Asthma Awareness

No one has ever asked me how an asthma attack feels. Everyone happens to read the symptoms list and thinks that’s all there is to know: wheezing, shortness of breath, chest tightness, coughing. Just a bunch of words, really. Others may be a step ahead, having seen a friend or loved one in the midst of an attack. But watching something isn’t like experiencing it. 

 The Usual Reaction

I must confess that over the years, as a long-term asthma sufferer, I found some people’s reaction almost as hurtful as the asthma itself. I run a business and when I have an attack, I have someone call to let people know I won’t be able to make this or that commitment. While some are understanding, others make that inexplicable face or a comment.

To them perhaps, an “asthma attack” is like a headache or a cold, or something that you can shake off. Or perhaps they meet me a couple days later and don’t see anything broken or bandaged, and figure out, “What the hell, he looks OK. He even looks healthy. What’s he making all that fuss about?”

“Excuses, excuses… how pathetic. He acts so upstanding and tough and devout but there, he’s spineless and weak. Breaking commitments, reneging on promises. Pathetic.”

A Recent History of My Attacks

Between December ’09 and April ’10, I had two or three severe attacks every week. By severe, I mean the kind that won’t go away until you’re in an ER. Many of these attacks came after midnight and lasted several hours. It seriously affected my work – it was a tough time, the financial crisis having just hit my business hard.

Writing now, a year later, my asthma is much better now that I’m on Singulair. Over the past year I learnt a lot about my specific asthma and what allergens cause it (and what allergens do not, despite many well-intentioned but uninformed suggestions). Below, I’ve written a diary of an asthma attack that I had a few months ago.

I hope it raises awareness about this condition and helps people understand what an attack feels like. Subjectively, this time – not through a “symptoms list”.