Category Archives: asthma

I Ain’t No Spring Chicken

Last week I had an experience that if I had any doubts left solidified the fact that I’m getting older. I had my first heart catheterization. It started with me being short of breath on Saturday. I called work to let them know I wouldn’t be in. It’s hard to perform the work they expect when you can’t breathe. I puttered around the house and woke up Sunday morning feeling even worse. Still couldn’t breathe and it felt like someone had pulled a weight belt across my chest and was tightening it while concrete was poured into my lungs. This prompted another call to work.

My wife hooked up the nebulizer so I could take a breathing treatment before bed time. When I got up Monday morning I felt better, so off to work I went. Only one problem; the more I moved around the harder it got for me to breathe. By two hours into my shift the tightness was back in my chest. By four hours in, it was accompanied with chest pain on the right side and in the center. I had doubts I was going to be able to finish the shift. Six hours in I was valiantly trying to wait until everything was in and processed before I told them I was going to have to leave. I’m stubborn like that. I hate to leave a job unfinished.

Finally seven and a half hours in that job was done. I found my supervisor to tell him I was going to leave, but he didn’t understand why I couldn’t wait another thirty minutes until my shift was over, so I started helping with some manual processing. Within fifteen minutes he had changed his mind. I don’t know if he saw how hard it was for me to breathe, realized the pain I was in, or envisioned the liability that he and the plant might be in should I die on the work floor after requesting to leave, but he finally told me to go on home. I left before someone changed their mind and headed home to get the wife and probably head for the ER.

When I got home the wife was asleep. I woke her up and told her what was going on. We ended up deciding to wait until morning and see if I could get in to see my doctor. We went to sleep and the next morning she got me an appointment for 10:30 AM. The doctor took me back and after a very brief examination sent me directly to the emergency room. The ER team ran a few tests and a few hours later I was told I was being admitted to the hospital and they would be performing a heart cath on me on Wednesday. Several hours later, they finally got me in a room and told me my procedure would be at 8:30 AM.

The next morning I was whisked down to the heart cath lab and after numerous delays was finally taken back to the operating room. To make a long story short, they did find some blockages, but nothing serious enough to prompt surgery or even stints… yet. The general feeling is that the chest pain I was experiencing was a combination of my asthma, COPD, and damage caused by my diabetes and neuropathy. I was out of commission for a few more days and returned to work on Sunday.

With me out of commission, my son borrowed my car and put his in the garage to have some repair work performed. As payback for letting him use my car, he and my daughter loaded up all the rest of my toy collection from the old house and brought it over to the new house. If my breathing doesn’t get any better, he and the other kids will all need to finish doing the rest of the moving as well. There was a time when I could have done it all myself, but that time has long passed. As I have heard so many people tell me through the years when I was younger and more active, I ain’t no spring chicken anymore.

Why Do I Have To Be The Strong One?

One of the things I miss about childhood is knowing that no matter what happened, my mom would take care of me. If I needed money for something she would always find it. I never really knew how bad or how tight finances were because Mom spoke mostly in vague and generic terms. Now I’m the adult. I have two grown kids and a wife. The daughter is 19, but while technically grown-up, has never had to deal with the grown-up world on a true one on one basis. She has had her own problems that she has had to deal with (after deciding that she was all grown up at 18), but Mom and Dad have always been there to catch her when she faltered.

When my daughter moved out (okay, ran off) in mid September of 2011 to go live with her then boyfriend and his parents, she learned that things weren’t as bad at home as she thought they were. Apparently we were horrible monsters because we did things like make her do her homework, go to school, clean her room, wash the dishes, and take care of the pets. Six months later she was 5 months pregnant and pretty much begging to come home. We took her back with open arms, but at the same time the wife and I had finally found the perfect comfort level. We had all the bills under control. We enjoyed each other’s company. Now we had another mouth to feed and another person to add back into our personal dynamic. It was hard, but we managed.

