Most guys simply pack up there bags and think nothing of going to the cabin, or in the old days roughing it in the middle of the woods. Even to this day I envy "most guys." Yet, when you have a disease like asthma, you have no choice but to think about it. You think about it because you've had miserable nights withthe beast, you you don't want that to happen again.
You don't know how much I would love to buy some old junky camper like my dad did when we were kids and haul it out to wherever this year's hunting camp is and not have to worry about things like:
- Do I have enough inhalers to last the week?
- Will it be too musty in the camper/cabin for my asthma?
- Or, where will I sleep that has clean, asthma friendly air?
- Will there be enough fuel to keep me warm?
- Will it rain?
- If so, what will I do if I can't go in the cabin? You know, the guys will be smoking in there, and cigarette smoke is far worse than smoke from the fire.
- Will there be anyone sober at camp who can take me to town if I have a bad asthma attack?
A few years ago I decided to sleep in my brother's pop up camper during camp. This worked great until about 1 a.m. when the propane ran out because the heater was running so often due to the cold. Then I started to wheeze because cold air is an asthma trigger.
Smoke from the camp fire is an asthma trigger, but usually I can walk around the fire. Plus the cool, fresh air outside is much better on asthma than the musty, smokey air inside the cabin where the guys play cards. So you'll usually find me outside when I'm at camp.
In recent years I find it's a neat feeling when I drive up to the cabin and notice all the guys putting out their cigarettes. Yet, as the alcohol absorbs the minds of some of the guys, they forget there's an asthma beast in the house, and the cigarettes are lit again.
I have never once told any of the guys to not smoke, because the whole purpose of going to camp is you get to do whatever you want without being judged. So it's easier just to avoid the cabin altogether.
So you can see there are dilemmas for this asthmatic at hunting camp. I love campfires. I love shooting the bull with the guys. I love hanging out in the cabin playing cards, yet I usually have to forgo that once all the campers are present. I have learned to pace myself, and to avoid certain scenarios.
Yet this is not easy to do. I have to admit that while I accept I have asthma and have learned to live with it, one of the hardest times of the year not to have a "whoa-is-me" attitude is during hunting camp. It would be nice if I could suit up and hunt, or to just play cards in the smoke filled shack, or to smoke a cigar without thinking about the consequences thereof, or to get drunk and not worry about the consequences of doing so on my breathing.
But, as my fellow asthmatics will attest to, sometimes we asthmatics have to take a step back. While we should be able to do most things normal people do, sometimes we have to take a back seat. And, in the case of my hunting camp, I have no choice to take a back seat. I am forced to limit what I do. Normally I an accept certain limits, but this week I hate them.
This is the one week of the year I hate having asthma. While all my brothers, nephews and uncles and my dad and friends are out at the hunting camp cabin having fun, I'm sitting here stuck at work. I purposefully schedule myself to work now in the middle of this week because otherwise I wouldn't be able to resist the temptation to go out there.
The first Frea hunting camp actually started on my dad's mother's side of the family. Grandpa Quinn was an avid hunter, and in 1891 he and a bunch of his friends got together on the 1st weekend of October. Back then you could hunt with whatever you wanted, and usually rifles were used. Sometime since then rifle season was changed to November 15, and Bow season started the 1st of October, and rather than change the date of the camp, the guys started using bows. In more recent years the # of hunters has slipped to closer to zero. Now we guys just go to get away.
My first hunting camp was in 1980 when I was 10. I did not hunt and spent most of my time with the other kids playing in a fire we kids had made separate from the adults, and making a lean-to for sleeping. I remember staying up late telling ghost stories, and then wheezing all night while the other kids and adults slept. That was my first asthma hunting camp nightmare.
Every year thereafter I've made a gallant effort to spend time there, and most every year there has been some form of disappointment for me. I think it was in 1984 one of my great-uncles wanted camp closer to his home, which was about a 40 minute drive from our home back then. That was the first time I remember my asthma getting so bad I had to tell dad to take me home.
He never complained. He just said, "pack up your stuff" and calmly hauled me all the way back home and then drove himself back to camp. I felt so bad about that incident I was hesitant to go out to camp the next couple years.
The best part about camp is you get to do whatever you want. Well, when you have asthma there are always limits to the phrase "whatever you want." Sure I would like to spend the night in the lean-to when I was 10, but that wasn't to be, as after a few hours of wheezing I had to snuggle up next to dad in the camper.
