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How to Manage the Holidays with COPD

COPD Basics

November 22, 2023

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Photography by Evgeniya Savina/Stocksy United

Photography by Evgeniya Savina/Stocksy United

by Barbara Moore

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Medically Reviewed by:

Debra Sullivan, Ph.D., MSN, R.N., CNE, COI

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•••••

by Barbara Moore

•••••

Medically Reviewed by:

Debra Sullivan, Ph.D., MSN, R.N., CNE, COI

•••••

•••••

You can still prepare for the holidays with some adjustments.

I hear my first Christmas song of the season as I head into my afternoon naptime. I’m immediately transported back to holidays gone by, in the years before I was diagnosed with COPD.

When my children were young, my husband and I created Christmas with all the glitz and glamour you could imagine. We bought into the magic of Christmas with mountains of presents and an abundance of food for everyone.

It might seem extravagant, but we had no extended family to celebrate with us in those days, so we learned to start our own traditions.

We started the holidays every year with a trip to the movie theater to see the newest Christmas movie. “One Magic Christmas” and “A Christmas Story” come to mind. We also took in live theater productions, like “Annie” or “Peter Pan.” As the years went on, we would see productions of “Phantom of the Opera,” “Show Boat,” and “The Lion King.”

Now that I have COPD, I haven’t seen a live production in 25 years. The last time I was in a theater was before the COVID-19 pandemic. I don’t see that changing anytime soon.

With the state of my COPD, I have to be careful of germs and viruses because they could be dangerous to me.

Here are some ways I’ve adjusted my shopping, decorating, and hosting and travel plans for the holidays while living with COPD.

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Shopping

The days of enjoying the hustle and bustle of shopping at the mall and partaking in midnight madness sales are long gone for me. I can no longer tolerate the crowds and the germs they carry, and I can no longer afford the prices with my disability benefits.

Once I discovered online shopping, I never looked back.

It has been over 10 years since I’ve been to the mall. Now if I decide I need some retail therapy, I go with my husband, and I always use my mobility scooter. We can go shopping anytime and stay out as long as my oxygen tank allows.

I can go to the dollar store or Costco without much trouble. We’ve found that shopping during the dinner hour is the best time for less traffic inside and outside the store.

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Decorating

Before COPD, there was no turning back once we started shopping. It was soon time to decorate the house inside and out.

I didn’t do it all myself. My husband and the kids contributed, too. As a collector of Santa Claus figurines, I had many dotted around the house. Those days were the most fun I could ever imagine having. I enjoyed every single minute of them, cost aside.

Oh boy, things sure have changed. My kids have grown and left home, and for the first 5 years living with COPD, it felt like there was no point in decorating because everyone was celebrating elsewhere.

We were eight adults with no kids. I was just starting to feel the strain of COPD, so I was OK with having the bare minimum of decorations. I had no problem because I still remember so many years ago.

Then, 5 years ago, my daughter had my first grandson, which was a game changer. We started decorating again in earnest just for him.

These days, we have a simpler Christmas. I don’t do any of the heavy lifting. It was just a chore that didn’t need to be done by me, so I handed over control to my husband and daughter. They do the heavy lifting now — but let me decide where my Santa figurines go.   

Hosting the holidays

Even with my COPD, I prefer to host Christmas because I can control the odors that come to the table. The rule is no perfumes or aftershave and no scented candles or plug-ins. They can cause shortness of breath episodes for me.

When I’m entertaining, I have to plan because I cannot pop out to pick up last-minute items. Being a list writer helps: I start my list well before the day, trying to remember every detail that needs attention.

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Holiday travel

It’s very difficult for me to visit family and friends in the winter, especially around Christmastime. Most of my COPD exacerbations have happened just after Christmas. I truly believe it is due to the stress and cold of the season.

It’s predictable where I live to have a lot of snow for Christmas. It’s also predictable to be cold, blustery, and windy. Going from the front door to the car with my oxygen tank can exhaust me.

Sitting in the car in cold weather and trying to recover can be very hard on me. I’ve been through this many times when I gasp for air so hard that I pass out. My husband then calls an ambulance. If I don’t come to when I get to the hospital, they ventilate me for at least 24 hours.

Adjusting to the changes

I’m making this part of my life about me for a change, and I do it without guilt or regret. If I don’t want to celebrate a holiday, I won’t, and that will have to be OK with everyone.

Creating a support system to help me get through the holidays is of utmost importance. I’ve learned to train myself to plan and pace my steps, doing a little bit every day and doing most projects sitting down.

As I lay my head on the pillow for my afternoon nap, I realize that these years are speeding by. It seems just as we get one year put to bed, it’s time to do it all over again.

Medically reviewed on November 22, 2023


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