Linda McCallum - Occupational Lung Disease

I was born in a logging camp on Vancouver Island BC. There was dust everywhere, compromising my lungs while they were still developing. When I was a child, we moved to Northern Alberta. Every spring my breathing became especially difficult when farmers plowed their fields and when pollen and other air-born substances wreaked havoc in the air.

As an adult did your breathing improve?

When I joined the work force, I got a job coating the inside of boats with fiberglass, which set back my progress. No one suggested I wear a mask back then, and I never thought of it. Another one of my jobs was working as a chambermaid, using toxic chemicals that would drive me into uncontrollable coughing fits. I would often cough to the point where I would end up getting sick. One time I coughed so hard I punctured a hole in my esophagus. Food gets trapped in there to this day.

How did the medical community help you?

I finally underwent allergy testing and learned officially that I was allergic to dust. My doctor prescribed Tussionex, a combination medication typically used for nasal congestion and to relieve coughing. It did help to suppress my cough somewhat. But after using Tussionex for twenty years, I have been asked to restrict usage to three months out of the year. For the other nine months out of the year, I buy over the counter cough medicines such as Robitussin, which helps suppress my coughing. It was not long after taking over the counter cough suppressants that I noticed my voice starting to change.

Have other factors affected your breathing since being diagnosed with asthma?

I knew that my environment had been an issue for most of my life, so I found work in places where the air quality was as optimized as possible like Vancouver Community College. Having access to cleaner air has been a huge factor in improving my breathing.  

In 2012 both my parents passed away – about six weeks apart. It was such shocking news… totally unexpected. That was a very rough period for me. It was then that I realized just how much stress plays a role in my overall health and how it exasperates my coughing. 

In 2017 I had a heart attack as a result of a bad flare up of coughing. At that time, I accepted early retirement from the Vancouver Community College after working there for 18 years. I find it particularly difficult during the summer months with excessive heat and humidity, as well as with smoke from forest fires.

How are you managing your lung condition today?

I am set up to use a portable nebulizer at home. As a precaution, our truck is installed with an inverter for the nebulizer so it’s always ready. The nebulizer turns liquid medicine into a mist that helps treat my asthma and offers temporary relief from a fit of coughing. In my case, the medicine I use in the nebulizer is prednisone. I am pleased to say that I have not had to use the nebulizer since last summer. 

I have been working very hard to adjust areas of my life to help me breathe better. For example, I walk about three kilometers every day. Sometimes on flat land, sometimes down into the valley – depending on how I feel and how stable my coughing is. I also ensure that I eat as healthily as I can.

What is the best part of your week?

I am the lead for the face-to-face Better Breathers Support Group in my area – and getting together for coffee with other members from our group is the highlight of my week. We share our stories and learn from about our various lung conditions. We support one another and encourage each other to stick to our eating and exercise programs.

I also love to go to our local school auditorium every Monday and do The Exercise Circuit that works my core. It wipes me out, but I feel the benefits almost immediately once I’m done. I also participate in the Stretch, Balance, and Breathe Program on Wednesdays. This program isn’t as intensive as my Monday exercises, but it’s very effective and makes me feel good. For more fun, I go line dancing on Thursday nights and really kick up my heels.

Perhaps because I have been plagued with a chronic breathing problem most of my life, I believe the best medicine sometimes is just getting away from it all. My daughter, a friend, and I are taking a holiday to Maui in January 2020. This holiday will give us a chance to relax and reflect. One thing I know for sure is that it’s important to find some joy everyday, to keep your spirits up, and never, ever give up hope.

 

Page Last Updated: 26/05/2020