread from another original source, there is COPD or Chronic Obstruvtive Pulmonary Disease which next to Cancer is probably the most known detriment that can occur to the lungs. So what are these other hundreds of diseases I speak of?
The lungs are a complicated process so naturally, there are many areas and sub sectors in which things can go wrong and they won’t function properly.
For my Father it was a disease called Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis.
Let’s break that down into plain old English like I once had to do when this three word mouthful was thrown in my direction.
Idiopathic. Cause unknown.
Pulmonary. Relating to the lungs and the function of respiration.
Fibrosis. The thickening and scarring of tissue.
Put it together, what do we get? A disease of unknown cause that affects the lungs in which the tissue becomes scarred and damaged. The first word, Idiopathic, in itself is a frustrating and evil little devil because it means no matter how hard you pick your brain, you will never be able to fathom how the damage occurred and still why it is deteriorating. There can be causes, dust inhalation, asbestos poisoning or even allergies to animals, specifically birds. But once these patterns are ruled out and show no significance, all you are left with is Idiopathic. A medical term that is a poster child for healthcare professionals to basically say, “we don’t know.” The next important note of this illness is that there is cure, the scarring is irreversible and treatment options are few and far between with mixed results. The prognosis is also rather terrifying, with the majority succumbing to the illness within three years whilst the life you are used to living, is slowly stripped away as everything about you will deteriorate as your lungs lose capacity to hold oxygen. IPF is horrific.
And what feels worse sometimes, is that you’re completely alone as there is a distinct lack of knowledge, awareness and research to help those directly diagnosed and those loved ones around who are on such a devastating journey. But things are looking up as wonderful charities and determined people within the IPF community are shouting louder and demanding more much needed attention. Just like my Pa, those diagnosed don’t have much time to waste and deserve a wonderful life in the time they have allocated to them. It is my determination, and it was my Father’s to, that people are owed a better quality of life no matter how their body will fail them. And that is this journey for me. Remembering my Pa, but ensuring his memory and his fight will never be forgotten.