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Harmless or Deadly: A Personal Story About Asthma

Posted on 08 October 2008

It was the kind of summer morning one dreams about during an icy, cold winter. As bright June sunlight filtered through my bedroom blinds, a cool breeze blew in and woke me. Sitting up, I realized there was something seriously wrong with my breathing. On that June morning in 1998, I thought my life was over. My asthma had been bothering me for several months, but now it had taken a violent turn for the worst. I whispered to my mother, in a barely audible voice, “Call an ambulance now.” The next five hours were a blur of needles, worried doctors, and questions. I asked my doctor if I was going to die. He stared at me silently and wouldn’t respond. How did my life come to this? How did I wind up near death from an asthma attack?

My battle with asthma began at age six. I remember rocking back and forth on my bed, wheezing and coughing loudly. My mother took me to the doctor and it was confirmed that I had asthma. I was diagnosed with mild-persistent asthma, a chronic lung condition that causes breathing problems.

After learning my diagnosis, I remember hearing my mother cry in the doctor’s office. I didn’t know what asthma was, but it must be something bad for my mom to react with sadness. On the way home, she said we had to get rid of my stuffed animals, the carpeting in my bedroom, and buy plastic casing for my mattress. It is difficult for a six year old to understand why the stuffed animals had to be thrown out. She explained that I was allergic to dust and that the toys were a dust magnet.

Throughout my childhood and teen years, visits to the asthma specialist, weekly allergy shots, and daily medication became part of my routine. The allergy shots were the worst part of having asthma. Nancy, a nurse at the doctor’s office, would jab the needle in my arm really hard. I would cry when she gave me my injection. One day my mom had a few words with her, and from then on another nurse gave me my shots. My daily medication routine helped me to have a normal childhood. I liked to ride my bike, play basketball and everything else kids do when they’re growing up. The thought of dying from asthma rarely crossed my mind. While there were times my asthma was bad, I didn’t think I could die from it. At least until that summer morning.

During my senior year of college, I worked nearly full-time at the mall while completing my studies at Marist College. Thoughts of getting a job and starting my adult life filled my mind. I did not want to make time to go to the doctor or take my daily medication. I was busy putting myself through school and enjoying my independence.

During the second half of my senior year, I began to have breathing problems that I could not ignore. I noticed it when I had trouble walking long distances on campus. A quick puff of my inhaler would unleash a medicine to open up my airways, and temporarily wipe out the asthma attack. This went on for several months before it started getting worse.

I lived alone so no one knew what was going on with my health. I kept telling myself that I could stop the asthma attacks by medicating myself with strong anti-inflammatory steroids, which were left over from previous asthma attacks. I didn’t have the time to go to the doctor and didn’t want to spend the money. I was trying to get through to graduation and money was tight.

A few weeks after graduation, the attacks increased in severity. I went to the emergency room at St. Francis hospital in Poughkeepsie, NY. They treated me and sent me home. That afternoon I watched a video and tried to relax. I didn’t feel there was much improvement in my breathing. My mom came over that night to take care of me. I don’t think she had ever seen me so sick. It was hard to eat the dinner she cooked me and breathe at the same time. Around 7 pm, my boyfriend called and I could barely carry on a conversation. The next morning, the beautiful June morning, I was back in the emergency room.

The physician admitted me to the critical care unit. For three days, doctors and nurses hovered nearby. They put me on a course of drugs to stabilize my breathing and get it back to normal. When I was admitted, my breathing rate was 20 out of 800. No wonder the doctor wouldn’t answer my question! Fear gripped my heart, knowing how close I had come to the end. I repeated Psalm 23 over and over, trying to calm myself down. The hospital stay gave me time to think about my life and my health. I had just graduated and had so much reason to live. I didn’t want to die, I wasn’t done living! I had gotten my Bachelor’s degree and met a great guy who I really felt was the one. It was a time of great introspection. I had always prayed for God’s will for my life, but now I really needed to know what it was. I had spent the past few years pursuing my goals and dreams, but was I pursuing what God wanted for me?

During those hours, I learned that God was healing not only my body, but also my spirit. I had been pushing myself too hard. He told me to slow down. I was neglecting myself, both physically, emotionally and spiritually. He told me to take care of myself and not live in fear. Now that I had been to the edge of leaving this world, He told me to look back and evaluate. Was I really living how He wanted? Was I treating people right? Was I making good decisions? Was I the kind of person I wanted to be?

I learned primarily that I lived in fear and worry. Fear of the future dominated my thinking and actions. Now that God had scooped me up in His arms and rescued me from my own negligence, I realized that I don’t have to fear life or what may happen.

A few days passed and the doctor said I could get out of bed and use the shower. I felt like I had been hit by a truck. My body was so tired from fighting to breathe, it took every ounce of strength to lift myself out of bed and walk to the shower. At the end of my hospital stay, I met with a nutritionist. I admitted to her about my late night pizza dinners and fast food trips. She told me that gaining weight can lead to an increase in asthma attacks and suggested I start eating healthy foods and exercise.

After leaving the hospital, I moved to Ohio and began a new life. My boyfriend Walt began to read up on asthma to educate himself. We’re now married and he still reminds me to take my medicine and see the doctor regularly. After my brush with death, I take my asthma more seriously. I am also eating better and taking vitamins.

If you or a loved one are asthmatic, take the proper steps to prevent attacks and treat them properly. Don’t become one of the growing numbers of statistics of those who die needlessly because they didn’t take asthma seriously. No one has to die from this disease. While asthma is common, it should not be regarded as harmless. This invisible opponent will take a life if it gets out of control.

Asthma Facts from The American Lung Association:

  • According to the American Lung Association, there are 15 million asthmatics in the United States.
  • Over 5,000 people die each year from asthma attacks.Asthma Tips from The American Lung Association:
  • Avoid asthma triggers
  • Use preventive medication everyday
  • Avoid visiting places where others smoke
  • Get rid of or limit contact with dogs and cats
  • Keep fit and eat healthy.
  • Use air-conditioning at home
  • Get a yearly flu shot
  • Have a yearly check-up with asthma specialist
  • Limit the use of carpeting and heavy curtains in your home
  • Vacuum frequently
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    2 Comments For This Post

    1. approaching girls says:

      wow that is really intense! MY gf’s sister has really hardcore asthma, it can be really scary when the person collapses etc.

    2. Tonialbn says:

      I have bad asthma, my mother did too. I take all my meds an still end up in hospital In fact 2 times in past month.Even in the hospital for days with meds an steroid injections I still had trouble breathing. My mother died when I was nine at our home from an attack an we had a bad snow so no one could get to us, finally a helicopter came but it was to late. Now to my point. We both took-take asthma seriously an take meds regularly an still my mom died an Im always leaving my kids for the hospital. So not EVERY case is a question of seriousness or proper medication.

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