Archive for July 2014

Asthma equals exhaustion

Asthma attacks can be rough.  Chronic asthma can be even worse.

I’ve been officially diagnosed with asthma for about 23 years.  I have a family history of severe asthma and severe allergies.  I’ve been prescribed maintenance medications for the past 22 years and have pretty much taken every single steroid and combination-steroid inhaler at some point in time.  I pretty much take all the types of medications that are offered for asthma and have been taking prednisone solid for the past 15 months.  Just making sure I take my medications on time and log my daily symptoms feel like a part-time job.

I work full-time, I attempt to help take care of our two small children, and I’m working on grad school.  Amongst all that I have trouble sleeping on a regular schedule combined with weekly exacerbations/flare-ups, and every day I hit a wall of tiredness where my body declares, “NO MORE,” whenever it pleases.  It’s hard to make plans because I often have to cancel them.  I also have to be careful where I go so as not to encounter anything that could set me off on the chance I’m having an OK day and have decided to be adventurous.  I can’t go to friend’s houses with cats, I must avoid all types of smoke, I can’t be around mold, places with water damage are usually a bad idea, dusty is usually a bad thing, and during non-winter months there is always something in the air that can make me cough or sneeze and my eyes water…leading to it being harder to breathe.  I also have to be really careful about getting sick because common colds are like bronchitis, bronchitis is like pneumonia and actually getting pneumonia is a Go-To-Jail-Don’t-Pass-Go sort of situation for me.  And by jail I mean the hospital.

Luckily I love watching movies.  That’s a great activity for someone like myself.  I also like to cook things I find delicious, and grow beards.  I just wish sometimes I could wake up in the morning without spending 30 min taking medicine trying to feel not-too-awful to start my day.  I wish I could spend an entire day at work not trying to figure out when I have time to take my meds or need to take my meds.  I wish I could come home after work and actually accomplish some things instead of needing to rest up so I can get out of bed the next day.  I just wish I wasn’t tired all of the time.

Lucky Scruff’s Pine Tar Soap and Holy Beard Oil

A few weeks ago I happened to be on Facebook and noticed Lucky Scruff was looking for people to review some of their products.  I’m all about writing reviews for stuff I like, so I volunteered and a week or so later I received a box with:

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Lucky Scruff makes their own soaps and oils, and is based out of Antioch, Tennessee.  They seem to really care about helping people enjoy beards, and they do so with wit and humor.  They sell quality products that are modestly priced, and hold up to other beard care and maintenance products I’ve used.  Oh, and if you live in the state of Tennessee I think you’ll like their shipping perk.

Right from the start I have to comment on the packaging itself.  Both the soap and the oil came in white, cloth, drawstring bags.  It’s classy and gives more opportunity for branding.  I’ve never been great at gift giving or gift wrapping and Lucky Scruff does it for you.

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Beard Oil

I also thought the literature was great.  The first piece was post-card sized with beard care and maintenance tips, and a coupon code for my next order.  It also highlights the three most basic beard care items: a comb, soap, and oil.  The simple step-by-step instructions on how to properly use and apply beard oil are key as some customers may be first time users.  The brochure highlights their products, the company, and how to contact them on the web.

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I only started using beard oil this past year and have been using Beardbrand’s Blank Slate Oil, so Lucky Scruff’s Holy Beard Oil is my second.  Comparing the two it seems like the Holy Beard Oil is slightly lighter than the Blank Slate.  Neither leaves my beard feeling oily, greasy, or weighted down.  I’ve been using a slightly larger amount of the Holy Beard Oil on my beard, but I can’t quite say if that’s because it’s a lighter oil or my beard has grown in the 2-3 weeks I’ve been trying it out.  Either way, I think it’s a great product and it smells great.  I’ve never worn scents or colognes and this is just enough without being overpowering or too noticeable.

Beard Soap

Similar to beard oil, I also started using beard soap this year.  Hudson Made makes an excellent product, but it’s a little on the expensive side.  I’m not saying it’s not worth it, just not the right solution for someone on a tight budget.  Pine Tar soap has been around for decades and is a staple for many beardsmen.  Before I tried out Hudson Made’s soap, I read in many places on the internet that pine tar soap “smells like a wet campfire” and will stink up your house.  If you’ve read much else on my blog you’ll notice I have severe respiratory issues and anything connected to smoke is not a good thing.  I’ll be honest – I was a little worried when I saw Lucky Scruff had sent me pine tar soap, but I wanted to try it out to be fair.

