Wednesday, 18 October 2017
It seems to be that time of year again, when everyone is coughing and spluttering and all sorts of cold and flu viruses are flying around; that time of year when we're urged to have flu jabs to help protect us through the winter season. I did have my flu jab all arranged, but then I've been having more fun and games with my health over the last few month or so and been unlucky to pick up a bad cold that turned into a chest infection.
Luckily and with much relief I've managed to shift it, but not without its problems.
A cold and chest infection is nothing to most people, but if you've had a transplant and therefore have little immune system then it can become a big threat to your health. Being immune suppressed means that your body really struggles to fight the virus and often the virus easily takes a hold and causes respiratory infections, which can become life threatening. It also takes a long time to clear any infections, as your body is unable to offer much resistance, so they tend to linger for weeks.
For lung transplant patients, it is even more dangerous and there is serious danger that the transplanted lungs can become damaged. This is a very real threat and actually happened to me earlier this year. I'd already lost twenty five per cent of my lung function due to a series of acute rejections of my lungs, then I caught a common virus called parainfluenza - it's not a strain covered by the flu jab and symptoms for healthy people are very similar to a common cold.
For me, it resulted in being blue lighted to my local hospital and then being transferred to Papworth Hospital, my transplant centre, for appropriate treatment, as pneumonia had took a hold in my lungs as well as the paraflu. My lung function fell down to less than twenty per cent and I was hospitalised for over three weeks. I was allowed home still on intravenous antibiotic treatment, had to be nursed by Rob and it took me months to feel better and recover some of my lung function. It happened back in March and by June I'd begun to feel much better in myself, but unfortunately only managed to recover my lung function to around fifty per cent.
That is the detrimental effect these bugs can have. I've been told that I'm unlikely ever to get back to having the seventy five per cent lung function I had back in February, and the hundred per cent I had only last year has become a long lost dream.
In many ways though, I know I was very lucky in the circumstances, as I've very sadly lost a few of my transplant friends this year to pneumonia and respiratory infections. I'm not only grateful I survived it, but grateful that I did manage to recover some of my lung function again too, as this isn't always the case for some. Although I'm quite breathless and limited now on walking, I'd been getting out and about with some help and I'd managed to put the wheelchair away again. I'd taken all the positives from this situation, that I'd come through it and was enjoying life again.
Obviously with that experience fresh in my mind still, catching another cold and it developing into yet another chest infection filled me with complete terror. I had to act quickly and my Transplant Centre did the necessary tests to identify the virus and under their direction my GP prescribed the drug needed to treat it promptly. It was a case of waiting and seeing and hoping against all hope that I wouldn't lose any more lung function. The drug - a powerful antiobiotic treatment for pseudonomas called ciprofloxacin - did the trick and cleared up the infection fairly promptly; however, part way through the course of drugs, I began to have an adverse reaction to it.
Unfortunately I developed tendonitus in both calves of my legs and then my left shoulder. Tendonitus and ruptured tendons is a well known side effect of the drug and it is excruciatingly painful. At the moment, it's left me unable to walk properly, but we've dug out the trusty wheelchair yet again so we're trying not to let it stop me doing things that I feel are manageable. It can take weeks or months to subside, so it's a case of waiting and seeing how things go. The bad response to the medication was just unfortunate and not life threatening though, so again, I'm counting my blessings that my lungs have managed to remain stable through this.
This latest cold has also resulted in an important stomach fundoplication operation having to be cancelled and having to cancel my flu jab. Luckily these are all being rearranged, but just catching another simple cold has managed to cause so much chaos yet again.
All these problems are why I try hard to avoid infections: why I'm always using hand gel and hand wipes and frantically dettoxing the house and always usually wear a scarf when I'm out in case some stranger decides to start coughing and spluttering around me. You'd be shocked how many people do this and don't even bother to put their hand over their face. It's why we say to friends and family please don't visit us if you have any infection, or why I might avoid meeting up with friends or visiting people who have infections. It's not because I'm paranoid, infection has become a real danger now in this fight to stay healthy. It really is a big enemy.
Despite all this though, it's so important to keep on living life to its fullest and make the most of each day, so armed with the hand gel, the dettox wipes, hand wipes, a useful scarf and a little caution, I'm trying to go out and about as normally as is possible... There's always an element of risk, but life is precious and needs to be enjoyed to the full.