The average person takes between 17,280-23,040 breaths per day. The majority of the time, we aren’t even conscious of it happening. We trust our bodies to do what is best for us, and where they can’t, we step in and pick up the slack. For many of us who live with illness, physical or mental impairments, or any debilitating chronic condition, it is easy to feel as though our bodies have betrayed us. But, I promise you, they haven’t.
Even when you are at your worst, if you were to make a list of all of the things that are wrong with you–what parts no longer work properly, what hurts, what’s missing–I guarantee that you can still make a list of some part of you that is still doing its job. This is wildly optimistic of me, right? Go ahead, call me crazy. But you have to find something to be grateful for. You have to find something to remind you that there is a part of you that hasn’t given up yet, so neither should you.
I’m sitting here today running those lists through my mind. I am acutely aware of the crackling sound emanating from my lungs, just as I am acutely aware of the fact that the majority of the time I am breathing from my upper lobes, only. One year ago, I reached the lowest point that my pulmonary function had ever been. It was in the mid to low 30% range. For CF patients, your FEV1 (Forced Expired Volume after 1 second of blowing out your air) is an important way to measure the severity of your disease. A score of more than 80% is the equivalent of “normal” lungs, 60-80% is “mild”, 35-60% is “moderate”, and anything 35% or below is considered to be “severe”. Severe patients are the ones who require transplants. Then I started taking a new drug, Kalydeco. Within months, my PFT (Pulmonary Function Test) results improved. My FEV1 has inched its way up to 46%–a marked improvement for someone my age and with my scar tissue damage. Since taking the drug, my cough has decreased and I have had no exacerbations or illness, save for one head cold a few weeks ago (knock on wo0d). I feel like a new person.
But then, days like today happen, when I am suddenly reminded of my limitations. I’ve been enjoying such a good run of things this past year, that I tend to forget what it was like to have to clear my throat every minute or two, or to wake up drowning in my own mucus nearly every day and having to cough so hard that it makes me vomit. So now, whenever I do have an “off” day, it hits me like a ton of bricks, though probably more mentally than physically.
It would be easy to lay down and have a pity party. But who has time for that? By my calculations, even though my lungs aren’t in tip-top shape, the rest of me is hanging in there. I still have all 5 of my senses, all 10 fingers, and all 10 toes. I can laugh. I can sing. I can read. I can hug. So what if I’m coughing?
I can still smile.