Content starts here

COPD: A Walk on the Slow Side

My daily COPD gear.
Adam Weatherall

I've always been a walker, even though it is a funny kind of lopsided gait.

In the early days of our marriage, Cinelli and I walked the streets of San Francisco from Chinatown to Golden Gate Park. She has a crisp walk, straight and true. We made quite a couple, me with my lopsided stance, she with her upright stride.

When we came to L.A., we walked along the ocean, through downtown and up the fire trails of the Santa Monica Mountains.

We don't do much of that anymore. Cinelli probably will in the future, after a hip replacement operation. But it's likely I never will. I have COPD. Even sloppy walks are limited.

Spelled out, I have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease; it limits one's ability to breathe and, hence, to walk.

"It's progressive," a pulmonologist said when he diagnosed it three years ago. "You won't be able to wobble from room to room."

I've probably had the disease for more than five years, but no one had been able to tell me what in the hell it was. I just knew I was short-winded and any kind of exertion left me panting like an old dog.

COPD can be a combination of chronic bronchitis and emphysema. Medical people will tell you it's caused by cigarette smoking, air pollution and maybe some other things. It can be controlled, and I'm doing my best to do so. I use a little plastic rescue inhaler when I have an attack. I breathe medicated steam through a portable nebulizer every four hours.

I also do pulmonary lung exercises in a gym twice a week. One involves short inhales through the nose and long exhales through the mouth. Or maybe it's the other way around. Either way, it seems to help my breathing, but not my crooked walk.

The idea that COPD is "progressive" doesn't haunt me. I know what the end of progressive is. I have heart disease and type 2 diabetes. I've had two heart operations, abdominal surgery to patch up two aneurisms, and blood poisoning that almost killed me.

I haven't smoked for 25 years. And though I'm slightly overweight, I'm not obese, and Cinelli makes sure that I limit my martini intake and eat the right foods. But I lived high in my 30s and 40s, in smoke-filled newspaper city rooms, at bars and in steak houses. At age 83, the bill has come due.

I write this today to alert you to symptoms. If you pant and gasp while performing simple chores like combing your hair, or barely make it from living room to dining room, see a lung specialist.

To paraphrase Bobby Kennedy: You've got miles to walk and promises to keep. Even if you walk funny.

Search AARP Blogs