So to give a little more information about my adventures with asthma (or what I did this summer!), let me take you back to July. I was finishing up my first clinical trial, and for some reason right at the tail end of it I had a pretty bad attack.
For me an attack usually starts with coughing, the coughing is productive and doesn’t let up, and it progresses to wheezing as my lungs get congested with mucus and at the same time the air passages swell, making the space for air to move smaller and smaller.
I lose the ability to talk.
So I have several hours of time spent focusing on my breathing.
I can’t read, play games, even concentrating on tv is too much to expect. I recline or lie down and try to slowly bring air in and out.
The place my mind goes during an attack is a new landscape for me. I’m aware of things immediately around me, but I can’t focus on any of them. Sometimes other people’s voices come through clearly, but I can’t respond.
I’m thinking about how I can’t think too deeply about anything, and I get distracted by my own wheezing, losing even that pitiful train of thought.
I know I’m getting better when the fuzziness of the world around me starts to clear, a sharpness returns like a camera lens that was a little out of adjustment. Only I thought it was clear.
I’ve had mild asthma for years, and never had to do more than use my rescue inhaler once every few months, usually after exercise or going out in very cold or humid air. My “normal” triggers.
But last November I got what I thought was a cold that I couldn’t shake. It settled in my sinuses and nothing I did seemed to help. Meanwhile I lost my sense of smell and taste, started each morning blowing my nose and using a dozen tissues, and lost my voice quite often.
In January I began my adventures with asthma attacks. It wasn’t until after the first one was over that it occurred to me what it was.
I have a really high pain tolerance, and so I was determined to just get back to normal breathing. Even though that took 2 1/2 hours with the first attack, I stubbornly didn’t consider it to be serious.
In February I had a second one. Then in March and April I got help at urgent care, finally getting two courses of antibiotics, which helped not only my sinuses to clear, but also started getting rid of junk in my lungs!
I felt so much better! I had high hopes of spending lots of time piddling in my garden areas this summer.
Then in May I had my third attack. It was on a hot day, humid air, and I had stopped at my daughter’s to plant some flowers I’d gotten her for Mother’s Day.
So much for spending time gardening.
I was very cautious in June, staying inside in air conditioning as much as possible, very aware of my activity and surroundings.
My first clinical trial began in June and it seemed to go well. I was using a better drug than my usual, and I was ready to switch when the trial ended.
But right before my last office visit in early July I had my fourth attack.
This was not part of my plans. I was set to finish the trial that Monday, and leave for five days in Nashville at CR’s Summit East on Tuesday. I had the good meds packed and ready to travel, and I was determined to not let myself get too stressed or tired, hoping to avoid more attacks.
Then a long car ride from Ohio to Tennessee, walking on hills, temps in the upper 90’s, and humidity of about 90%.
And lots of walking at Summit.
I found myself experiencing pain deep in my calves and had a toe swollen and discolored. And a strange feeling of constriction in the middle of my chest.
Despite my physical ailments, I was having a great time. I settled in that first night and started adding to my list I’m keeping of one thousand gifts from God that I can be thankful for. Over the next four days I wrote down 103 different blessings.
I was feeling such thankfulness to God for getting me to Summit, where I was immersed in an atmosphere of pure gratitude and awe of all God has done in all of our lives, me and the 3,000+ others attending, that I couldn’t do anything but give praise.
Yes, my friends were concerned. We discussed whether I should get checked out at a hospital. The words pulmonary embolism were thought and spoken, as were deep vein thrombosis and concern about the chest feeling being one of those odd woman signs of a heart attack.
I prayed about it and really felt I was going to be ok. My breathing was not bad. I carried all my meds with me and used them as needed. I let the rest of our group go off without me and stayed put close to my workshops.
It made for a lot of time with God and it was all good.
On the ride home I got a call from my husband. He and two of our kids had been in a car accident in a parking lot. They were a little banged up from being t-boned, and the van had probably received a death blow.
So no stress for the last four hours of the drive!
When I got home we headed out to get some dinner.
And even on the way there I was starting to cough.
By the time our food came I had progressed to wheezing. And nausea. My husband and I left then to head home, where the attack continued and was worse than any other, adding in vomiting and sweating and shaking.
And when my husband asked if I needed to go to the emergency room, I shook my head no. Because I couldn’t imagine being able to make the effort to walk out to the car to drive there. So I toughed it out. Again.
The next morning, Sunday, I made it until the last of three points in our pastor’s sermon before the constriction in my chest and my shallow breathing made me sure that I was headed to the hospital after service.
I got the lecture about how people actually die during asthma attacks. How the pain in my legs and chest could be the things I’d already thought of.
And I got my first nebulizer treatment.
Truly sweet relief.
Lots of really good things happened that day and into the next, as I was admitted to the hospital and they ran several different tests.
I found out I have great veins in my legs. My heart is perfect. My lungs had no nodes or nodules that would be symptomatic of lung cancer, and no embolism.
The only thing wrong was that asthma had filled my lungs with thick, sticky mucus that I needed to be able to get rid of.
Just like I’d been saying for years.
So a course of steroids and antibiotics, the nebulizer sent home with me, and otherwise a clean bill of health.
I will tell you another time how that knowledge has affected me.
Three attacks total in July, and three more in September brought the total to nine over nine months, the most serious one I wrote about a couple weeks ago.
And then a breakthrough. While brainstorming with my asthma doctor we figured out the culprit. Aleve. Which I’d taken for pain before most of my worst attacks.
So now I’m hoping to only talk about asthma attacks in retrospect.
Because I never want to feel that constricted ever again.