2019 – The year I spent most of my time indoors.

The story of an asthmatic

As a primary school teacher and a mother of 3 primary aged children, I am constantly on the go. I would describe myself as a generally healthy 39-year old who loves to keep fit, experience life, socialise with friends and family, and walk my Golden Retriever.

My goals for 2019 were simple, spend more time with family, focus on work, and run the half Melbourne Marathon in November. My asthma, however, changed these plans. My asthma triggers are viruses and exercise. Both of these challenged me last year. In March, I contracted a small virus/cold type of illness. I was unwell during the illness, however, I managed. Post illness, I was maintaining my prevention and felt almost ready to return to the gym. However, on an unseasonably cold March morning, my lungs couldn’t cope. I had a persistent cough and was unable to speak full sentences. My ICU friend, fortunately, was with me, drove me to the GP and I responded well to nebuliser treatment. Little did I know that this was the start of a pattern that was to remain.

In August I was quite unwell. This time with RSV (Respiratory Syncytial Virus), a virus that typically affects the young and is usually mild in adults. I was hospitalised for 5 days. After this virus, the weather really impacted my asthma. Yard duty or outdoor sports lessons in cold conditions were challenging, my role as football trainer was a struggle, and I missed many days of work and social activities due to my asthma exacerbations. I walked around with a scarf covering my mouth, and a reliever on hand, for the best part of Winter. Winter thankfully ended and I thought my Asthma battle for 2019 was over.

Towards the end of October, I was feeling amazing, I was in good health, no viruses, great weather, and I was given the okay medically to run in the Melbourne Marathon, YES!! So instead of the 21km, I had planned, due to my reduced preparation, I decided to enter the 10km race. On the morning of the event it was freezing, so I was nervous my lungs would not cope. I followed my exercise-induced asthma management plan and to my pleasant surprise, I made it, and in good time too. The next morning, however, I became very unwell, had a high fever and full-body aches. Oh no, another virus. I couldn’t believe it. The fever passed quickly, the persistent cough remained but I soldiered on and I returned to life as normal, with some ambivalence on the post-viral exacerbation that may follow. The persistent cough and fatigue that lingered were relentless. But I had no fever, so I continued on with life and increased prevention as per my plan.

The following week I was back at school and it was the first Thunderstorm Asthma day of the season. I knew that my asthma was flaring, so ensured I took my prevention and hay fever precautions. I felt tight in the chest and my peak flow wasn’t ideal, but I was okay, it had been much worse. At around 9:20 am, not long after the school day had begun, the shortness of breath and persistent cough took hold and before I knew it I had paramedics attending to me and I was taken again to the hospital. I responded well and was discharged. My peak flow remained low, I struggled to undertake daily activities. I had another asthma flare, and I again ended up back in the hospital for 3 days. Upon discharge, I was still unable to exercise, my cough persisted and I struggled with exhaustion. I just didn’t feel like my typical post-viral self. My Respiratory Specialist agreed, so ordered a CT, and I was diagnosed with pneumonia.

Albeit a slow process, not helped by the bushfire smoke, in early 2020 I had recovered well from pneumonia and was exercising at my full capacity once more. I was pumped for a healthy year ahead and my goal again was to run in the Melbourne Marathon, this time the 21km.

It does seem however that COVID-19 has other plans. So, my goal has changed. I am keeping physically well and safe at home, exercising from my lounge room, and teaching from my home office. I have a great support network from my local GP’s, my Respiratory Specialist, my family, and my workplace. I have a management plan in place, and my job is to follow that plan, spend quality time with my family, juggle remote teaching/home learning for my kids, and avoid COVID-19 and in fact any viral infection that could lead me back into the hospital.

I hope my story provides an insight into the life of an asthmatic coming into winter and how coming out the other side can also be challenging. I hope that COVID- 19 is a reminder to all to practice good hand hygiene and importantly stay home when unwell. The impacts might be minor for you, but they might be life-threatening and life-altering for an asthmatic. Who knows maybe this will all be over by November and you will see me run on the MCG in the Melbourne Marathon Festival!

Nicole Collins

 

If you would like to share your asthma story like Nicole, email info@asthma.org.au and become what we call, an Asthma Champion. Become an Asthma Champion here.