An Asthmatics Survival Guide

In Health on October 6, 2010 at 11:18 pm

A basic question: What is asthma?

According to WebMD, asthma is a “chronic disease of the airways that makes breathing difficult. With asthma, there is inflammation of the air passages that results in a temporary narrowing of the airways that carry oxygen to the lungs.”

So, what does that mean? I’ll explain using a few analogies:

It’s like sleeping on your hand. You wake up to find your hand numb; you’ve fallen asleep on it. You do whatever you can to return feeling to the seemingly-dead appendage. Give it a few minutes, shake it a bit, and voila! Feeling has been restored…Now imagine you can’t get the feeling to return.

It’s like a dream where you find yourself falling. You fall for (what is probably only) a matter of seconds to find yourself jar awake. It was just a dream. Now imagine that your falling and being jarred awake…only you don’t wake up.

It’s like holding your breath underwater. You go as long as you can until you reach that point (you know what I mean) where you just have to come up for air. Now imagine you can’t come up for air…no matter how hard you try. You feel a swelling in your chest. Your lungs plead for air but…nothing. You swim and swim until it turns into pathetic flailing. You don’t reach the surface. You never reach the surface.

This, of course, sounds terribly dramatic. And it is. A serious asthma attack is dramatic. In fact, people die.

I almost died.

Having said that, let me explain why. At the time, there lived a very different Mr. Blogger. I used to owned several furry pets including a handful of dogs, several cats, and a dozen mice. I was (and still am) allergic to dogs and cats. If I had taken my medication regularly (some wonderful variety of Advair), then I most likely would have been fine. So, the big question is “why did I stop taking my medication?”

Why? Because I was a fucking idiot. I spent an entire night wheezing and gasping for air in my upstairs loft. Do you know what I tried to do to stop the attack?

  1. I tried my emergency inhaler. – FAILED
  2. I tried my nebulizer (a device which allows a user to inhale their medication in mist-form). – FAILED
  3. I tried taking expired medication I had on hand from when I was younger. – STUPID
  4. I had my then-girlfriend beat on my back (a home remedy that is supposed to open the lungs) – RIDICULOUS
  5. I tried drinking copious amounts of water (because water is full of oxygen). – FAILED

By the time all of this had failed (it was morning), I calmly called my physician and made an appointment. A few hours later I was in the Tanana Valley Clinics waiting room. One shot of epinephrine and a ambulance ride later I found myself at the Fairbanks Memorial Hospital.

This could all have been avoided if I had taken my goddamn medication.

So, curious blog-reader, what does one do to prevent an asthma attack?

  1. Know your triggers.
  2. Maintain a normal Body Mass Index (BMI). Remember: the more fat you have, the more stress on your frame, the greater pressure on your lungs.
  3. Have an emergency inhaler on hand.
  4. If you have a prescription medication, take it. Your doctor didn’t get a PhD sitting on their hands, you know.

One major complaint is “medication is too expensive.” Yes, yes it is expensive. But, you know what is even more expensive? Going into the hospital for an attack. I was in the hospital for three days. For two of those days I was hooked up to an oxygen mask with an I.V. in my hand. Do you want to know what it cost? $10,000.

So, you know what, you can afford medication…you can afford to see a doctor twice a year…you can afford to be in better shape then you are now.

Because, you know what, your life actually does depend on it.


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