Several people in the PatientsLikeMe community use the phrase “new normal” after being diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis (PF), and PF member John_R doesn’t’ think his new normal is all bad. This month, he chatted with us about getting diagnosed with PF, bringing oxygen to the workplace, and how living with his Sweetie keeps him focused on the positive moments of his journey.
You were recently diagnosed with PF in 2013 – can you tell us a little about your diagnosis experience?
I was initially diagnosed with PF back in 2002 via a CAT scan with contrast. Around 2000, some haziness was seen on an x-ray, and my doctor recommended that I see a pulmonologist. I was getting ready to move to Texas, so I waited until I settled down and found a new GP. It was after my first physical with my new doctor that I was sent to see a pulmonologist. He sent me for a series of CAT scans from April of ‘02 to Jan ’03.
The first scan indicated “There are several patchy areas of infiltrate identified peripherally in both lungs. These are identified at the anterior and lateral upper lobes as well as in both lower lobes. Mild patchy infiltrate in the lingual and right middle lobe are also seen.” The third scan concluded “….these findings suggest mild fibrosis.” and “…mild stable interstitial airspace disease consistent with fibrosis given stability.”
The doctor indicated that my PF was “mild” and “stable” so not much to really worry about. Each time I visited, pulmonary function testing showed that my Forced Vital Capacity (FVC) dropped a few percentage points. My doctor did not seem to worry, so neither did I. In May of 2011 my father died from Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis (IPF). That was when my pulmo started to show concern about my PF. In 2013 my FVC dropped to less than 50%. Off to another CAT scan with contrast. Insurance denied that procedure and required an HRCT (hooray for my insurance company!). The scans showed lots of damage, but were not conclusive for IPF. In August I had a VATS Biopsy performed that proved IPF.
Following the biopsy I was referred to my ILD Specialist at UT Southwestern.
You talked a little in the forum about your first day at work with oxygen – can you share a little about that for our blog followers?
The first day I used oxygen was on Christmas Day. Since I had been out from work for the Biopsy in August, everyone knew I had lung issues. The week before Christmas I let my boss, the ladies in the front office and my guys know that I would be coming back from Christmas using oxygen so there would be no surprises.
I use the small M6 oxygen tanks in a bag that slings over my shoulder for my portable O2 use. That first day of using oxygen at work was the first day in a long time that I could climb the stairs up to the office without having to sit at my desk for a few minutes, gasping for breath and regaining my mental clarity. It was also the first time in a long time that I made it home with some energy left.
My oxygen use was quickly accepted at work. There were a couple of double takes when people who did not know I was going on O2 saw me for the first time. A quick smile from me was returned and all was back to normal.
How is life different with PF than before? What have been some of the hardest losses, and what have you gained?
“The New Normal” How do I explain how life has changed without sounding much more negative than I really am?
Life is different not just for me, but also for my Sweetie. Our new normal does not include some things that were important to us. We had to find a new home for our parrot, Tinker. Lighting a fire in the fireplace on a cold winter’s evening is part of our past. No more soaking in hot tubs or spending time at the shooting range.
We find other ways to be romantic, so the hot tubs and cozy fires are not that big an issue. I do miss Tinker and miss my time on the range.
Making sure I have plenty of oxygen has become a part of pretty much every decision we make. I am still the cook in our house. When I was first routing the tubing around made sure I could reach the stovetop with a bit of slack to spare. I also do the grocery shopping and, as we talked about before, still work.
Every chapter of my life that I get to spend with my Sweetie is the best chapter to date. Life is good. For the first time ever I have a year’s worth of vacation planned in advance. Vacation is going to be spent with family and I am really looking forward to those get-togethers.
Looks like you use your PatientsLikeMe PF Severity Score, track your treatments and chart a lot on your profile. What do you find most useful about these tools?
MyCharts is an awesome tool and more people should use it. The charts give a nice visual snapshot of how you are doing. The information is great to print out and bring with you to doctor’s appointments and I wish I had found PatientsLikeMe much sooner. I was just filling out paperwork for a genetics study and had to use several sources to collect information on medication history. It would have all been there if I had started charting sooner.
I also like to look at other peoples’ charts. I compare where I am to where they are and what they are going through. This helps me come to grips with my future.
What advice would you give to others who might be newly diagnosed with PF?
Number one, find an Interstitial Lung Disease specialist. Community pulmonologists are just not that knowledgeable about PF. The vast majority of their patients have COPD, Emphysema, Asthma and the like. They just have little or no experience with PF.
Next I would advise to not read too much of the medical literature found on the Internet until after you have spoken with a specialist. There is a whole lot of scary stuff out there that probably does not pertain to you. I know you are going to read it anyway, so after you do, take a deep breath and remember that you are not average and that your circumstance is different from every other person with PF. My fibrosis was discovered a dozen years ago.
Finally, hang out in the forums. Ask questions, post ideas and help us support one another.