I’m happy to report the soap is great, it lathers awesomely well, it cleans my beard, the scent is subtle, and it in no way smells like a wet camp fire.  The price is also right at $5 for a bar.  Lucky Scruff sent me a sample size and after heavily soaping my beard 6x in the past few weeks, the bar looks like it has hardly been used.

Results

Overall I am very satisfied with the soap and oil from Lucky Scruff.  Looking at their other products, I’d love to try out their Honey Oatmeal soap as well.  I’ll probably get a bar after I’ve used up more of the other two soaps I already have.  People have been loving the beard these past few weeks.  I think it’s fair to say if you use Lucky Scruff beard products, babies will love you.


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Trying to out-Jedi the asthma

Last summer one of my problems with recovery included me trying to jump right back into my normal routine as soon as I could handle not being in bed all day.  While this may sound like a not smart thing to be doing, it made sense at the time because I was concerned about using up all my earned time too quickly and running out before the fiscal year was over.  This strategy caused me to use all my sick time, vacation time, FMLA time, and even had to miss a few additional days.  This summer I’m trying to channel Obi-Wan Kenobi and outsmart the chronic lung disease.

A couple weekends ago I piggybacked two ER visits and the doctors told me to stay home that following week of work.  I’ll be honest – that week was not a good one as I had several serious situations that could have easily landed me back at the hospital.  I showed up to work the next Monday, after staying home for a week, and made it through one day.  I seriously over-did things, watched my peakflow numbers drop to unnecessary levels and stayed home Tuesday and Wednesday.  Thursday rolled around and I had an important decision to make.  I could go back in for another day before the holiday weekend, or not be an idiot and just stay home.

I’m proud to say I chose the latter and actually gave myself some time to rest.  Yeah, I used up three sick days, but I can say with some confidence I probably avoided another week at home later this month.  I don’t know why it can be so hard to just be still and take it easy.  Fortunately I have The Dude to keep me company.

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Dr Carver’s Magnamimous Post Shave

I’ve been writing enough about depressing lung disease stuff, it’s time to switch gears a bit.  For the past couple months I’ve been trying out Dollar Shave Club’s newest product – Dr Carver’s Magnamimous Post Shave.  I’m sometimes asked why I like the Dollar Shave Club so much when I have a full beard; I shave my head on a regular basis, not so much my face.  Along with it comes dry skin all winter and the need for daily sunscreen the rest of the year to keep the skin cancer away.

Dr Carver's Post Shave

Dr Carver’s Post Shave

Moisturizing your scalp can be difficult because many standard moisturizers have the potential to clog your pores and trust me dude, you do not want ingrown hairs and acne on your chrome dome.  I usually buy non comedogenic moisturizer which is generally for your face.  The stuff is a bit more expensive, but it works.  I had been wishing Dollar Shave Club had something I could just add to my order, similar to their Dr Carver’s Shave Butter.  Lo and behold, a month or so after my pining I received notification of their new item for sale.

The post shave comes in a 3.4 oz bottle and can be added to any order for $9.  As usual, shipping and handling is included.  The moisturizer is a semi-thick, white, paste that is easily absorbed into your skin and doesn’t leave you feeling greasy.  I haven’t done any scientific experiments, but I feel like it pairs really well with the shave butter.

Dr Carver's Magnanimous Post Shave

Dr Carver’s Magnanimous Post Shave

At first I was a little concerned about the price and bottle size, but it’s going to last me a very long time with the amount I use on a daily basis.  At the moment I’m only on my 2nd bottle of shave butter with the first one lasting me about six months.  As usual, I am more than satisfied with the Dollar Shave Club and whole-heartedly endorse their shaving products…and if you’re interested in using my referral link I can get a little kickback on my next order.

Time to replace your nebulizer

Do you clean your nebulizer cup regularly?  Do you ever replace it?

I’m almost embarrassed to say at one point in my asthmatic life I used the same nebulizer cup for years without ever really cleaning or replacing it.  Yes, that is gross and unsanitary if you were wondering.  Last year I wrote up a post about how to clean your nebulizer which probably gets the most hits out of anything on this blog.  I used to clean them with vinegar, but a soak in warm water with dish soap for 30min to an hour is just as effective and you don’t run the risk of “inhaling pickles” afterward.

