There’s no need to apologize for changes in our abilities

As his IPF progressed, this columnist often found himself saying 'I'm sorry'

Samuel Kirton avatar

by Samuel Kirton |

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“I’m sorry” is a simple, two-word phrase I’ve used many times. For me, it can take two forms: It can be a statement of regret, or it can be a question. Because of my hearing loss, I use the latter to indicate that I need someone to repeat what was said. But throughout my journey with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF), I’ve often issued the phrase as an apology.

Even before I was diagnosed with IPF in January 2017, I used the word “sorry” far too frequently. Primarily because of my cough, which I later learned was a symptom of IPF, I found myself apologizing at work for having to stop speaking during presentations and for disrupting or stepping out of meetings.

Early on

I blamed that early cough on seasonal allergies, though it lasted year-round. That cough eventually led my wife, Susan, to insist I ask my primary care physician to order a chest X-ray. The fall of 2016 was the beginning of my path to diagnosis.

The chest X-ray indicated that something was wrong, but it took several months before the diagnosis was confirmed. Yet I continued to say “I’m sorry,” even though I recognized my cough was beyond my control.

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As my IPF progressed, “I’m sorry” became more of a crutch. When I told my leadership team and then co-workers about my diagnosis, I apologized because I felt I was letting them down at a critical time for our company. Later, when I told my colleagues that my doctors had recommended I stop working, I again felt the need to say I was sorry, as I’d brought our team together and elicited high performance.

Apologies continued throughout the pre-transplant phase of my journey. When the distances on my six-minute walk test began to decline, I wanted to apologize to my care team; despite all they were doing, my body was letting me down.

When I needed to rest during social events and when I could no longer complete tasks around the home, I felt compelled to say I was sorry. Susan picked up many of those chores. One particular event that bothered me was watching her shovel snow from our driveway while I was unable to help. She was fine with it, but I apologized and thanked her in the same sentence.

Following my bilateral lung transplant in July 2021, the apology tour continued. When I couldn’t stand up independently immediately following my surgery, it felt necessary to apologize. It was humbling as an adult man to have to ask for assistance with a bedpan. That required an apology, I thought.

Did it, though?

The challenges of IPF are already difficult enough to manage. I should’ve recognized sooner that apologizing for every change in my abilities wasn’t necessary.

IPF affects each of us differently, but it often affects what we’re able to do. My life changed after my diagnosis and I became differently abled. (I dislike the term disabled, as I feel it lumps everyone into too broad a category.) Accepting these changes reduced my compulsion to apologize for being unable to participate fully in everything I once could.

For example, one of the biggest changes was that I needed mobility assistance some days as my disease progressed. I’d use a mobility scooter to move around, especially when Susan and I were out for extended periods. I had no idea how humbling a scooter would be. While I was able to spend time with Susan outside our home, she often had to remind me to slow down.

Post-transplant, I had to use a cane for a period. However, I no longer felt the need to apologize for moving at a slower pace. For me, this aid was a sign that I was getting stronger and regaining some of my mobility. Today, I no longer use my cane.

Dealing with a cough, mobility issue, or other physical challenge is no cause for apology. When I’m around people who don’t know about my illness, instead of saying I’m sorry, I now use those moments as opportunities to educate and increase awareness of IPF and transplants. The more I learn on my journey, the more I’m able to help others understand the challenges our community faces.

Don’t be sorry for the things you’re no longer able to do. Celebrate what you can do. Celebrating those abilities with you is how I can make every breath count.

Note: Pulmonary Fibrosis News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read 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 spark discussion about issues pertaining to pulmonary fibrosis.


Keith Emery avatar

Keith Emery

Well said that man!

Jim Eilert avatar

Jim Eilert

surprised you waited so long to accept the help provided without apology. Gratitude, thanks are my go to when it is obvious that I cannot bend down immediately to pet the comfort dog at the hospital. Eventually, I did squat a little to do that. Full of gratitude for my youngest son's continued assistance with so much - cooking, vacuuming weekly, putting the bottom sheets on my bed (I can do the rest & still handle the laundry). He & I both know all that will change at some point.
I do thank him every night after climbing the stairs on me way to bed - I stop at his boom and say "thank you." There are spontaneous "I love you" and hugs. k

Carlton Stidsen avatar

Carlton Stidsen

I still use a cane , sine I'm walking slower , and use the cane for balance . Without it , I roll from side to side like a drunken sailor. And I use the cough as a marker ( usually three consecutive dry coughs) to know when to hook up to my portable Concentrator . So far , it works . But - yeah - we can't do what we used to . Insofar as shoveling snow. But - using a self-propelled two-stage snowblower , and doing a little cleanup with a push shovel ( taking frequent breaks) is a satisfying way to handle snow. I was diagnosed in 2018. Being too old for a transplant ( at age 80) , I just look for different ways to do things .

John Fromularo avatar

John Fromularo

I enjoyed and related to your article. I am a retired Marine and former runner. I was diagnosed with IPF 4 years ago. They have since changed that diagnosis to scleroderma PF. The first 3 years I really had no symptoms however after getting bronchitis, my situation changed. I now have shortness of breath and have been coughing for 14 months. I retire at the end of this year and am in a client facing career.
What do you say? After Covid everyone freaks out with people coughing. I tell people I have a chronic cough but don't think I should tell everyone about my PF.
If you have a short phrase or statement to share I want to hear it. Thank you.

Jeff Capra avatar

Jeff Capra

Thank you for sharing this insight. I also recently had a double lung transplant at the age of 55. I’ve been on the “I’m sorry” bandwagon for 5 years and this has given me greater perspective. All the best to you.


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