OPINION: Could you breath only through a straw? - North Devon Hospice

Karen Moss, Clinical Nurse Specialist at North Devon Hospice

Karen Moss, Clinical Nurse Specialist at North Devon Hospice - Credit: NDH

Could you breathe just through a narrow straw? Could you hold a conversation or do anything physical when your oxygen intake was so restricted? 

That is what life can be like for people living with COPD, or Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease.  

It is a complex lung condition which affects many people locally, and nurses like me from North Devon Hospice help to alleviate their symptoms, allowing them to live life to the full for as long as possible. 

Seeing as it is currently COPD Awareness Month, it feels like the right time to talk about this little-understood illness and how we support local people who are living with it. 

Some people will think of North Devon Hospice and immediately think that we’re here for people with cancer. 

While it’s true that we do support a high percentage of people whose terminal diagnosis is from cancer, we are also here to care for those with any life-limiting illness. 

What we mean by that is an illness from which the person ultimately will not recover, or are certainly very unlikely to recover from. It doesn’t mean people in our care are going to die imminently, because we support patients for many months and sometimes years. We are there for them throughout their whole journey, however long that is. 

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As a team of Clinical Nurse Specialists who work in the community, we use our expertise to help patients in their own homes who may have a range of illnesses, and one of the most complex can be COPD. It is actually a blanket term which covers a range of conditions like severe asthma and emphysemas. COPD is a long-standing illness, in that people tend to suffer from it for a long time - we’re talking months and even years - and it can be extremely debilitating. 

If you want to know what it feels like, then find a normal drinking straw. Put it in your mouth and block your nose, then try breathing normally just through that narrow straw. Try having a conversation or walking upstairs when breath is that hard to come by. That will give you an idea of what it is like to live with COPD. 

It makes people very fatigued and they very often get a nasty productive cough as well. They feel absolutely wiped out, and they are also at a very high risk of infections, which come along regularly. So regularly, in fact, that we make sure our patients with COPD have ‘rescue’ antibiotics and other medicine on hand at home. We help them to recognise when an infection is coming, so they can start their medication straight and hopefully head it off at the pass. 

With our COPD patients in particular, I’m proud to say we work very closely with the CREADO team, who are the respiratory experts at North Devon District Hospital. Like us, they support patients in their own homes, so we may do joint visits and pool our expertise, to make sure local people are getting the very best care and support. 

There are many things we can do to help people living with COPD. We can prescribe medication to help alleviate symptoms, give tips for how to manage breathing, as well as introduce physiotherapy to give practical support too. 

But regardless of their diagnosis, we see everyone as a person, not an illness. We treat them as an individual and make sure that their comfort and dignity is maintained. It’s what we all deserve when facing the end of our life. Everyone at North Devon Hospice is grateful to be able to provide such care, thanks to the support of the local community. It is a privilege to be able to look after people in their own homes, and I am grateful to everyone who donates to the hospice to make this happen. 

Written by Karen Moss, Clinical Nurse Specialist at North Devon Hospice.

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