25 Mar

So You Think You're Breathless

Claire Grainger

Illness caught Claire Grainger unawares but afterwards running played a significant part on her road to recovery ...

For someone who, touch wood, is very rarely ill, it was frustrating to start feeling under the weather just before Christmas. The onset of a cold I suspected‚ little did I know it was the start of a health ordeal that would continue well into the summer. Let me rewind slightly. As one does just before Christmas (takes mental note not to do it again), I was embarking on a hoovering spree. While kneeling and using the hoover attachments, the upright part of the machine suddenly tipped behind me and crashed onto my back. At the time, it was little more than a serious - 'ouch'.

A couple of days later, with Christmas about two days away, I started to feel fluey with a sore back. By Christmas Eve, I was incredibly breathless, tired, in a lot of pain and also coughing and being sick. Christmas Day was a complete non-starter‚ I suffered through the day, barely being able to walk and in significant pain. By evening it was time to go to casualty.

To cut a long story short, I was admitted that night with suspected pneumonia, having a lung full of fluid, given oxygen and prescribed morphine to deal with the pain. I then spent a whopping six nights in hospital, having my lung drained, various ultrasound scans, countless tests and x-rays.

A week after I was discharged, having reverted to the pre-Christmas tinge of green, I was re-admitted with my GP reporting a 'full pleural effusion' in the same lung. I remained in hospital for an additional 8 nights. A similar course of action was repeated but, this time, I had two drains and various complications caused by my lung filling up again and not draining properly. When I was finally discharged, I left with a collapsed lung, caused by the lung not returning to its usual self after the drains. It was late summer before I started to feel 'normal' again, with regular appointments at the respiratory clinic. I was eventually discharged in September 2009. (And, if you were wondering about the hoover, that incident was dismissed by my consultant as a mere coincidence although some doctors suspected the accident may have been a factor in letting infection in).

Along with a huge sense of relief that the ordeal was over, I left Ninewells with some advice from my consultant to start exercising in a bid to further improve my lung capacity. As a mother-of-two who runs my own business I wouldn't have described myself as'unfit' but I didn't have a regular exercise regime. He suggested joining a gym but I knew that would never happen. I would rather enjoy the great outdoors so made the decision to invest in some trainers and running gear. My first run was round Dudhope Park in Dundee but it was depressing to have to stop before I got to the park, let alone run around it. I persisted though and, after runs three times a week, I soon increased the length and distance of run, soon managing 15-20 minutes three times a week.

We are now several months on and, at the time of writing this, I am managing runs of just over half an hour three times a week. Being self-employed gives me the flexibility to fit runs into my working day and there's no doubt that it boosts my creative thinking and regularly sparks some out-of-the-box ideas which I can act on when I get back to the office.

On the days when I lack motivation or would rather stay in, I remind myself of how good I feel after a run but, more importantly, that several months ago, I was unable to read a bedtime story to my children, talk to clients, or walk up the stairs without coughing and suffering severe shortness of breath. Running, combined with family cycle runs, has made a huge difference to my fitness and is undoubtedly the best thing to come out of what became a serious and complicated health condition.