Living with Asthma

I woke again slightly past 2am. When I realized I couldn’t open my eyes, there was a slight moment of panic. My exhausted mind had crossed reality with a horror movie where my eyelids have been sewn shut. My hands raced for my lips, thinking those have been sewn shut as well (indicative of a certain horror movie I watched in college with my then-boyfriend who was a little too gung-ho about the genre, much to my annoyance). They were simply dry and a little stuck together. My fingers wandered to my eyes to find them crusty.

That meant only one thing – I have a sinus infection now, and I have neither the time nor the energy to get myself to a doctor. I have to get my daughter through her fight with her sinus infection first (who was put on two types of antibiotics Saturday). Then, and maybe then, I can get myself to a doctor’s office.

If I don’t end up in the emergency room first.

Why, you ask? How could a sinus infection put me in an emergency room?

Well, a sinus infection, if I’m not mistaken, is indicative of a viral upper respiratory infection, aka. a cold. That’s right, just a simple cold. However, when a simple cold is paired with someone who suffers from asthma, emergency rooms are often involved.

Because, in short, I can’t breathe. The ability to intake air (and to exhale it), as I have found out at a very young age, seems to be a rather important requirement to staying alive *laugh*. I also can’t lie down after an asthma attack until all airways have completely opened. I have perfected the art of sleeping upright *chuckles*.

So, in today’s little post – this will be part one of many, I’m going to write about the biggest physical weakness to my being – asthma, and living with it. When it gets long enough, I’ll sort it into a page over in my “Writer’s Corner” tab.

. . .

Asthma (pronounced as “az-ma”), as defined here, “is a chronic (long-term) lung disease that inflames and narrows the airways.” For more information, do follow the link!

It has no cure. While it may taper off with proper diet, exercise, and care, sufferers can still get attacks – even if there hasn’t been one in as many as ten years. Such would be my case.

So, a little bit of history about me and a general breakdown of what it is like to live with asthma.

I was diagnosed with asthma at the age of four, and it has been a bane to my early existence, much like any other illness one could get, really. Asia, as many of you know, is not known for its quality fresh air. The doctors had given the diagnosis that my asthma is triggered by (multitudes of) allergens and anything that could cause mucus build up in my airways. From there, the list is staggeringly long, but here are the top ten on my list. I want to add that this is applicable only to me and is written down for reference. Please do consult your doctor!

  1. Air pollution – I couldn’t even set foot in my own capital city, it was so polluted back then. It may still be now, but I’m just not as affected. I can’t stand China, however, for obvious reasons.
  2. Pet Dander – I’ve never had a pet in my life since I was, and possibly still am, highly allergic to pet dander. Dogs might be an option as an adult since they are more washable than, say, a cat. I can’t be around cats for too long, or I start feeling it in my lungs – the difficulty in drawing breath, the tightening of my chest, among other things. It is recommended that if you have a baby prone to eczema (which both of mine are, unfortunately), don’t have cats around. Seeing that my own children use a nebulizer as needed right now, I am questioning how wise it would be to have the puppy they (mostly my husband though) want so much. It will entail a lot of extra work on my already taxed schedule. (Not to mention the re-hibernation of writing.)
  3. Carpet and Dust Mites – This is, by far, one of the worst things to have in a house paired with pets. Even without pets, carpeting has the perfect breeding ground for just about anything nasty. Being highly sensitive to such allergens, I could run HEPA certified air purifiers and cleaners in every room in a house, and it wouldn’t do a thing as long as carpet is in the space. That is the FIRST thing to go in any house I live in. For that reason alone, staying more than one overnight at any hotel will make my life miserable. And no, steam cleaning (whether by professional or otherwise) doesn’t work.
  4. Smokers – If you’re a smoker, chances are, we would never have been friends back in the day. While that has changed over the years as my health improved (and technology now makes it possible to have friends from afar), I still have to be mindful of the brand of cigarette smoke I’m hanging around. Just because a smoker wasn’t smoking at the moment of me passing by him or her doesn’t mean it wouldn’t affect me. Smoke clings to everything, so just the wiff of it could trigger a wheezing fit. Now, interestingly, I am married to an ex-smoker, and my paternal grandfather (may you rest in peace, yei yei) was a smoker for forty some odd years before he quit cold-turkey. Perhaps his one and only grandchild at the time had something to do with that, huh? If you are a smoker, and you decide to quit, believe me when I say I would be THE PROUDEST PERSON on the planet for your decision and support ALL the way. I understand it is unbelievably difficult, takes a will so strong, it makes most weak-willed men turn and run at the mere suggestion, and requires one hell of a support network (or a very, VERY good friend).
  5. Sulfites / Synthetic preservatives – Imagine that. Back in the 80s and 90s, just as the industrial processes were taking off, and canning foods for a shelf life of a million years made so much sense, it could quite literally kill me before it preserved me. This is why I drink hard liquor when prompted for alcohol preference. Most wines these days contain a considerable amount of sulfites to help it age faster for that smoother taste.
  6. Carbonation – That’s right, no soda, sparkling water, or anything that has the frizzles. Throws most modern day beer right out the window for me. I never developed a taste for the nasty stuff anyhow, although my husband would be quick to point out that “microbrews” are not real beers. *laugh* Irish men.
  7. Sugar – Now think about this for a moment and imagine the type of hell my childhood (and a small part of my teenage years) was. No candy, no soda, no chocolate, ice cream, or anything else that is laced with sugar – because high fructose corn syrup is devastating to my system. Now, my mother’s trial and error showed that I could have small amounts of sweetened things as long as they were made with crystalline sugar, or crystalline fructose, since it is much sweeter than table sugar, less can be used (a plus for me) but it certainly contributes to side effects (when used long-term) such as – hyperlipidemia, fatty liver disease (I have been repeatedly told I have a fatty liver), cirrhosis, coronary arterial disease, and obesity. My fight with my weight is a life-long one, although I doubt this was the sole contributor to the problem. The possibility of having a compromised liver is THE reason why I’m not much of a drinker and will often opt to be the “designated driver” to most events. My liver thanks me for not worsening the abuse.
  8. Fruits – Fruit is typically good for people, just not me – at least, not all of them. I can have the standards like apple (sugar apple included), some pear, grapes, but some tropical fruit like mango, banana, oranges and an assortment of others that I don’t remember since I don’t eat them made growing up rather interesting. While I can have mango, banana, oranges, and most fruits, I have to be careful when symptoms of a cold or flu surfaces as I have to revert back to my “limited diet” menu.
  9. Fast food – McDonald’s, KFC, and whatever bigwig names were operating back in the 80s/90s were banned for me. I couldn’t have fried foods, period. If it wasn’t steamed, boiled, or just pan-seared with a light coating of oil, it’s not an option.
  10. Seafood – I only eat fish on a frequent basis now, thanks to the flash freezing technology. I avoid most things like shrimp/prawns, clams, oysters, and crab because they spoil very easily back in the day (and still do today if they come processed). When my father ever goes to a restaurant with me in-tow, he will only ever order fish steamed (because you cannot steam fish that aren’t fresh, and it prevents the restaurant from using a previously killed or dead fish), and whatever dishes had shrimp as its main course, the poor things were thrown into a portable cooker while still alive to be boiled to death. In short, I am a monster. Seafood that has been dead in the water will trigger hives for me. It makes most people sick, certainly, past expiration, but my hives are triggered well before it makes the typical person sick. I refuse to let me be a reason to be inhumane, for the love of humanity.

