I have been living with emphysema for nearly 15 years, but was not diagnosed until 2011. I was a longtime smoker–44 years long–so it was no surprise when I was diagnosed. For years, I had already been experiencing severe, long coughing fits and had broken two ribs as a result of coughing so hard.
Since my diagnosis, my emphysema has become progressively more serious. It affects my breathing 24 hours a day. My problem is getting air out. If you can’t get air out, you can’t get air in. I have coughing fits, even when I’m asleep. I wake up coughing, desperately trying to clear my lungs. Sometimes I cough for a grueling hour straight.
I use a nebulizer three times a day, I am on oxygen 24/7, and I have a rescue inhaler. I also attend respiratory therapy twice a week. This all allows me to live and it makes the discomfort tolerable most of the time, at least for now.
The shortness of breath and lack of oxygen has slowed me down. I run out of breath really easily. But it hasn’t stopped me from wanting to be here for as long as I can enjoy quality time with the ones I love. Thankfully, having portable oxygen allows me to participate in outings with my husband, kids and grandkids. Everything is just at my own pace.
I know, however, that it’s only going to continue to get worse. A doctor once told me that dying from emphysema is one of the worst kinds of deaths. A horrible, painful death. I have enough trouble keeping up with my breathing now. I can’t face that I could likely die by drowning in my own fluids or gasping for air that won’t come. Worst of all, I can’t imagine how traumatizing it would be for my loved ones watching me. I do not want to put them through that.
I want the option of medical aid in dying so that I can face my last days with a little less fear. Less fear for myself and less fear for my family. I have no desire to die. I want to put it off as long as possible, but I’ve been told I have a 25% chance of being alive in five years. The statistics are debatable, but my decline is inevitable. Knowing that I face a difficult death weighs on my mind. I think about that doctor’s statement–that this is one of the worst deaths–often.
I hope North Carolina lawmakers will make this an option before I have to make this kind of decision. But, if they don’t, I will move to Colorado, where my sister lives, and take advantage of their aid-in-dying law. I would hate to have to move–it would be devastating for me as well as my husband, David. North Carolina is our home. It’s where my son and daughter and five granddaughters live. It’s where I want to spend the rest of my life. I would like to die in my own home. In my beautiful, bright and airy bedroom. But at least the option to relocate, if necessary, is there. Staying in a state that wouldn’t allow me the autonomy to make such a personal decision during such an important and sensitive time would not be an option.