Friday, 3 April 2015

Disease of the Week: BIRD FANCIER'S LUNG

Tweet, Tweet... Cough, Cough?

The Disease of the Week award this week has to go to an unusual yet nasty respiratory disease that I’d never heard of until today, called Bird Fancier’s Lung.

Yes, as fictional as it sounds – it is a thing.

Appearing on my roster for the first time, I arrived at 9am to a Mrs Wendy Whistletop‘s home to find not an elderly lady, but clearly a woman in her late fifties…. around 58 I figured at a rough guess.  For goodness sake, she wasn’t much older than me! 

The meagre notes provided, told me that Wendy Whistletop was Asthmatic; that she needed assistance with her shower and with daily Personal Care routines such as dressing and getting ready for her day.

And Wendy's day, as I soon discovered, just happened to be... her 60th birthday!

(OK so I was a year off).

Wendy didn’t come to the door when I knocked and called out from the already ajar door.  Instead I found the birthday girl lying on her bed wearing a two-pronged nasal tube which led to a quite noisy Oxygen Concentrator machine parked in the hallway (these clever contraptions replace the clunky oxygen tanks you might know from ye olden days).  Luckily I knew to tread carefully so as not to step on the attached mass of coiled plastic tubing that lay on the floor.

Elderly people on Oxygen at home
Breathe happily at home
with an Oxygen Concentrator

(not to be confused with R2D2 from Star Wars)

Now the great thing about these modern electrically-driven Oxygen Concentrators is that you don’t have to have a mask on your face.  You can walk leisurely round your house thanks to the attached breathing tube that goes for metres and metres (approx. ten I think) and you can continue eating, drinking and in Wendy’s case –showering, while you wear it.

It also means you can manage your condition at home for a lot longer, rather than being imprisoned on a hospital bed.

Interestingly enough, when I’ve encountered clients in the past who are reliant on oxygen like this, it’s just about guaranteed to be Emphysema (resulting from a lifetime of cigarette smoking) that a client is suffering from.  But not in this case.

Wendy waved as I came in and we introduced ourselves, chatted about the weather and then she told me all about Bird Fancier’s Lung… how horrid it was and how it had taken over her entire life.  Understandably she had to pause every so often to take some deep, controlled breaths from her ‘life support’ as she called it. 

There was never a time in her married life that Wendy remembered they didn’t have pigeons living and breeding in a gigantic pigeon coop in their backyard.  And she recalled how she used to go out and sweep the bird droppings and bits of rubbish up… generating great clouds of unidentifiable dust and grit as she’d swoosh it all into a bucket… finishing off with another big powdery pooff as she flopped it all into the wheelie bin.  No one knew of the potential danger from inhaling bird gunk in such quantities year after year and anyway, not everyone is susceptible to it. 

Once very fun-loving and social, Wendy now felt too embarrassed and self-conscious to tell even her closest friends that her health had deteriorated.  It had been TWO years since she’d been out anywhere!

But today her girlfriends had insisted on giving her a proper birthday lunch – it was her 60th after all.  Which meant poor Wendy had been stressing for days about what they would think. Seeing her suddenly change from mischievious outgoing Wendy into this mere shell of a woman...unable to walk even small distances without a sit-down and having to lug ‘this dam oxygen’ around all the time (Wendy had a portable mini tank to take if she left the house).

Her friends knew she had been unwell but they all assumed it was just her Asthma and that she had ongoing 'allergy issues'.  All I could do was to help her with her shower and get her looking as glamorous as possible before she left to go to the restaurant and meet the girls.  Such a lovely and proud woman, I felt sad not being able to do more. 

However, we decided there was one thing she should most definitely do - because it was her birthday she should wear the brightest hot-pink lipstick she had.

“If you’re going to make an entrance, Wendy – may as well make it a good one!”

Personal Care for elderly
Work it, Wendy!

Facts about chronic Bird Fancier’s Lung:

  • Also known as Hypersensitivity Pneumonitis or Allergic Alveolitis
  • Is a disease of the lungs involving inflammation to the smaller airways (Alveoli)
  • Develops from sensitivity to inhaling dust from the feathers, serum and droppings of birds such as pigeons and budgies, over a long period of time 
  • Symptoms are: breathlessness, dry non-productive cough, increased audible wheeze, weight loss
  • Difficult to diagnose as symptoms, although distinct, are similar to Asthma. 
  • Long-term exposure can result in progressive and irreversible Pulmonary Fibrosis  ie:scar tissue replacing original inflammation tissue (this was unfortunately Wendy’s stage)
  • Treatment involves removing the exposure (yes, getting rid of the bloody pigeons!) and drug treatment with Cortisteroids.  At the chronic stage Oxygen therapy is not so much for relief, but rather to hopefully prolong life

As I left, I wished Wendy well on her big special day.  I told her I thought she had nothing to be worried about and that it didn’t matter what her friends thought because it was just the way it was.

And that although they might be a bit surprised to start with... if they loved her, then they wouldn’t care what state her -or her lungs- were in. 

What was so cool was that even though she could barely breathe, Wendy's wheezy response showed she had a fabulous sense of humour in spite of it all, and that the cheeky, playful side of her personality hadn't gone anywhere.

“Well the cats really going to be out of the bag when they see me try and blow out 60 candles... or should that be the BIRD!!”

It's all your fault Percy Pigeon


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