So, I lived in a bubble without the physical bubble. I’m the very definition of a party-pooper because I cannot throw my health to the wind even in the name of adventure, and because natural allergens like pollen and everything else is also a factor, I couldn’t go out much, if at all. Sheltered doesn’t even begin to describe my existence.

*chuckles*

In fact, whenever I get sick with a cold or flu growing up, I usually find myself in the hospital for a week at a time from an attack, sometimes up to 10 days. The staggering amount of hospital bills my parents have had to shoulder aside, most of my childhood seems to be spent inside the white-washed walls of a hospital room (and my poor mother having to accompany me while still running a household and taking care of my younger brother), syringe needles and IV drips being the only constant companion, and the need to be tethered to a nebulizer just about dragged any happy existence away from me. I couldn’t make friends, or keep the ones I did try to reach out to. I was an outcast by haphazard design, almost, and while I loathed it growing up, I also came to realize just how much all that solitude did for me.

I am a born dreamer, and I spent most of my time with my nose in a book and escaping to a world that isn’t this reality. It was about the only thing I could do in a hospital bed, aside from homework. It is from these hospital stays with no one but nurses, doctors, and my mother and brother to be with me did the interest in writing emerge – I was bored the hell out of my mind. However, that only served to drive me deeper into social isolation.

Hence the reason why I’m still a social idiot… *grin*.

Asthma has a nasty habit of being worse when the sun sets and improves when the sun rises. My tendency to be a night owl (and further encroachment into silent solitude) came from the attacks at night that usually starts around 2am and I usually get back to sleep around 5am, and then woken again at 6am. Normally, I just skip going back to sleep at that point and tough it out the rest of the day by power-napping. Rinse and repeat for a few years and it gets carved into one’s psyche and made me a permanent insomniac. Besides, it’s easier to sleep in the day time.

I can gripe about the short-end of the stick life dealt me, but the fact is, because I am conscientious of all that affect me, I can take steps to improve my life. I still enjoy life, even if it meant that most food indulgence is in moderation. It doesn’t mean I can’t have the few pieces of chocolate every month, or love the fruits that used to be forbidden to me, and I do drink soda, albeit at a rate of one-twelve-can-case-in-30-months-with-help, and ice cream now comes in more flavors than I can count with my fingers and toes combined. I like mixed drinks, but I limit myself to its exposure. At most, I indulge once a month on a couple of shots of blended whiskey. Outside of that, I am usually the self-volunteered “designated driver.”

My liver thanks me.