Today is July 1st which means the start of the 2nd half of the year.  Nebuilzer parts: cup, tubing, and filter, should be replaced at least every six months.  To make it easy on myself I do this January 1 and July 1 of every year.

Pari LC Sprint and filterPari LC Sprint and filter

Where do I find replacements?

If you’re in the ER/hospital or receiving breathing treatments at a doctor’s office, that’s one easy place to acquire replacements parts.  If they’ve never offered to give them to you, just ask.  They do not reuse them for other patients and are immediately trashed.  They’ll probably even bag up the tube and nebulizer cup for you like take-out dinner.  Most nebulizer cups and tubing will work with most nebulizer compressors, but it’s good to check.  Occasionally I’ve been given tubing with a much too wide mouth from the hospital, but that’s because it’s made to fit onto those giant nozzles in hospital rooms for room air and oxygen.

You’ll still need to replace the filter in your compressor and that is something you won’t be able to get from the doctor’s office.  Some people like to use durable medical equipment supply companies, but I’ve never had much luck due to having an opinion about the equipment I use.  I’ve also had several local companies try to screw me over with what I’m purchasing, trying to make me buy overpriced bundles instead of just buying what I need, etc.

I like to use JustNebulizers.com to buy all my neb parts.  I’ve even purchased two Pari Trek S systems from them over the years.  They always have a promo code to use, they always provide a promo code with your last order, and the one time there was an issue with my shipment it was immediately fixed.  It’s hard to argue with good customer service.  If you are having trouble deciding or knowing what filter you need, check out their Nebulizer Filter Finder or give them a call for assistance.

Some nebulizer compressors call for more or less frequent filter changes than every six months, but if you’re using it on a regular basis like I am it’s good to replace.  I’ve even replaced at 3 months before just because the filter looks dirty.  Remember dudes, you’re asthmatic and don’t want to be breathing this stuff in.

Lastly, don’t forget to file with your insurance.  Every plan has different rules about how often you can buy stuff, but sometimes you will be reimbursed and the cost will count towards your deductible and/or max-out-of-pocket expenses.

Asthma Attacks

It’s past 2am and as usual I’m extremely exhausted without being tired at all.  Does that sound crazy?  Well it should.  All the prednisone, breathing treatments, and low peakflow numbers don’t help either, but it’s least it’s not 5:30am yet like last night.

Asthma attacks are kind of hard to explain to someone who has never experienced one.  Another reason why they are difficult to define is because in ways they are different for everyone, not to mention the severity with which one suffers from asthma or reacts to particular triggers also varies.  To break it down into simple terms, that really apply to everyone, during an asthma attack your airways constrict and swell making it hard to breath.  Some people cough, some people wheeze, and there is a plethora of other symptoms or signs that may pop up specific to individuals.  Attacks, flare-ups, or exacerbations can last minutes, hours or days.  The important thing is to take them seriously and not let them get out of control.

When I was younger the asthma was still an almost daily thing for me, but it wasn’t like I was taking rescue meds on a daily basis.  Thanks to some of the record keeping I perform on my health (DOCTORS LOVE THIS) I can look back and see how things have gotten better or worse over time.  As a kid I would need rescue meds on a somewhat regular basis during certain parts of the year, but in the past 16 months or so I’ve had fewer than 10 days when I did not need rescue inhalers or nebulized breathing treatments.  On the days where I did need them I was doing anywhere from a couple inhaler puffs or one treatment, up to 12+ treatments in one day.

I’ve been out of the hospital for a full week and am doing much better, but I’m still having a “bad moment” at least every other day.  Last Saturday morning was the worst so far and I got myself into a situation where I was actually worried about myself.  I’ve been working through that morning off and on in my brain looking for things I did wrong or things I could improve next time.  I thought I’d share cause this is serious stuff.

My day actually started out not so bad.  I woke up not gasping for air, played some games on my phone, and was staying home with Chuck while Liz and Neville took care of some morning errands.  The two of them took off and I went about my Saturday ritual of soaping the beard and getting ready for my day.  Chuck was out in the living room holding Chewbacca the guinea pig and watching TV.  After I was ready and dressed, Chuck and I had plans to cook some sausage for breakfast.

I came out from the back of the house ready to start cooking and Chuck asks me where Chewie went, who was now laughing at us from underneath the couch.  Hindsight, being as awesome as it is, would have told me to just let the wookie win, but for some reason I felt the need to get it put away; not allowing him to defecate and micturate upon our carpet.  Ten to fifteen minutes later I was still on the ground with my face pressed into the carpet trying to get that loveable pet out from the couch when I realized I had made a serious mistake.

