Winter’s grip is a battle with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease

Gwyneth Garret

As Perth shivers its way through winter, take pity on 85-year-old Gwyneth Garret for whom winter sends a chill up her spine in more ways than one.

Gwyneth, who lives in Armadale, was diagnosed with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) when she was in her 70s, and each year winter brings with it an increased risk of the respiratory disease taking a foothold in her lungs and sending her off to the hospital.

Born in Buckinghamshire, England, Gwyneth says it was a battle to get her illness diagnosed.

“Some moments are impregnated in your mind. I can see me in a previous house, sitting in the sunroom where we used to have a coffee and a cigarette and solve the world’s problems, and all of a sudden, I couldn’t get any breath,” Gwyneth says.

“I was fighting to get breath and I didn’t know what to do. I had no idea what it was.

I was taken into hospital and from there I went three times in a fortnight to hospital and they still didn’t know what was wrong with me.

“My heart rate was 166 and rising so I had to get my heart rate down before they could do anything and on the third time the specialist came in to see me and I said: ‘if I’m back here and you haven’t found out what’s wrong with me I’ll be gunning for you’. 

“I was so angry that nobody seemed to know what was wrong with me and that was about 2005 or 2006.”

Gwyneth says at the time the doctors thought it was something wrong with her heart rather than her lungs until she was eventually diagnosed with COPD. In 2004 a specialist had told her to give up smoking or she wouldn’t be around for long, but she didn’t think he knew what he was talking about and didn’t give up until 2006.

“But it was too late then, I’d already developed COPD.”

The illness has affected Gwyneth badly.

“You struggle with just about everything you do because any exertion just takes your breath away and you do deteriorate, believe you me.

“When I think what I was like a couple of years ago, I have a machine here that has three balls in it and I used to be able to get all three up, but now I can only get two up and the third one doesn’t move at all so I know my lungs are not as good as they used to be. The machine is like an exercise for your lungs.”   

And the cold weather makes it worse, affecting her symptoms and leaving her with “lots of gold nuggets”.

She does her best to keep away from people with colds.

“Everybody I know, knows not to get in touch with me if they have a cold or a cough because that can send you into hospital straight away. Coming to terms with not being able to do things you were able to is harder than not being able to do them.”

In 2015 Gwyneth was discharged from her specialist and told she was on her own.

She says she was fortunate to discover Asthma WA and has been able to rely on the organisation for help.

“I was on my own for years. But I feel happy now that someone else knows that I have COPD and is checking in on me. I’m not on my own anymore.”

Gwyneth says the worst thing anyone with COPD can do is panic.

“It takes a long time to stop that panicking. If I find I’m losing my breath I sit and calm down and just wait until I’m normal once again.”

The hospital recommended Gwyneth to Asthma WA, which came to see her in the hospital and keeps in touch with her by phone.

And while Gwyneth says the winter weather is bad, summer is just around the corner which also brings its share of problems.

“The heat just takes your breath away.”

And she keeps well away from dusty conditions.

“But I do have an air purifier in my lounge because I have a bird and she sheds her feathers sometimes. And when I go to the shopping centre I always wear a mask, especially this time of year, you have to be so careful.”

Gwyneth warned anybody who found themselves coughing more or had a lot of mucous in their throat to go and see the doctor.

“I made the mistake of leaving it too long and you know if you catch a cold and you have COPD it’s not just an inconvenience, it’s a trip to hospital.”

She says people should also check in with Asthma WA.

CEO of Asthma WA, Anne Hallam says that in winter its essential respiratory conditions are well managed. 

“People need to have an up-to-date asthma and/or COPD action plan and ensure they are taking their medication as prescribed,” she says

It is important for people with asthma or COPD to get both the flu vaccination and COVID-19 vaccination when it’s available.

Asthma WA is available on 9289 3600 to answer questions about asthma and COPD or patients should speak with their doctor for a review and to update their action plan.

Anne says the free services Asthma WA offers can make a difference, by continuing to help reduce the number of hospitalisations and improve quality of life through education and empowerment of people to take control of their respiratory health. 

Previous articleCup legend – 40 years on…
Next articleTerry Bolland continues the history of the Avon Descent
Journalist and public relations specialist Allen Newton has worked across major media organisations in Western Australia and PR locally and internationally. He and wife Helen Ganska operate Newton Ganska Communications. Allen started his journalism career at the long defunct Sunday Independent and went on to become the founding editor for news website PerthNow, Managing Editor of The Sunday Times and PerthNow and then Editor-In-Chief of news website WAtoday. As well as news, he has been an editor of food and wine, real estate, TV and travel sections. He’s done everything from co-hosting a local ABC television pop show, to editing a pop music section called Breakout with Big Al, and publishing his own media and marketing magazine.