Between 1985 and 1988 I made only sporadic visits to camp. This became easier to do once I had a drivers license. Now I was in control and could risk it a little more. If I went out to camp and had an attack I could simply drive myself home.
In 1988 and 1989 I attended little time at camp because of rain. I could have spent more time there, but the shanty that was set up to allow us to get out of the rain was small and usually smoke filled. Therefore, I decided it was better just to stay home.
One of my best years at camp was in 1994. That was the only time I was ever able to spend the entire week out there without having trouble with my breathing. But that's how asthma is, you cannot predict when it will show it's ugly head.
In 1995, however, I remember getting drunk and then, as I woke up in the night, noticed my respiratory rate was really high, and my chest was tight. In the dark I reached around for my inhaler and wasn't able to find it. I closed my eyes hoping to fall asleep, but in my distress this was not about to happen.
The funny thing was I had no idea where I was. That's how drunk I was. It took me a while to pin point my location in the upstairs of the cabin as it (or my head) spun and spun. Then it took me a while to realize I had to get up and find my inhaler. Yet in the dark I couldn't find it. I desperately felt under my blankets and the ground for my life-line, and I was getting panicky as I couldn't' find it.
I knew I had a nebulizer in Uncle Mac's truck, and I managed to work my way out of the cabin only to realize the truck was locked. I can't remember what I did, but somehow I ended up with my nebulizer in my own car. I sat upright in my car wheezing until morning. That, I swear, was among the longest night in my life. The worse part was I was sitting in my car, yet I couldn't drive off in it because I had to sober up first.
Because of that experience I've learned it is best to limit alcohol consumption, which isn't always easy when I have my brothers (and Joe Goofus) urging me on.
I have learned since then that I can go to hunting camp, but I can't stay more than one night. All that smoke, all the outdoor allergens, the musty cabin, the molds, the dust mites, and whatever else I'm inhaling in that the guys throw into the fire, usually catch up with my lungs and cause me asthma trouble. If I drink anything (beer or booze I mean), this tends to dry my lungs out and cause even deeper bronchospasm.
This year I went on Monday. It was just me, my dad and my brother David. We had a few drinks, a great dinner of Venison Heart with potato's and onions, several snacks, played several games of cards, and bonded. This part of hunting camp has never been the problem though.
Now it was time for bed. I made my bed upstairs. When I went up there to go to bed it was roasting, so I opened the window. The breeze was awesome, but with it came smoke from the chimney. So now, while my dad snored loudly downstairs oblivious of the asthma beast, I had a dilemma: Do I roast, or do I inhale smoke?
My dad and brother never left camp this week. While I work they are out there enjoying time away from life for a while. By now the rest of the guys are probably arriving from Illinois and Detroit and Grand Rapids or wherever they come from. By now a big game of cards is brewing. By now the fire is probably ablaze.
Yet here I sit at work hacking up white phlegm and puffing on my inhaler from time to time, a consequence of my one night of fun. And the hardest part is I can't stand that I'm here. I planned it this way, but I hate it. I am having a very hard time focusing on my job tonight because I want to be having fun.
Do do you feel bad for me yet? I hope not. I don't feel bad for me. But I can tell you one thing: I'm going out there again on Friday night. I'm going because everyone will be out there that night, and I'm not missing it. And I'm buying a 12 pack of beer on the way too. If the asthma beast has a problem with that so be it.
So you can see by my desire to spend time at hunting camp that there lives within me a little bit of Jake Gallant and Joe Goofus. The Goofus in me wants to go out and have fun, so I have granted him two days this week. Yet the Mr. Gallant has forced me to limit my time at hunting camp this year.
Jake and Joe are my versions of the Devil and the Angel sitting on my shoulder, acting as my conscience, constantly pulling me one way or the other, to do something smart or do something stupid, or something fun or something right.
I hate Jake Gallant. Yet, at the same time, I love him for keeping my lungs in good shape.
As much as I'd love to be like the other campers and spend the week at camp, I'm a prisoner of the disease that has been a part of me forever. It's true asthma can be tamed, yet right now I'd like it to take the shape of a lion so I could slaughter it and go on with my life without it lingering over me all the time.