Respiratory therapist, educator and coordinator for the Respiratory Education Centre at Royal Jubilee Hospital in Victoria, Mark Finnis tells us how he helps patients breathe easier.
You can live a remarkably healthy life with a lung condition.
Whatever it is — perhaps it’s stigma around smoking and its impact on health or simply a lack of awareness about lung disease in general — but there seems to be a common belief that if “I have a chronic lung problem such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), there’s nothing I can do about it. I just have to accept I am always going to be breathless now.” And that’s simply not true. We can help. Further, whether someone smokes, previously smoked, or has never smoked, he or she deserves the same level of compassion and support.
But it is important patients stop chasing symptoms.
Patients can have a tendency to think to themselves, “I feel fine, so I don’t need to take any medicines for my condition.” Then they get a cold, get really sick, take all kinds of medicines, get better and stop using their medication again. We don’t have pain receptors in our breathing tubes so you cannot always feel the inflammation inside and patients think they’re better when they’re not. It’s like a yo-yo. Patients go from sick to well and sick again and fail to get their condition under control. We try and show patients how to get out ahead of symptoms by understanding why it’s so important to adhere to medication plans — and to keep as active as you can.
I encourage patients to pay attention to worsening symptoms and be proactive.
If you have a cough that’s ongoing for weeks and weeks — that’s not normal, period. It’s important to see your doctor. One of the most critical things we teach patients is to recognize signs of possible symptom flare-ups, or lung attacks as we sometimes call them. A lung attack can be scary. It’s one of the top reasons adults are hospitalized today. But, if patients take the right steps, most can avoid or minimize lung attacks.
With the right advice, and attitude, patients can improve their quality of life.
While there are limitations on how much one can do to fix a chronic lung disease, with breath control, exercise and proper medication, we can significantly improve patients’ quality of life. Prevention is also vital — making sure patients get their annual flu and pneumonia shots, and stay indoors when the air outside is smoky, for example. The fact is an underlying lung condition can make one more vulnerable, so it is crucial patients be informed and take control of their health.
“I’m interested in culture and people. My first career was in archaeology, but once my wife and I started having kids, we needed two incomes — fast. A good archeology job requires a Ph.D., so I considered alternatives. My wife, a nurse, connected me with a colleague in Respiratory Therapy. That’s my story. I’ve been an RT for 20 years, and I still love my job today!”