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Monday, February 14, 2011

Are you forgetful or honest about your asthma?

One of the things I notice about humans is we tend to forget the past, although we should not. For those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it. This is especially true -- I've learned the hard way -- of asthma.

My asthma was so bad I was admitted to an asthma hospital in 1985 for 6 months. This allowed me to get my asthma under control for over 10 years. Then I forgot, and the beast returned. So, are you like me and suffered at one point (or suffer right now) from asthma forgetfulness?

Or are you more into asthma honesty like I am now. Learn more by reading my latest Sharepost from

Asthma Forgetfulness And Asthma Honesty

Have you ever tried to forget your asthma past? Do you have an asthma story you've never shared with anyone? Do you have asthma forgetfulness? If you do, perhaps it's time to share your story.

Trust me. I know from first hand experience that asthma is no fun. I also know that asthma forgetfulness may be the easy route, yet it also leads to poor asthma control later on. If you bare with me I'll explain. I'll also explain why a little asthma honesty might be the cure youve been looking for.

One such experience came to light this morning. It was 6:00 a.m. and I was working as a respiratory therapist. I was paged STAT to the emergency room (ER).

Upon entering the ER I found one of our regular asthmatics sitting on the edge of the bed, slouched over, huffing and puffing to get air in. Her oxygen was so low when she arrived the nurse had put an oxygen mask on her.

I started up a breathing treatment and replaced the mask with a misting pipe in her mouth. The mist was Ventolin, the Godsend to asthmatics; the juice that gets the lungs moving air again. I could tell by the way she held the pipe firmly between her teeth -- the no hands technique -- she was an expert at this.

I sat in a chair the opposite side of the room while the nurses worked their magic: inserted an IV line, inserted Solumedrol into IV line, and asked a million questions. I couldn't help but remember the days of long ago when I was in her shoes, with a Ventolin Peace Pipe proficiently stuffed in my mouth.

Then the nurse asked this question: "So, how many breathing treatments did you give yourself at home before you came in?"

The asthmatic said, "Oh, more than enough."

That was more honest than any answer I ever gave, I thought. Then said, "When I was a kid and a nurse asked me that, I would just lie."

The patient, obviously breathing better now, said, a smile on her face, "You have asthma too."

"Oh yeah," I said, "I had it very bad too when I was a kid. In fact, I used to go through a Ventolin inhaler every day."

"You did what!" The nurse said, peering down at me, bug eyed.

"I would use an inhaler every day, and then I'd also take breathing treatments in between. In fact, back then you could only get one Ventolin refill at a time, so there were weeks when I'd have mom go to the pharmacy every day to get a new inhaler."

I wrote about this experience in more detail in my post, "Confessions of a bronchodilatoraholic."

The nurse gasped at my story, yet the patient smiled.

Years ago I wasn't able to be this honest, yet now asthma stories flow easy, and allow me to create a bond with my asthmatic patients. It also helps prevent asthma forgetfulness, as asthma forgetfulness only results in worsening asthma. Trust me: I know.

In fact, for many years I completely blacked out my severe asthma past. I'll be honest, there were days I used up my Ventolin inhaler, and then was so miserable, so afraid, that I never told my mom for fear she'd be mad at me. Then I'd suffer until about 2 in the morning when I couldn't stand it anymore and finally break down and wake her up.

Dad would take me to the emergency room having no clue how long I had suffered.

So then I'd be in the ER, shoulders high and scratching at the mattress to stretch out my lungs to get any extra air into them I could, and the respiratory therapist (perhaps one I work
with now), gave me a breathing treatment.

Then came THE question: "How much Ventolin did you use at home?"

"A couple puffs," I'd say after a long delay. Yes it was a lie. A very bad lie.

My asthma -- my
hardluck asthma -- was so bad my mom and dad and doctor thought I was going to die. And in 1985 they had me admitted to the asthma hospital in Denver Colorado (then it was National Jewish Health-National Asthma Center (NJH/NAC). I ended up staying there for six months (Yes, I wrote that right).

Once I was discharged my asthma was under better control than ever. I never missed school again due to my asthma, and I rarely ever needed the services of an ER. My asthma was under control -- finally.

All was great right? Well, all except for the fact asthma forgetfulness set in. After several years all the great wisdom I learned from NJH was lost.

The thing is, asthma forgetfulness only leads to worsening asthma because when you forget you have it, you forget to control it (something a gallant asthmatic would never do).

So 10 years after leaving the asthma hospital, my asthma was almost as bad as it was before I went there. I had to relearn everything.

Asthma is a very fragile and devastating disease when it's not controlled. If you don't control it, it controls you. Forgetting you have it, or pretending you don't have it, only makes matters worse.

What comlicates matters are myths that asthma goes away with age.

The best way to overcome asthma forgetfulness is with asthma honesty. Where I once had blacked out my past, I have since forced myself to relive it. I even wrote about it to some extent here. I realize now if I hadn't forgotten, my asthma never would have gotten bad again ten years later.

So my advice to other asthmatics is to never forget how miserable you were before your asthma was controlled. Don't ever forget how you gained control of your asthma. The best way of doing, the best way of being honest, is to share your asthma stories. Thankfully that's something I get to do at work and right here.

If you have an asthma story you've never shared, feel free to do so in the comments below, or create your own


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Reminds me of one time as a kid, back when I was a bad asthmatic. Mom and dad were out of town, enjoying their first weekend away since I was a baby. I was about eight.

The place my sister and I were staying was with a friend of the family. This man and his wife were both smokers. They lived in a 200-year-old farmhouse with crumbling plaster and dust that seemed to breed in the walls. On a good day, this house was so dusty you could see the shape of the beam of light coming in through the window as it reflected off the dust in the air. It was heated by a wood stove, and they had cats and dogs (both of which I'm allergic to, not that we knew it at the time). My dad, an asthmatic himself, should have known better than to send me to this place, but he was of the "tough it out" school of asthmatics and this philosophy of his probably landed me in the ER more times than I care to admit (he's finally started to come around about my asthma, mainly because I'm old enough to advocate for myself and have informed my family that if they don't at least take basic steps to protect my health when I visit - like giving me fresh bedding and kicking the pets out of the room I sleep in - I just won't visit anymore).

Anyway, my parents dropped me off with a fresh Ventolin inhaler and a list of contact numbers. They had given me management of all my own medications that year (I was too young, I think but they thought it would teach me responsibility), and so when the friend of the family asked about my asthma, they told him, "She can handle it. We've taught her what to do when she's in trouble."

An hour into the visit there, I started to cough. Pretty soon, I was too short of breath to finish a sentence. I took one puff, and then two. And then more. The family friend was worried for me, and asked if I needed a hospital. In retrospect, I did, but that was always something that my parents decided, and I was scared they'd think I ruined their weekend, so I said no (this fear was unfounded, but you know how kids are). Yes, the family friend probably should have vetoed me, but he wasn't a doctor or medical professional, so what could you expect? I was saying I was fine, and my parents told him I knew how to handle it.

By the time morning rolled around, I had finished my brand new inhaler to the point that there was no pressure left in it, used up two old ones that I'd smuggled in my bag "just in case" (I was a bronchodialatoraholic as a kid - to the point that my parents scolded me for "playing" with the ventolin and wasting it. I didn't waste it - all of it went into my lungs), and had no sleep. Dad came to pick me up, and saw me, panting, miserable, exhausted, and starting to get cyanotic, and drove me to the ER without comment. And I ended up on pred yet again.