Joining The Asthma Club

Last night I didn’t sleep.

I went to bed after a perfectly normal day. As I lay in bed, I noticed I couldn’t breathe very easily. It felt like there was a lead weight on my chest. I thought I must be imagining it and turned over to get some kip. But I couldn’t. I just couldn’t relax and breathe easily enough to drift off. I kept having to consciously draw deep breaths. I often get a bit wheezy and crackly if I’m in a damp room so I thought nothing off it and went to the spare room, which is a lot less humid (cos there’s no en-suite off it).

I still couldn’t breathe properly.

By now it was around 4.30am and I’d been trying to sleep for around three hours. If anything, my chest now felt a bit tighter when I breathed in and out. It sounded alarmingly like a bowl of Rice Krispies being soaked.

So…I began to get a bit worried. Now, I know millions of people have asthma attacks, most ot them dealing with them calmly and stoically, without getting het up and writing rants on websites about their experiences.

But I’ve never had one before!

Since I’ve moved back to Derby, I’ve been consciously trying to live more healthily. Being straight edge is a huge flying start but I’m still dangerously obese so I’ve been trying to deal with that. I took up T’ai Chi last year, which has helped tremendously with balance and stamina. This year I gave up added sugar and sugary foods (goodbye chocolate, cakes, biscuits, milkshakes, doughnuts…), took up weight training and since May I’ve lost 31 pounds.

So, I know I’m a fat bastard but I’m doing my best to remedy that.

I was a bit peeved that I was having this attack of breathlessness after losing all that weight! But I was far more peeved at the thought that one night I might get a serious asthma attack and pop my clogs like the 1500 who die of asthma each year in the UK.

My poor mrs. sat up with me till the morning as she was so worried, bless her. We went to a GP first thing but I knew what he’d say before he even examined me. He prodded me and listened to my fading wheezing. Yep, here we go… “morbid obesity, must lose weight..blah blah.”

“But Doctor, I’ve just lost 31 pounds – maybe there’s something in the house that’s triggering this wheeziness? I mean, I know my weight doesn’t help but it’s probably a combination of factors, isn’t it?”

He looks at me. I can see him visualising me cramming doughnuts down my gob every day. He thinks I gargle with chip fat.

“You have ignored your weight and kept eating and now your health will suffer”

Ahhh… so he’s not listening to a bloody word I say. He just wants me to tug my forelock obediently and shuffle off, gratefully cradling my prescription like the word of God.

He prescribes an inhaler. I ask him if it’s an anti-histamine and he looks very annoyed I’ve dared to use some of his holy parlance and mutters curtly that it’s salbutamol, a bronchodilator. Oooh, long words! They’d probably intimidate me if my parents weren’t both doctors. He also gives me a chit for a chest x-ray…shadders? On me lahngs?

When I get home, I try the inhaler. By now, I’m mostly back to normal but I give it a go cos I’m fascinated by it. The inhaler is the power ring of the Asthma Avengers, it’s the leopard-skin fez of the Wheezy Wonders, it’s the crucifix of the Church of Breathlessness.

I read the instructions. Reassuringly, they’re as gently calming as those that used to come with my Airfix kits. The inhaler itself echoes this: the main body is a shade of grey that immediately reminds me of hand-painting the bare fuselage of a Hawker Hurricane. Ahhhh… it’s all very, very soothing. I finally get some sleep…mmm…

I dream I am piloting a Ventolin Evohaler over enemy territory. The bastards drop out of the sun, trying to catch me napping. With a phlegmy sputter of indignation, I huff the guns towards them. Take that, you smoky bastards in the Blue Note, rot in hell, fiendish dust mites! Rat-ta-ta-ta-ta…

When I woke up, I phoned a musician mate of mine who I’d missed seeing because of all the hoo-haa. It turns out he’s an asthmatic and he copes by using his inhaler occasionally if he’s over-exerted himself at gigs or the smoke’s got to him. I feel a little bit ashamed that I’ve made such a fuss – he’s very matter of fact about it whereas I’ve gone off into a huge drama-queen tizz. Ah well, newbies to a club are always less laid back than the older members.

It’s a big bastard club. When I was around 8 or 9, I remember there was only one kid in my class who had asthma. I know this because every asthmatic kid had to have their inhaler for P.E. and always left them with the goalie in case they got an attack.

Nowadays, look how widespread asthma is! Here’s some figures from the website I linked to above:

? One in eight children has asthma and this figure has increased six-fold in the last 25 years.

? As many as 42% of the UK population have experienced wheezy illness by the time they reach their mid 30s.

? The UK has the highest prevalence of severe wheeze in children aged 13?14 years worldwide.

Of course, 90% of statistics are bunkum. But if I check them against the number of people I personally know who have asthma, there seems to be some objective truth there. So what the hell’s going on? What’s caused this massive increase in asthma? It’s almost like this disease has now become normal.

I’m sure of one thing. As much as we shudder in horror when we hear of early researchers holding radium or kids frolicking in waste asbestos, in the future, people will look back and shudder at our asthma epidemic. By then, they will have found out what the trigger was for this explosion in asthma. It’ll be something seemingly innocuous to us, maybe some food additive that wasn’t common 30 years ago. Or perhaps some household chemical we’ve been told is totally safe, just as pregnant women were re-assured about Thalidomide.

But when they find out what environmental agent is the cause and which company promoted its use, I’m going to hunt down the CEO and shove my inhaler so far up their arse that they’ll be the one wheezing,
love and kisses,