In March 2019, my mother Holly got a second chance in life. Your bilateral lung transplant was a gift in a class of its own. It saved and extended her life when nothing else would. It gave her body back the strength to enjoy life. It restored their health and independence.
A short year later, she was just out of the University of California at San Francisco to check in for her year-long post-transplant appointments when her doctor called her to go home and stay there.
In an instant, the COVID-19 pandemic took so much of the freedom and independence it regained when it got new lungs. The cost of a lung transplant was that she would spend her days with a weakened immune system. Even before COVID-19, this was a major cost factor. She has promised her doctors and her donor that she will protect her gift and accept the challenge of an immunocompromised life.
In this new world, the virus has taken away or changed a lot of what made life comfortable – for all of us, but especially for people like my mother. But we all know this story. We have all gone through our own losses and suffered our own ailments for the past year and a half. I am not going to try to list them for the sake of making a point.
Despite all of the inconvenience of a pandemic raging in my mother’s vulnerable life, she has found ways to divert her attention from the grief. Something that has helped both her mental and physical health was exercise.
Walking has always been an accessible and important part of her recovery. Even before the acute exacerbation she was hospitalized, my mother was undergoing pulmonary rehabilitation. When she was in intensive care for three months, daily walks were critical to her survival. Her distance increased from six steps to six laps up and down the hall until she had a fight for new lungs.
In the months after she was released from the hospital, we walked San Francisco and Golden Gate Park together. When she was finally allowed to return to the mountains, she and my father went the old routes in their neighborhood. The mile-long walk around the local pond was insurmountable when my mother’s IPF went bad. Thanks to her new lungs, she can easily complete the loop again.
To keep things interesting, my parents decided to change their exercise routine. Last summer, their communal pool offered lap swimming by appointment. This was a perfect, gentle change as my father developed a painful autoimmune disease called polymyalgia rheumatica. They swam all summer, but the outdoor swimming season is short at high altitude.
In winter they were usually on the slopes or with snowshoes to keep fit. Standing in elevator lines and stuffing themselves in gondolas with strangers didn’t seem like the safest way to spend the day during a pandemic, so they crouched down at home.
When the world thawed this spring, my parents decided to buy e-bikes. They were irritated by winter and got bored of walking the same old routes over and over again. And when vaccines reduced the number of cases, the pool went back to its previous schedule – all children, all day. Even before the pandemic, places like this were on my mom’s no-go list. Please no cooties.
The price of the bikes was high, but the investment was worth it. Their new bikes allow them to conquer steep hills with relatively little effort. This keeps the force on sore joints, old injuries and battle-weary heart systems low. The electrical assistance only works when the pedals are moving. Even if the engine gives them a boost, they have to keep their legs moving.
Both of my parents loved sitting on two wheels again. My mom said it feels like being a kid again when you can take off your bike and leave the house in the dust. Cycling around town for hours feels new and exciting after years of not being able to ride. Knowing that the bike will help her get home up the mountain at the end of the ride takes away the fear that she might be stuck somewhere due to fatigue or joint pain.
E-bikes are an adaptation that enables my parents to do something they enjoy again. Adapting to change is what people do best I think. When things get tough, be it in your body or around the world, we adjust because we have to!
Note: Pulmonary Fibrosis News is solely a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always contact your doctor or other qualified health care provider with questions about any medical condition. Never disregard or hesitate to seek professional medical advice because you have read something on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Pulmonary Fibrosis News or its parent company BioNews and are intended to stimulate discussion on issues related to pulmonary fibrosis.