I first learned I had severe asthma when I was a child. I went in for what I thought was a routine checkup: After my doctor checked my vitals — taking my blood pressure, looking up my nose, peering into my ears, shining a light into my eyes — I was ready to get on with my day and head home with a lollipop in hand. But as soon as I told him I sometimes had trouble breathing, he listened to my chest and his eyes widened. He had me blow into a spirometer, a test to see how well my lungs work, but I couldn’t exhale enough air to move the arrow. He could tell an asthma attack was imminent, and the next thing I knew, I was in an ambulance on the way to the hospital.
He was right: I had an attack while I was being hooked up to an IV, and two more attacks quickly followed until I passed out. I was in the hospital for three weeks, hooked to a nebulizer for every two hours and then a breathing tube.
Most people don’t know they have asthma — or know how severe their asthma is — until they’re hit with an attack. There are about 2.5 million people around the world who have severe asthma, and while less than 5% of patients have severe uncontrolled asthma, it accounts for 50% of asthma-related healthcare costs, resulting in significant morbidity rates.
I was lucky my pediatrician caught my asthma early, so that I was able to go on the right medication for me and learn how to use the tools I need to help manage my breathing as an adult. Without the right treatment plan (which took trial and error and years of finessing), asthma can feel like a 300-pound weight crushing my chest, like there’s not enough oxygen, like I’m constantly, desperately gasping for air. Asthma attacks can be so sudden sometimes — they don’t always have to be triggered; sometimes your lungs can just get lazy and give up. Life is hard enough as it is, but having asthma adds an extra layer of difficulty, because the fear of not breathing easily is always there.
So, I take necessary precautions, like keeping my home dust-free despite the fact that cleaning is my least favorite chore. Keeping my space spotless allows me to actually enjoy it and not have to worry as much about a possible attack. It’s for this reason that I’m limited in my home decor options as well. I’ve always dreamed of piling my place with different textures and a plethora of assorted rugs, but those textiles can often trigger my attacks. My new dream: A beautiful Spanish-style home with tiles and wood floors throughout.
I also always check the pollen count before I step foot outside, especially during the spring. When it’s high, I don’t really venture outdoors — I limit my activities, my dog gets shorter walks (or I ask a friend or family member to take her out). And I keep an air purifier on at all times.
Asthma affects how I make choices on a daily basis, but on a long-term level, asthma makes the choices for me. Finding a trainer is the perfect example of this. For most people, simply Googling "personal fitness trainer” is all they would need to do to find one who may work for them. My search took three months. I had to scour the Internet, creep on personal fitness accounts, and for a second, I almost settled for YouTube workouts (as in, “working out” for five minutes before stopping). But I finally found someone who specialized in increasing lung capacity, and immediately signed up for my free gym consultation.
The next day, I showed up at the gym and was met with a workout that was really challenging, but also designed with breaks to make sure I was getting enough oxygen. I immediately signed up for a monthly membership. My trainer continues to be super mindful of my condition, making sure I feel comfortable with pushing myself without forgetting my limits.
Do I wish I wasn’t so cautious of the outdoors, particularly on a day with a high pollen count? Would I prefer the freedom to wear whatever perfume I desire? Do I hate the fact that a steep staircase stresses me out? Yes, yes, and yes. Living with severe asthma can be debilitating, and it’s been extra-scary during the pandemic. My anxiety has been at an all-time high, but wearing a mask offers an extra layer of protection that provides security. In fact, as the world begins to open up, I’m still apprehensive about going maskless, and I’m not quite sure when I’ll be ready.
Consulting with my doctor and talking to my friends and family — making sure they understand what it’s like to live with severe asthma — have helped greatly. Asthma will always be a part of my life, but it doesn’t have to be the whole story. I truly believe that it will only slow you down if you don’t know how to manage it. A prepared queen is a safe queen, and I will continue to live my absolute best life, asthma be damned.