I hate being unable to control my own body — life with asthma
January 23, 2016
“Twelve times a minute, I force air in, gasping like a fish out of water. Seven hundred and twenty times per hour. My hands start to shake uncontrollably after six hours in my prison. My eyes feel gritty from lack of sleep, and my head is throbbing from Julian’s blow and the hypoxia.”
— Lydia Kang, “Catalyst”
After at least 13 years, I recognize all of the signs. First, my lungs feel heavy, as if I’d swallowed a chunk of lead. Then, my throat constricts, trying to keep out some foreign invader — sometimes pollen, or dust, or smoke. The worst part comes if my inhaler doesn’t work. It feels like my desperate lungs are shaking, and my hands follow soon after. My head spins, my vision blurs, and I have to stop what I’m doing — no matter what it is — to stop my body’s violent attack on itself.
Just another day in the life of an asthmatic.
I hardly ever talk about my asthma in real life or online. It’s not exactly an amazing conversation starter. “BTW, I could start hyperventilating at any moment!”
But Wednesday was one of those days that made me resent my dysfunctional respiratory system more than usual, so I’m making myself feel better the only way I know how: another pump of my inhaler and an emotionally charged blog post.
It’s ironic — not in the funny way, of course — how asthma has become a stereotypical geek characteristic in fiction. The life-threatening, life-controlling chronic lung disease has been reduced to a joke at the expense of the socially inept.
Until “Control” and “Catalyst” by Lydia Kang, I’d never read a book that captures the exact feeling of despair, resent and resignation of being limited by one’s own body and knowing that there is only treatment, no cure. The protagonist of the series, Zelia, is afflicted with Ondine’s curse, a rare and serious disorder that causes failure of autonomic respiration. Essentially, Zelia cannot breathe automatically and must wear a device that mechanically controls her breathing. If she falls asleep without the device, she will stop breathing and die.
My asthma is the unfortunate result of genetic inheritance. My dad’s asthma is even more severe than mine, and he has gone to the emergency room before, the most memorable occasion being a severe asthma attack during Thanksgiving break. I was in middle school at the time.
I’ve carried a rescue inhaler since I was about 4-years old. Doctors told my parents that I’d probably grow out of it — or at least improve — during my teenage years. That turned out to be false. Last year, my doctor prescribed a longer-lasting preventive inhaler to keep my airways necessary.
Asthma has prevented me from doing so much, especially recently. Last year, I forfeited one tennis match because I couldn’t breathe halfway through the match. On two other occasions, I forced myself through the rest of the singles match, but had to go home before I could play doubles. My dad has made me wear a mask to practice a few times to slow the rate at which I breathe in the allergens; it makes me feel self-conscious and uncomfortable and, in the end, I usually opt to stay home instead.
On many occasions, I’ve had to sign out of class early because my lungs tightened and I got dizzy. Every once in a while, I can’t go to school at all and my mom has to stay home with me because my parents are scared I’ll have a severe attack in their absence.
The worst part isn’t the missed opportunities or the interference with my education and extracurricular activities. It’s the bitterness of knowing that a natural mechanism intended to protect my body is rebelling against me. It’s the frustration of knowing that I can’t control my own lungs.
Do you ever get angry about the things you can’t control?