Feeling inspiration is always great, but I want to share a little about the other meaning of the word: the drawing in of breath.
Most people take it for granted. There’s no thought required, unless you want to hold your breath or blow out birthday candles. Before I was diagnosed with asthma I never thought much about it.
As a kid I could run – and place with the fastest – in any kind of sprint or short race. But in the Presidential Fitness Challenge the 600-yard dash was my undoing. We ran five sides around a large square of grass, and I usually walked the last two or three with stitches in my sides, panting.
Though I never went to a doctor about it as a child, as an adult I developed a wheeze. Like a squeaky toy under a rocking chair. It actually took me months to finally get checked. I wanted to try all the home remedies I could before going to the doctor, but the diagnosis was exercise-induced asthma. Surprise.
The only effect on my life was occasionally using a rescue inhaler. Maybe five or ten times a year. Not hardly worth the expense of the medicine, and I’d often use it way past the expiration date since I used so little.
My personal experience with asthma attacks was one year on a women’s retreat when an older lady got to laughing too hard and had one. I was helpless. Between a few of us someone thought to run back to her room and get her inhaler, but the woman herself couldn’t speak to give us instructions. She had to concentrate so hard on moving air in and out that she couldn’t waste it on talking.
Inspiration – the drawing in of breath.
Not easy for her to do. In fact we were about to call 911 when she was finally able to pull in enough air to send it over her vocal cords and say she was feeling better.
I cannot tell you how many times over the years I’ve thought about that night. Her distress, my ignorance of what was happening to her, our panic as a group, the way that several voices at once can drown out the silence of the one who can’t speak.
We tend to listen to the voices we can hear. When they go silent, our own thoughts and sounds take over. But not always in a good way.
A couple years ago I suspected my symptoms were getting more complicated, causing muscle spasms between my ribs, and after trying several medications I decided to try an inhaled daily steroid to see if it helped.
I want to be clear about this. I decided this. I went to health care providers begging for help at figuring this out, but got no farther than, “What do you think you should do?” So I did a little googling and came up with a medicine to try, ran it by my very helpful and knowledgeable pharmacist, and picked the cheapest choice.
It seemed to work for about a year. But last fall things ramped up again, and I started into about eight months of frustration with all people medical, combined with constant sinus problems, no sense of smell or taste, increased wheezing and coughing, and the topper – asthma attacks.
My first one came on a Friday evening, and I didn’t know what was happening. I guess I expected it would be instant shortness of breath, but the reality was I started coughing up great quantities of mucus and it didn’t slow down.
I tried sipping water, used my rescue inhaler, and decided it would probably calm down by the time I got to Celebrate Recovery. But when I got there I sat in the car and texted people inside that I was having trouble breathing and was heading home. Two and a half hours later, I was finally able to breath normally.
When the second one happened I knew enough to not push myself. I sat still, I took the medicines I had, I forced myself to breath deliberately.
There is a kind of breathing that is so labored that your chest rises up from the middle from the effort of the drawing in of breath. The expiration is much easier, an afterthought of the extreme work of trying to force air into passages that are closing and filling with mucus.
I could feel this happening, I could point to it, but I couldn’t explain it verbally. So this second time my family was around and would say things like, “It sounds like you have a bad cold,” or “Do you need a drink to help clear your throat?”
Not helpful. I just have to say this. To be visibly struggling to draw in air, and have it dismissed as a sudden onset, already at maximum mucus production cold when I had NO SYMPTOMS five minutes earlier is frustrating beyond belief. I couldn’t even think of the reply I wanted to make, much less send the sounds out of my mouth. I was reduced to violently shaking my head no. And crying. Which only made it worse.
So several more have followed. I should have gone to the emergency room or an urgent care with a couple of them. I finally went to the ER the day after my worst one and was admitted. That’s a story for another day.
My point is that I understand being the person who is clueless as to what is happening to someone having an asthma attack. And now I understand being that person. Sitting in distress, whispering, “inhaler” with nobody hearing, feeling unable to stand and walk down the hall to get it myself.
And I’d like to say that what I need, what my friend all those years ago needed, was for someone to understand that I have no control over this, and that there are only a few things that will help if I can somehow tell you.
So ask: is your inhaler…? and ask all the logical places. Because I may only be able to move my head. Ask if I am able to get any air in. If I’m not, try every drug or device I have. If they don’t work, get me to someone who can help me. Don’t listen to my protests, because I’m basing it on what I see possible for me to do on my own, not on what I need.
If my lungs are closing, I’m not getting much oxygen to my brain. And it is showing in my stubbornness. And I’d much rather yell at you later, lungs full of air, for overreacting, then not be able to draw in one more breath.