10 April 2007

Monster. Asthma. Synonymous .

Tuesday, and time for another installment in my Brain Dump series.

I am an asthmatic. I was diagnosed with asthma at 19 years old, and it has always seemed odd to me that no one picked it up before then. The very first time I thought the asthma might be something other than a hyper-sensitivity to environmental irritants, I was out to dinner with my parents, and this was before Ohio passed the smoking ban. We were in a small, family-owned restaurant, and someone near us lit up a cigar. I hacked, and hacked, and hacked some more, and both parents insisted that I make an appointment to see our cute family doctor.

When I got in to see him, Dr. Hottie had me breathe into a tube (which tests lung capacity), gave me a breathing treatment, had me breathe into a tube again, and just like that, I was slapped with the label of asthmatic. I got a prescription for Proventil as an added bonus. Yay.

Through my 20s, I would sometimes control the asthma better than other times. At various junctures, I had prescriptions for: Advair, Allegra, Allegra D, Proventil, and another allergy med that starts with a P that I can't even remember. Proventil is a rescue inhaler, you are supposed to use it when an asthma attack overwhelms you. I despise the side effects of Proventil, so I've always been very stubborn about using it. Unless I cannot breathe at all, I refuse to use it. It makes my heart race, gives me the shakes and makes me more jittery than a 13-year-old on a sugar rush. It ain't pretty.

When I have an asthma attack, it sounds as if I'm dying. I've told close friends over and over that unless I actually fall over and start turning blue from lack of oxygen, they are to ignore the hacking cough and wheezing that accompanies an attack. They're pretty good about doing just that, much to my relief. I like the spotlight, yeah, but not when I am gasping for breath with tears streaming from my eyes and my nose running, from the sheer force of the coughing.

I'd like to be able to completely ignore the fact that I have this condition, but it has been very difficult to do that over about the past two weeks. Living in Ohio means that we have 4 distinct seasons, a very clear differentiation between winter, spring, summer and fall, and whenever the seasons change, the monster comes out to play. The worst transitional times are from winter to spring and summer to fall, as each time the pollen counts, mold counts, and other allergens are out in full force.

There are more than a few types of asthma, exercise-induced, environmentally-induced, et cetera, but mine seems to be mostly related to environmental factors, like allergens. Besides the blooming trees and flowers and mold and dust, cigarette smoke really bothers me and sets off the monster. Cigar smoke is worse. Makes you wonder how on earth I ever smoked, but I did, from about 16 until about 18. I am really glad that I no longer have that habit.

Big temperature changes, going from a well-heated building to outside in the cold, or walking into a really warm, damp room after being someplace cold and dry will also set it off.

The attacks start out as a little tickle in the back of my throat, as if I've swallowed a small bit of goose down. Sometimes, swallowing hard will get rid of it. Sometimes a sip of really cold or really hot water will soothe it. The urge to cough to get rid of whatever 'it' is becomes stronger if the water tricks don't work. Taking a deep breath becomes difficult, it catches in my throat and then I've got no choice but to cough, a ragged, deep, drawn out hacking bark of a cough, that sounds like perhaps a chunk of my lung might be expelled soon. I can exhale all I want, as I cough, but taking a breath in is like sipping air through a straw. After you've just finished running a marathon.

That's where the wheeze comes in. As my lungs scream for more air, the rest of my body is still being wracked by deep coughs, and a little, tiny sip of air is all I can get in. It makes a small noise, a wheeze that can sound like a death rattle. Which will further convince the uninformed observer that I'm about to die, because it can also sound like an injured animal's last cries.

Bad asthma attacks (as opposed to 'good' ones? No, as opposed to mild ones.) are painful, causing aching abdominal muscles from the coughing, and a tightness in the chest. An invisible giant's hand is squeezing your lungs for all he's worth, and then when he suddenly lets go, and you're able to breathe, the tightness relaxes after a few normal breaths. It only disappears after the attack is completely over, usually ten minutes or so later.

The last time the asthma was badly out of control for me was October of last year, when the last vestiges of Indian Summer finally died away and the leaves began to fall from the trees. The temperature changed from hot and humid to cool and then chilly. I'd have terrible attacks on the way to the gym every morning, after leaving my nice warm bed and heading out into the cool, pre-dawn chill.

Because I got really damn tired of starting my workouts short of breath, I called the doctor's office and requested an appointment with our family doctor. Dr. Hottie gave me Singulair, Xopenex, and Advair that time, and after using each for about a week as prescribed, I ditched the Xopenex (another rescue inhaler) and the Advair, and took the Singulair daily until the weather finally decided to just be fall, instead of jumping back and forth from summer to fall to summer to winter to fall again.

When the very first signs of spring began appearing, daffodils and other early spring flowers pushing themselves up through the snow, I began taking the Singulair again every day. That was about three weeks ago, and over the past week we've seen outdoor temperatures range from 13 to 70F, about -10 to 21C. Trees are blooming, flowers too, and my allergies are bad, making me want to scratch out my eyes and find some perfect cure for the raw skin around my poor nose. The monster is always just out of sight, hiding on my shoulder or behind my ear (he's little, you see, until a really severe attack, which makes him grow to gargantuan proportions) when he decides that he wants some attention, and then he harasses me.

My mind is seriously in the gutter, because re-reading that bit about the monster growing has me thinking about other things that start small and grow large quickly...uh. If I have to 'splain it to y'all, it loses some of the funny, so moving on....

When I'm working out each morning, the last thing I want is to have an attack happen on the treadmill. I could fall and hurt myself, yes, that's a concern, but more than that, it attracts unwanted attention from the other early-morning gym rats that make me feel like I've got a flashing neon "check out the freak" sign over my head.

Here's a cheerful thought about asthma. There is no cure. All I can do, besides taking medication daily when symptoms are bad, is increase my lung capacity through cardiovascular exercise, and perhaps move into the middle of the desert, where there's little or no pollen.

Most of the time, it doesn't bother me. I don't think about it every day, nor do I dwell on it when it isn't acting up. I refuse to carry around a rescue inhaler because it isn't that severe for me, and I'm too stubborn. I don't wander around wearing a badge that says, "I have asthma!!! Feel sorry for me!!!" And that's because until it rears its ugly little head, I mostly forget it is there.

Last Tuesday I wrote a post about OCD. Asthma today. Y'all are going to really think I'm falling apart, a mess, or truly in need of intense therapy, as my own mother suggested the other day. I simply prefer to think of myself as one of those eccentric geniuses. At least I entertain myself, cause it makes me giggle, describing myself as both eccentric and genius.
(Heavy on the sarcasm there, in case it doesn't translate to the written word.)

No comments: