As a nurse, these three words were burned into my brain. They are the basics of all good nursing care and the foundation of any patient care plan. Those three simple tasks combat the complications of impaired mobility. Lie flat on your back without any exertion for several days and things like bed sores, pneumonia and muscle atrophy (wasting) show up. We humans were just designed with motion in mind! So every two hours like clockwork, nurses turn our bedridden patients and encourage them to cough and take deep breaths. And therein lies the kicker – we can only really do one of the three without the patient. I have turned and repositioned countless people over the years, but I have never “coughed” or “breathed” them (unless they are on a ventilator, but that’s a different kind of situation altogether and then we have a procedure or two to get the job done). But normally, they are completely responsible for breathing and coughing on their own. We can ask, beg, encourage, prod, tease, educate and even threaten, but you can’t make someone breathe or cough if they don’t want to. They have to do the work themselves, they have to make it happen.
So it goes with any illness/disability/condition, at some point you have to do some work to stay healthy or get better. Likely it is not fun, it may be painful and it may be hard, but it is the only way. It is always the worst when first getting started, but as things progress it becomes less so (I promise!). The trick is to just begin and do a little bit. Just one thing that you can own and control and do it on your terms. Cough when no one is looking, turn over just because you feel like it, take a deep breath just to see how much you can hold. Do whatever you think you might be comfortable doing or might make sense to you. Do it your way. For me, I made my own diabetes log books because I didn’t like the ones the doctor gave me. I chose to inject in the ER break room because walking all the way back to the locker room was a waste of time. Start with anything and keep at it until you have created something that works for you. Doing it on your terms feels far better than having people nag you about it.
And they will nag. They will nag because they love you, because they feel responsible, because they want you to be well, because it hurts that they can’t help, because they think they know more than you and because it gives them something to “do”. This is a fairly volatile situation if you are in the throes of anger, denial or depression. There is nothing worse than trying desperately to control your misfiring body while those around are pointing out every error. Warning to naggers – best to use compassion instead of correction in these situations. My advice to deal with nagging is twofold, one: see it for what it is – people wanting you to be OK – try not to bite their head off or get too defensive and two: try not to give them a reason to nag.
You really hold all the cards because no one can really make you do anything. On that same note, no one will suffer for not doing it worse than you. As much as you may not want to deal with “it”, handling it face on, on your terms is the best way to go. I am not saying to ignore your provider’s advice, bult I am saying take ownership of what you need to do. It might be tempting to bury your head in the sand and let your parent, spouse, significant other, whoever, call the shots, but to do so is to willingly become a victim. And victim doesn’t feel good, it’s not a happy place.
One more tip on how to get started – think of the thing you know you should be doing more of, less of, or doing differently. Got it? Most likely, it feels like something you are not thrilled about – right? (Or you would already be doing it). Now, find one thing about it that you will benefit from. Just one. And it can’t be about what anyone else. Not what they want, what they would prefer or what they would hate. Focus on how it will benefit you. Make you better. Be of benefit to you. Now do it. Give yourself that gift today. From you, to you – only you.
Turn, cough, and deep breathe – keep moving because you want to, need to and you deserve it. My hope is that it makes you feel just a bit better, despite anything else going on. And a bit better is certainly better than a bit worse.