I should have just let the guinea pig hide under the couch for an hour.

Plan B went into effect as I let the wookie win and started setting up my living room neb for some albuterol around 9am.  I didn’t check any numbers but I knew being down in the carpet had gotten my allergies started which was now triggering my asthma.  Another ten minutes later and my treatment was over, but I wasn’t really feeling much better.  In fact, I was feeling worse.  This is when I started texting Liz to complain about the situation and decided to go find some benadryl at the other end of the house.

I left my phone on the coffee table and lumbered back to the master bathroom where I looked and looked but for some reason couldn’t find the benadryl in plain sight.

Probably after 70 seconds or so I gave up I started stumbling back into the master bedroom and basically collapsed onto my bed.  Over the next 30 minutes as I felt my airways become more and more tight, I tried to get up at least 5 times, only to fall back over.  Eventually I was able to get up enough to setup another nebulizer treatment with my bedroom nebuilzer that was less than three feet away the whole time.  My peakflow was down to 300 (yes this is go-to-hospital for me),put my pulse oximeter onto my finger, and watched my o2 levels desaturate down to 80%.

All of this was occurring while my four year old was watching a movie 10 yards away and I had no way to communicate with anyone because my phone was in the other room and I could neither sit up nor walk to retrieve it.

After my second neb in 30 min my PF was up to 340 and I made it back into the living room to grab some zyrtec and my phone.  Of course Liz hadn’t heard anything from me in 45 min or so and was really wondering what my status was.  I gave her a quick update, and continued to watch my o2 levels bounce between 83% and 88%.  That’s about the time I put a ton of nasal spray up my nose to help curb the allergies, put my CPAP on and hoped for the best.  This was feeling a lot like when both of my lungs partially collapsed last summer.  The difference being I was in a hospital then with two IVs in my arms, and hooked up to 6L of oxygen with 6 nurses, doctors and technicians staring at me.  Last Saturday I was all on my own with nothing but continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP), standard rescue meds, and a cell phone without the ability to talk loudly or clearly.

At some point during this Chuck decided to come join me in the bedroom and watch some TV on the bed.  I kinda knew she was there but was also a bit oblivious to what she was doing.  I ended up falling asleep and after a couple hours of forcing my airways open, my o2 levels were back up to 93%-94%.  While asleep I had a dream two of my medic friends, Andy and Art, were yelling at me to wake up which was about the time Liz got home and was checking on me.

What did I learn?

As crazy as it seems after the fact to verbalize I was seriously short of breath and constantly falling over while failing to take any medicine, in the moment I never think I’m that bad.  I’m the kind of person who discovered early on I can do most things I put my mind to.  This probably isn’t the best thing to have figured out with my asthma, but because of it and a great pulmonolgist as a kid – I kind of developed an attitude of invincibility.

  • I need to keep my phone on me at all times, especially if I’m on my own and in bad shape.
  • I should have quit trying to grab the rodent and just given up sooner.
  • I should have grabbed one of my MDI and taken 4 to 6 quick puffs, with a spacer, to help out in the middle of everything.
  • I probably should have asked Liz to get home immediately.
  • I maybe should have gotten to the nearest hospital ASAP.

This is not what asthma is for many, but this is what asthma is for me.  It’s dangerous, unpredictable, sneaky, and (at times) concerning (for me).  I know there are plenty of people out there who worry for me and about me on a semi-regular basis.  I have amazing friends and great family who are constantly looking out for me and bending backwards to include me when it’d be easier to just let me be.  I’ve basically come to the realization that I’m lucky, blessed, or whatever you want to call it.  I’ve had many close calls where I somehow work through another asthmatic situation one way or another.  Even after 23 years since being diagnosed I’m still learning more about what this disease is, how it affects me, and how I can attempt to keep it under control.  It’s a life-long learning process.

If you have asthma yourself, try not to be stupid like me and get yourself into these situations.  If you are often around someone with asthma, try to recognize symptoms and signs for when they need help.  Liz has figured out what I look like, things I do, ways I act, etc that mean I’m in trouble.  Sometimes I’m clued in and other times I am not.  It’s important to stay calm, as hard as it is, while trying to work through an attack.  Sometimes people don’t take me seriously because I appear too chill.  It really helps though if you can relax just a little bit.

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