Chronic Asthma Will Not Define My Daughters’ Lives

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I have asthma and both of my children have asthma. No, we are not “cursed” with bad luck, as my Asian in-laws believe. I swear our genes are AWESOME, and we are blessed in other ways!

I’ve had asthma since I was 11 months old, which means that asthma is something I’ve lived with my entire life. They used to promise that I’d grow out of it, but I never did. Now they tell sufferers that you manage it. For me it’s really not a “big deal” in the sense that I don’t know of any other lifestyle. Along with asthma comes seasonal allergies and food allergies, all of which are manageable, preventable and controllable with proper medication and care.

Growing up, I spent quite a bit of time in and out of hospitals – those were the day of oxygen tents – but I wasn’t a “sickly” child. Asthma can sometimes manifest as an invisible disease in that when there are no visible symptoms and certain patients often look like the very picture of health. That is, of course, until they don’t. Since breathing is literally a matter of life or death, and since troubled breathing can quickly escalate if not properly monitored and treated, patients are given the red-carpet treatment as soon as they enter the doors of emergency. Or at least that’s how it used to be.

My single mother, a nurse, was not an alarmist. In hindsight, I got the impression that she underplayed the severity of my symptoms so oftentimes I was usually much more sick or more acutely in asthma distress that I realized or let on.

The scenario would play out like this: I’d wake up feeling unwell but because my mother had to work, my two sisters and I would go to school. I’d be unwell at school and sometimes the school would call my mother, which meant that she would have to leave work, take me home and then rush back to work. Or she would take me to the hospital as the case may be. Which meant that my two sisters would have to fend for themselves until such time as my mother returned home since I’d usually have to be admitted.

Eventually there came a time when I started to feel that my illness was a burden to my single mother. I’d tell her that I was “fine” and that a hospital visit was unnecessary. While I was at home, my symptoms would escalate and because she had already left work once that day, I’d prolong the moment when I’d have to call her since it would mean her having to attend to me again.

Between the phone call and my mother’s subsequent arrival at home, I’d literally run up and down the two flights of stairs in our home to ensure that I was “really” sick  in order to “prove” that I did in fact require hospital treatment. When my mother and I would arrive at the doors of emergency, the nurses would plop me in a wheelchair, quickly administer oxygen and immediately start an intravenous cocktail of life-saving, symptom-reducing asthma medications.

After my mother had given the triage nurse my information, she would join me in the emergency ward, and the nurses would admonish her for “waiting too long” to bring me to hospital. This of course was unfair, because little did anyone know that I had played a strategic role in exacerbating my own symptoms by running up and down the stairs!

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