March 4, 2009 was The Lung Association’s Tulip Day in Ontario. To celebrate the imminent arrival of spring after a long winter, the association sells tulips to raise money and hope for improved lung health in Ontario. Volunteers sold bunches of tulips at the hospital and I had trouble choosing between yellow, white, red and these orange "grown in Ontario" blooms. They are just starting to open up and will give me a little taste of what will grow in my garden sometime next month.
I have worked with patients suffering from respiratory ailments for much of my career. I used to be involved with the Cystic Fibrosis Clinic at the hospital in the late 1970s when the life expectancy for children born with this disease was much shorter than it is now. Cystic Fibrosis is found in the Old Order Mennonite population in our region and in large families, several children may be affected by it. It is also commonly found in other demographic groups. My brother Philip used to help me with an evening Swim and Gym program for children with CF. They had lots of energy and loved the recreational opportunity.
I worked for over ten years in the Intensive Care Unit doing therapy with people suffering from respiratory failure and a host of other serious illnesses. The majority of lung diseases are secondary to smoking (as well as many other illnesses!) but patients with severe asthma, end-stage pulmonary fibrosis, and fast moving infections also end up in acute care. I am sure that everyone has known someone close to them who has suffered from lung disease. We are becoming more aware of the effects of air pollution on lung health and the anti-smoking message is being heard. Ontario does not allow smoking in any public venue including restaurants and workplaces. In the 1970s, students could smoke during university lectures, smoking was allowed in buses, planes, workplaces, malls, even in hospital wards. Wherever I went I came home smelling of cigarette smoke.
The rehabilitation hospital where I now work has a very successful outpatient Pulmonary Rehab program. Patients are referred from the community and attend education and exercise sessions a few times a week. Graduates of the program can return once a week to use the equipment and meet up with friends they have who also have lung disease. Some people can barely walk into the building as they tote their portable oxygen with them, but soon they are doing laps around the first floor or using the treadmills and other equipment available for strength and aerobic training.
Outpatient programs are being cut from hospital budgets at an alarming rate in Ontario. Because the people are not acutely ill and because they can sometimes access similar services for a fee in the community, hospital administrators balance their budgets by reducing these therapeutic clinics. A person with COPD could join a gym or attend a public pool, but it is more motivating for them to be in an environment with trained professionals and other people with similar conditions.
I bought the tulips in support of the efforts of the Ontario Lung Association and hope they will continue to promote positive change for the lung health of all of us.
Canadian Lung Association
American Lung Association