When I was pregnant with my son, my husband – a research guru I like to call “The Professor” for fun – taught me why my body craves certain things (that’s why some women want pickles with ice cream – but not me, oh no.) By looking up what vitamins/minerals/antioxidants are affiliated with what cravings, I learned the art of substitution. Want sugar? Eat a fruit loaded with that – watermelon, strawberries, Korean pears, the list goes on. Want ice-cream? Substitute it with a hot chocolate – Hubby experimented which brands that work well with me so he only had to use a little bit to flavor the milk for the calcium I craved. Also, for a while, I stuck with soy milk as it fulfilled both the calcium and protein needs. I still had my ice cream, but I didn’t go through tubs of that stuff.

Pre-pregnancy weight was achieved in 6 weeks after the birth of my son. (There was a chorus of “I hate yous” at a family gathering I attended three months after my son was born from fellow mothers… *chuckle*)

Want chocolate? Well, that’s different… Toblerone, Godiva, Dove, Nutella in extreme moderation. *laugh*

I only crave soda on odd days, and usually not more than once every couple of months (hence the reason it takes me 30 months to finish 8 cans of root beer soda). Carbonation makes my lungs hurt. It is now permanently off grocery lists. Bonus? My children aren’t exposed to junk drinks either.

I actually turn green in the candy aisle now because all I see is sugar, sugar, and more sugar. One of my grandmothers had diabetes. It runs a bit in my family, so it’s in my best interest to just avoid sugar. All candy my children come home with goes straight to the trash. They can have cookies. They can’t have candy though until they’re much older. Believe it or not, I can’t have corn when sick. The fructose in corn is enough to quadruple my problem with mucus and trigger an instant attack in my younger years. While I won’t get an attack now, it makes me cough my lungs (and eventually my brains) out. It worsens my children’s colds/flus as well, so we can’t have corn as a family as long as someone is sick.

I drink juice (apple, cranberry, grape), but it will always be cut with 70% water or higher. Orange juice is the only one I either don’t cut or only add a little bit of water to.

I will never be an alcoholic in my life, or a smoker. That would be deathwish served to me on a silver platter.

Spending the amount of time I did in the hospital around needles ensured that I will never stick one of those in my arm willingly. While I may not run screaming at the sight of one of those long-pointy things designed to go in my flesh, it doesn’t mean I don’t have the urge to bolt. It’s a bit of a fight for me to stay that will, but unless I told you needles bug the shit out of me, you would never know.

So…

Asthma is a scary illness. People can die from it, but it’s not a guaranteed verdict like stage-four cancer. The big thing is the panic. People tend to panic when they can’t breathe (I get it too when I snap awake at night in the middle of an attack), and that only serves to worsen the problem rapidly.

So, first things first, calm down, locate inhaler if you have one, just concentrate on breathing rhythm and inhale through your nose (not your mouth unless you are congested). That’s important. Your nose has a natural filter, so it will help a bit. You have more control over your body with your mind than you think.

Before I go, here are some things I’ve done over the years that I think helped me in the long run:

Breathing exercises – Deep breath in through the nose, then take another (try to get those lungs to expand as much as they can go). Hold for five seconds. Exhale through the mouth. Repeat. As often as you’ll like through the day. I try to do twenty breaths a set, and five sets through the day at various places and times, especially right before bed. Allergens will always be there, but by training the body to deal with it, hopefully that will result in fewer attacks, or no attacks at all. Not recommended for attempting it around smokers or cigarette smoke, however. Avoid busy streets. Carbon monoxide is not your friend.

Sports – Take up swimming. When my parents had company paid golf club memberships, my mother took us swimming every Saturday for two years. I became a powerful swimmer. Twenty laps in an Olympic size swimming pool in an afternoon was my average.

Take up running if you can (I can’t, but I’m working on it still). I am a serial stair runner. Until my pregnancies prevented that activity, I ran up stairs, not walk up stairs, regardless of how many flights. I push until I can’t anymore and walk the rest. Yes, I already realized I’m weird. But, it helps!

Take up sports that focus on building lung capacity and endurance instead of strength. Badminton was my sport (Few Americans know this sport in Texas so it was difficult for me to find a partner to spar with), and I was good at it – good enough to be considered for a national championship tournament in high school. It was a sport that focused on speed, strength, and endurance (and really, really good eye-to-hand coordination). Too bad I turned 18 three weeks before it was scheduled to take place and therefore made me ineligible for the competition. When Mother Nature no longer had the capability to kill me simply by producing pollen alone, I took up hiking.

Food – Organics. Most of us are horribly allergic to synthetic preservatives, chemical pesticides, and a whole slew of other things I’m not qualified to comment on. It is more expensive, but it isn’t more expensive than those hospital bills, believe me.  You don’t have to switch everything over to organics, but things like vegetables and fruit where you option to eat with the skin intact instead of peeling, switch those if possible. Balance it out. Over use of organics might lower your body’s ability to adapt in the long run to non-organics.

Hope this monster of a “little” segment helps. Much love.

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