peakflowzone On Saturday I was supposed to do a 10 mile walk along the SF waterfront (one that I’ve done countless times before) , but was too short of breath and was only able to complete 7.5 miles. I probably shouldn’t have even attempted the walk in the first place , as I’d been having problems the previous week. It was a beautiful day though, and I thought that once I got moving, I’d press on and get through it. Instead, I got tired and frustrated and just gave up.

It’s not so much the fact that I was unable to finish the walk that worries me, it’s that I gave up so easily. For the first time, I had absolutely no desire in torturing myself over a silly walk. Two years ago, I would have never referred to this as a “silly” walk. It’s the curse of the yellow zone again ! If you’ve ever read through my posts, no doubt you’ve seen the green , yellow or red zone indicator on sidebar, but did you ever wonder what they really mean? Do you really care?

Because this blog is as much about living with lung disease as it is about endurance walking, I wanted a simple way to tie the two together and give you, the reader, a sense of how I’m breathing, without throwing it in your face. The “traffic light” system I devised is loosely based on the peak-flow meter zone system, which I also helped invent and that most asthmatics use today. I take it a step further by including subject input as well. ie, how am I feeling.

The Green light or (green zone ) represents how I feel when I’m symptom- free at rest. It doesn’t necessarily mean that I’m breathing normal ( I never breath normal), rather, it means I’m breathing at my baseline, which in my case , represents a peak flow of greater than 550 and symptoms only on exertion. In general , it means I’m breathing OK and that I’m happy.

The Red light indicates the obvious. It means that I’m extremely short of breath and that a more serious exacerbation is either occurring, or is imminent . You won’t see many of these lights, because I’m either too sick to blog about it, or I’m already in the hospital.

The color I dread the most though, is Yellow. The clinical term ( if there was one) would probably be “mild exacerbation” or “flare up”. This is where I spend at least half my life. It’s kind of an asthma Purgatory. It seems to come out of the blue and can last for a few days, or a few weeks! There’s no dramatic scenes of someone gasping and wheezing, this is a place where you suffocate in silence. When you’re in this zone, breathing becomes very uncomfortable. It feels like someone is sitting on my chest. You may or may not be wheezing, but you have a hard time exhaling because of air trapping. You feel like you’re dying, but your not….. you feel miserable! You’re too short of breath to do much of anything, but because your peak flows are not in the Red zone , you’re not sick enough to seek emergency medical care. The best you can do is notify your caregiver , ( if you can get a hold of them) or follow an asthma action plan that you devised with your doctor. In my case, I increase all my medications , start on the prednisone (if I’m not already on it), closely monitor my peak flows and oxygen saturations, and try to stay calm as possible. You try to convince yourself that this is only temporary, and that you ‘ll be back in the green real soon ( at least that’s what I do).

Currently I’ve been cycling between the green and yellow zones about every 3 weeks, spending equal amounts of time in each zone. Because I’m extremely strong willed and have a very high tolerance for breathing discomfort, I’m able to function better than most, and sometimes, can even walk quite far when I’m in the yellow zone. However, as the ratio of green to yellow days continues to decline, I’m finding it harder and harder to cope with everyday life let alone racewalking.

I hope this phase passes quickly, I have a marathon to walk in less than 4 weeks!

( As of 2009, Ive removed the peak flow traffic light widget from my blog)

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