A month after this happened I found out that I was losing my job. I was given two years to find another spot to land in the company or be unemployed. At 47 I did not need to be unemployed, so I took a much more physical job than the one I had. The other option was to try and get a job with more stress or one that would likely be abolished in a future round of budget cuts. My schedule changed, but I assured everyone that we would be okay. I would actually end up making more money per paycheck.

In July my granddaughter was born. I love her dearly, but I was also faced with another human being that ultimately I would end up being responsible for taking care of. My daughter would look after her and my wife would make sure she was fed and clothed and clean (tasks my daughter still has difficulty with performing for herself), but I would have to work to pay for her food and her clothes. My daughter originally planned to breast feed exclusively. That soon changed to occasionally and was eventually supplanted entirely by bottles of formula. Formula is not cheap.

Her husband (they were married in March, but he is still only 17) moved in around October and we also started moving around that time. They lived in the old house while we lived in the new house, and I paid for the utilities on both houses. In December my son and his wife moved into the old house and my daughter and her family moved in to our new house. It’s a long complicated game of musical houses, don’t ask.

So around this time we’re trying to move, trying to get set up for Christmas and Thanksgiving, and keep everything going when my paycheck gets screwed up. In my old position I was responsible for making sure all the employees in my unit got paid. In the new position I have to hope that the supervisors remember to put in things like paid leave. Needless to say, one of them didn’t.

My health also decided to start really giving me problems. My blood sugar would spike or would bottom out and my asthma became more debilitating than it had been in years because I was getting into so much dust, and dirt, and pet odors during the move all while exerting myself physically and then headed to work where I would perform even more physical lifting and loading.

Here we are now in February and I am still trying to recover financially from two screwed up checks, holiday expenses, and feeding a family of five. Today my blood sugar spiked high. I was shaking. I couldn’t function and had to call off from work. I ended up sitting in a recliner and sleeping most of the day. When I was awake, I was silently fighting the urge to break down and cry. I know my life isn’t nearly as bad as so many other people’s. I know we will eventually get things straightened out. I know we will eventually get moved, get the kids into their own place, and get a quiet and restful home life, but right now all I can think about is why do I have to be the strong one? Why do I have to put on the brave face and not let anyone know how bad I’m hurting? How did Mom handle things like this and make it look so easy?

You Leave Me Breathless

I am an asthmatic. I have been my whole life. While other kids were learning to ride bicycles, I was learning to live without breathing. As a small child I spent many a night in the hospital inside an oxygen tent. It never really scared me, and even the severe asthma attacks themselves never truly scared me. I guess for all I knew this was just something everyone went through.

For those of you that have never had an asthma attack before, let me try to give you a bit of perspective on it. Take a deep breath and hold it. When it becomes uncomfortable check how long you’ve held your breath and then let it out. Now exhale completely and prepare to take another deep breath only this time don’t actually take that deep breath, or a shallow one even. Now hold that little bit of air that you didn’t manage to exhale out of your body for the same length of time you held the deep breath. When it’s time, take a quick short gasp of air and hold that. That is about the closest way I know to describe what it feels like when you cannot get your lungs to accept enough oxygen. You can go back to breathing normally now.

The feeling of not breathing is usually accompanied by a pain in the chest as well. The lungs fight and gasp for air which hurts, but it also causes the heart to start beating faster which can then add to the chest discomfort. As I said, I’ve dealt with it for so many years that I hardly give it a second thought. When I notice that I am having breathing difficulty, I will usually use my rescue inhaler. If it gets really bad, I have a nebulizer with albuterol that I can inhale to open my breathing passages. If that fails, then it’s get me to the hospital… fast.

Over the years I have wondered how much damage to my memories the lack of sufficient oxygen might have caused. I used to have an amazing memory for facts and figures and trivia (other than dates, I was never good with dates). These days I live most of my life by rote actions. I place things back where they are supposed to be and I follow a repetitive routine. If I diverge from my routine, I will forget something every time.