When you speak to your doctor about your health issues, you expect them to take it seriously. But Ken Benson says that he spoke to his doctor for years about shortness of breath but nothing was done about it.
“Initially, I started getting shortness of breath when I was coming back from my morning jog around the neighborhood, which I had always done as a way of waking up,” he tells sources. “Instead of coming back and feeling ready for the day, I found myself out of breath.”
Benson says for nearly ten years he brought this up to his family doctor, but nothing was done about it time and time again. “I kept switching doctors, hoping to find an answer,” he says. “I went through four of them.” Benson says some would refer him to an allergist, who wouldn’t find a reason for his breathing issues, and then would seemingly give up. Nobody ever sent him to a pulmonologist, which is a doctor that specializes in lung conditions.
After a few instances, he was given a few inhalers with little to no instructions. “Nobody even showed me how to use them,” he says. “After a while, I had a drawer full of every inhaler there ever was. I also found out that I was allergic to absolutely nothing other than dust mites.”
After a decade of uncertainty, he eventually found a doctor who referred him to a pulmonologist. There, he went through a number of tests until the doctors came to a conclusion: He had adult asthma and severe emphysema — a form of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Benson, then 53, says that the new medical team walked him through the condition and how to properly manage his symptoms. He ended up going to the same team for 20 years.
‘I finally have an answer: This is really good.’
“My first thought on being diagnosed was ‘I finally have an answer: This is really good,’” Benson says. “But things became increasingly difficult for me.”
The years of trying to find the root cause of his pain had gotten to him mentally. “My mental state was really messed up,” he says. Benson turned to self-help books and group therapy, and says he finally started to turn a corner. “Everything started coming together,” he admits. “I started taking care of myself and decided to do all the stuff that I could to help my health from this point on. Up until that point, I thought I had been done wrong by the medical profession. But then I thought, “Okay, well, I can do this.’”
Still, COPD has a strong influence on Benson’s life. Now 75, he receives access to oxygen at night when sleeping, when he flies and while he exercises in the gym. “I’ve learned that I need a rolling cart when I have groceries because I can’t carry a bag far without getting short of breath,” he explains. He also needs to eat more frequent, smaller meals because larger meals can put too much pressure on his diaphragm and make it hard for him to breathe.
Benson can ride his bicycle, but only when the wind is at his back “When the wind is in front of me, I’m working so hard to pedal that I’m out of breath,” he says. “That was a real eye-opener for me.” He’s learned to take frequent sitting breaks during his day, even between having breakfast and getting dressed. “I have a constant reminder of COPD,” he notes. “Some days, it just feels like this nasty little puppet sitting on my shoulder saying I can’t do things. Some days you listen to it, and other days you say, ‘Yes, I can.’”
Benson says that you should be persistent if you know something is off in your body. “If you don’t agree with your doctor, tell them that you want to keep looking for an answer,” he says. “It drives me crazy when people aren’t acting in the best interest of the patient.”