When I was 3 years old, I had my first asthma attack. I don’t remember what it was like — on account of I was 3 — but it was a pretty important moment in my life all the same. I had to get a nebulizer and start taking regular medication. The doctors said I would probably grow out of it.
When I was 10, I came down with a cold. It exacerbated my asthma, and we went to the ER on a Friday night. Apparently, I screamed and struggled wildly while I was in the ER. I don’t remember what that was like either — on account of I was delirious — but my mom said it took four people to get me under control. The next thing I remembered was waking up on a Tuesday morning. The doctors said I would probably grow out of it.
Common colds aren’t the only things that trigger my asthma attacks, though. Sometimes it’s cold weather, warm weather or a sudden or gradual change between the two. Sometimes it’s damp air or dry air, dust, smoke, pollen or aerosol sprays. Sometimes it’s something in grass after it’s been mowed. Sometimes it’s strong emotions, and often it takes very little physical exertion.
When I was 12, my teacher insisted I climb a mountain (OK, it was a 469-foot high volcanic plug, but I was 12 — it looked like a mountain) as part of a class trip. I insisted it was a terrible idea, but she was unsympathetic. When I had an asthma attack at the top (surprise!), she scolded me for falling behind the rest of the class. I was pretty sure I would grow out of it.
When I was 19, I came down with a cold. I hadn’t been sick enough to go to the hospital in years, and I didn’t think anything of it, even as it lingered and my chest grew tighter and my breathing grew shallower. Even when the exertion of walking to the bathroom was enough to leave me breathless and frightened. Even when I couldn’t lie comfortably in bed because no matter what I did, I couldn’t breathe deeply enough.
Finally, I went to the ER and was admitted with an “acute exacerbation of asthma.” I had a chest X-ray that looked clear. I kept my head this time, and I complained that couldn’t possibly be right — there was something wrong. I stayed the night and had another X-ray, and finally, someone conceded I had a chest infection and prescribed antibiotics. I spent two more nights in ICU and another on the ward before I could breathe well enough to go home. I was still waiting to grow out of it.
Last year, when I was 22, I was losing a tickle fight to my boyfriend when I had an asthma attack. If I run to catch my train, if I walk by someone smoking, if someone sprays their deodorant nearby or if I laugh too hard, I might have an asthma attack.
When I was younger, it was easy to put my asthma to the back of my mind as something I would grow out of eventually, and so it was easy to not take my asthma seriously. Since my last visit to the ER four years ago, I’ve met with a specialist to learn more about what happens during an attack and how my medication helps.
Since losing that tickle fight, I’ve come to accept I’ll probably need my medication for the rest of my life. But I’ve also had to accept that I live with a serious, life-threatening disease, and unfortunately, I don’t get to grow out of it.
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