It’s past 2am and as usual I’m extremely exhausted without being tired at all. Does that sound crazy? Well it should. All the prednisone, breathing treatments, and low peakflow numbers don’t help either, but it’s least it’s not 5:30am yet like last night.
Asthma attacks are kind of hard to explain to someone who has never experienced one. Another reason why they are difficult to define is because in ways they are different for everyone, not to mention the severity with which one suffers from asthma or reacts to particular triggers also varies. To break it down into simple terms, that really apply to everyone, during an asthma attack your airways constrict and swell making it hard to breath. Some people cough, some people wheeze, and there is a plethora of other symptoms or signs that may pop up specific to individuals. Attacks, flare-ups, or exacerbations can last minutes, hours or days. The important thing is to take them seriously and not let them get out of control.
When I was younger the asthma was still an almost daily thing for me, but it wasn’t like I was taking rescue meds on a daily basis. Thanks to some of the record keeping I perform on my health (DOCTORS LOVE THIS) I can look back and see how things have gotten better or worse over time. As a kid I would need rescue meds on a somewhat regular basis during certain parts of the year, but in the past 16 months or so I’ve had fewer than 10 days when I did not need rescue inhalers or nebulized breathing treatments. On the days where I did need them I was doing anywhere from a couple inhaler puffs or one treatment, up to 12+ treatments in one day.
I’ve been out of the hospital for a full week and am doing much better, but I’m still having a “bad moment” at least every other day. Last Saturday morning was the worst so far and I got myself into a situation where I was actually worried about myself. I’ve been working through that morning off and on in my brain looking for things I did wrong or things I could improve next time. I thought I’d share cause this is serious stuff.
My day actually started out not so bad. I woke up not gasping for air, played some games on my phone, and was staying home with Chuck while Liz and Neville took care of some morning errands. The two of them took off and I went about my Saturday ritual of soaping the beard and getting ready for my day. Chuck was out in the living room holding Chewbacca the guinea pig and watching TV. After I was ready and dressed, Chuck and I had plans to cook some sausage for breakfast.
I came out from the back of the house ready to start cooking and Chuck asks me where Chewie went, who was now laughing at us from underneath the couch. Hindsight, being as awesome as it is, would have told me to just let the wookie win, but for some reason I felt the need to get it put away; not allowing him to defecate and micturate upon our carpet. Ten to fifteen minutes later I was still on the ground with my face pressed into the carpet trying to get that loveable pet out from the couch when I realized I had made a serious mistake.
I should have just let the guinea pig hide under the couch for an hour.
Plan B went into effect as I let the wookie win and started setting up my living room neb for some albuterol around 9am. I didn’t check any numbers but I knew being down in the carpet had gotten my allergies started which was now triggering my asthma. Another ten minutes later and my treatment was over, but I wasn’t really feeling much better. In fact, I was feeling worse. This is when I started texting Liz to complain about the situation and decided to go find some benadryl at the other end of the house.
I left my phone on the coffee table and lumbered back to the master bathroom where I looked and looked but for some reason couldn’t find the benadryl in plain sight.
Probably after 70 seconds or so I gave up I started stumbling back into the master bedroom and basically collapsed onto my bed. Over the next 30 minutes as I felt my airways become more and more tight, I tried to get up at least 5 times, only to fall back over. Eventually I was able to get up enough to setup another nebulizer treatment with my bedroom nebuilzer that was less than three feet away the whole time. My peakflow was down to 300 (yes this is go-to-hospital for me),put my pulse oximeter onto my finger, and watched my o2 levels desaturate down to 80%.
All of this was occurring while my four year old was watching a movie 10 yards away and I had no way to communicate with anyone because my phone was in the other room and I could neither sit up nor walk to retrieve it.
After my second neb in 30 min my PF was up to 340 and I made it back into the living room to grab some zyrtec and my phone. Of course Liz hadn’t heard anything from me in 45 min or so and was really wondering what my status was. I gave her a quick update, and continued to watch my o2 levels bounce between 83% and 88%. That’s about the time I put a ton of nasal spray up my nose to help curb the allergies, put my CPAP on and hoped for the best. This was feeling a lot like when both of my lungs partially collapsed last summer. The difference being I was in a hospital then with two IVs in my arms, and hooked up to 6L of oxygen with 6 nurses, doctors and technicians staring at me. Last Saturday I was all on my own with nothing but continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP), standard rescue meds, and a cell phone without the ability to talk loudly or clearly.
At some point during this Chuck decided to come join me in the bedroom and watch some TV on the bed. I kinda knew she was there but was also a bit oblivious to what she was doing. I ended up falling asleep and after a couple hours of forcing my airways open, my o2 levels were back up to 93%-94%. While asleep I had a dream two of my medic friends, Andy and Art, were yelling at me to wake up which was about the time Liz got home and was checking on me.
What did I learn?
As crazy as it seems after the fact to verbalize I was seriously short of breath and constantly falling over while failing to take any medicine, in the moment I never think I’m that bad. I’m the kind of person who discovered early on I can do most things I put my mind to. This probably isn’t the best thing to have figured out with my asthma, but because of it and a great pulmonolgist as a kid – I kind of developed an attitude of invincibility.
- I need to keep my phone on me at all times, especially if I’m on my own and in bad shape.
- I should have quit trying to grab the rodent and just given up sooner.
- I should have grabbed one of my MDI and taken 4 to 6 quick puffs, with a spacer, to help out in the middle of everything.
- I probably should have asked Liz to get home immediately.
- I maybe should have gotten to the nearest hospital ASAP.
This is not what asthma is for many, but this is what asthma is for me. It’s dangerous, unpredictable, sneaky, and (at times) concerning (for me). I know there are plenty of people out there who worry for me and about me on a semi-regular basis. I have amazing friends and great family who are constantly looking out for me and bending backwards to include me when it’d be easier to just let me be. I’ve basically come to the realization that I’m lucky, blessed, or whatever you want to call it. I’ve had many close calls where I somehow work through another asthmatic situation one way or another. Even after 23 years since being diagnosed I’m still learning more about what this disease is, how it affects me, and how I can attempt to keep it under control. It’s a life-long learning process.
If you have asthma yourself, try not to be stupid like me and get yourself into these situations. If you are often around someone with asthma, try to recognize symptoms and signs for when they need help. Liz has figured out what I look like, things I do, ways I act, etc that mean I’m in trouble. Sometimes I’m clued in and other times I am not. It’s important to stay calm, as hard as it is, while trying to work through an attack. Sometimes people don’t take me seriously because I appear too chill. It really helps though if you can relax just a little bit.