Sunny Days in DC

Jack of All Trades, Master of 3-ish.

This is what an asthma attack feels like…

on September 16, 2013

On Friday, I woke up from a nap with a little bit of a tickle in my throat. I figured maybe my throat was just dry, but no matter how much water I drank, that little tickle wouldn’t go away.

For those who don’t know, Friday night was the start of Yom Kippur, the Jewish day of atonement. Generally, if you’re in good health and not pregnant, you fast for 25 hours. I was expecting to fast, and then write a loooooooooooooong bitchy post about how much it sucked. But anyway, before we fast, most people go out to a big dinner. The husband and I went to a Chinese restaurant in Dublin. The door was open to let in the evening breeze, which should have been lovely, except for the smokers out front. 

“Should I ask them to close the door?” I asked. Which was stupid. Why didn’t I just GET UP AND CLOSE THE FUCKING DOOR?! But I didn’t. I started coughing in the restaurant. As we walked back, that tickle in my throat moved down into my lungs, and I started coughing non-stop.

I know how people view folks with asthma. We’re all short and we breathe heavy, and we can’t play in sports with the other kids. The stereotype is pretty well personified in an episode of South Park, where a Jewish asthmatic kid comes to visit. The thing is, for most of us, it drives us crazy. I remember being a little girl and just WANTING to go run and play, and never understanding why I was always sick. It was humiliating to explain to the other kids why I was wheezing or why I couldn’t get over a cold as quickly as they could. And I think, until fairly recently, that might have even been how my husband viewed it. He’d never REALLY seen me in full on asthma mode, because as much as it may have impacted his life before (read: not all that much, really), I had managed to keep it under control.

But this is Europe. People smoke. People smoke in the US, too, but for some reason my asthma has gotten worse here.

So there we were, Friday night. I’m trying to maintain a conversation, and at some point I stop even trying. Then I stopped walking. Finally, I collapsed onto the ground, coughing and gasping.


Some folks stopped, and helped us into a cafe where I was able to get a coke (little known trick: if you’re ever with an asthmatic who has lost their inhaler and they’re having an attack, caffeine will slow the attack until you can get serious help). We sat there as my coughing subsided. My husband must have asked me 4 or 5 times if we should go to an ER, but I wanted to get Max home to bed. It wouldn’t do my asthma any good if I was panicking because he was screaming and exhausted.

So here we are now. It’s Monday. I couldn’t see anyone over the weekend because I think the clinics were closed, so I’ve had this low-level ongoing attack for four days.

You know how you’ll see an ad from time to time, and they liken an attack to trying to breathe through a straw? Maybe that’s how it is for some people, but for me, it’s worse. I cough and cough, because my chest tightens. Then I get thirsty, but no matter how much I drink I still feel dehydrated. That’s because my bronchial tubes start filling with fluid. Is this gross? I can’t tell. It moves down into my lungs, and I cough and cough, but no matter how hard I try, I just feel like I’m drowning inside my own body. It’s horrible. It’s horrible, and humiliating, and I wish I didn’t have it. People ask me why I am just NOW thinking about weaning Max, at 15 months. You know why? Because if there is ANY chance that extended breast feeding would mean that he didn’t have to collapse on the street of a foreign city, not knowing when he would be able to catch his breath, I will fucking do it. I’ll nurse the shit outta this kid. I’ll eat fucking goji berries or whatever else. 

So that’s my deep dark secret. That’s my weakness and humiliation. I have another 35 months in a country I really enjoy, but may be slowly killing me.



15 responses to “This is what an asthma attack feels like…

  1. There’s no question that Ireland is making your asthma worse. They still burn coal for starters. And the inversion layer kicks in earlier because of the weather. AND they all smoke. I’m so sorry. DO take advantage of the free healthcare while you are there. Yes — it’s not all good quality but neither is ours and at least theirs is free! I don’t get why you are ashamed though. Think of asthma as chic and skinny, like consumption perhaps? I know I do. I only know thin, attractive asthmatics. I really didn’t like that South Park episode, now that you remind me of it. I usually LOVE it when they are anti-semitic (self-hating Jew much?) but that ep left me cold. Feel better!!!! And perhaps a pharmacy can sell an inhaler there without a scrip? I know the pharmacies in France can give you drugs without doctors getting involved. But go to the doctor! And stop blaming yourself!!!! Plus, nursing a 15-month-old is normal. It’s not like he’s 4 or something! He’s still a baby.

    • H. Stern says:

      Well, I DO have an appointment with the clinic tomorrow. 55 euros for her to probably just write up a script! Maybe I will go to the pharma and see what they can do for me. Supposedly, there’s a really fantastic hospital nearby that specializes in asthma, and frankly I would rather spend my money there.

      Ooooooh…. consumption?! How retro! Well, I’m not skinny, and yeah, there’s some crap in the air here. I think part of it is stress, part is my super crappy diet since I moved here, but part of it is just the fact that this isn’t the US and they just sorta… you know… smoke.

      I don’t think it’s self-hating to be able to laugh at yourself and your own culture, btw. South Park is generally very good at it, it just so happens that on this one occasion, they hit a nerve with me. I totally related to that kid, and I was like, “YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT IT’S LIKE FROM HIS PERSPECTIVE!!!”

      And yeah, I am really defensive about the breast feeding thing. I’ve had to fight some friends and family about the breast feeding issue. For some reason, it’s everyone’s right to comment. I get it, most moms in the US don’t bf for more than 3 months, but I don’t think I’m turning him into a wee little tit-obsessed serial killer.

      ….not from this, anyway.

      • ONLY 3 months? Are you serious? That’s pretty minimal when it comes to breast feeding. Even my friends who had to go right back to work pumped so they could breast feed for at least 6 – 9 mos. I LOVE South Park. And I love it when they make fun of me (Jews) but that one character didn’t make me laugh. And I don’t have asthma. I hope that clinic is good but def ask the pharmacy. If they are like France it could be amazing! It’s the smoking though, not the cheese. 🙂 You should have that as a slogan!

  2. As an asthmatic I really relate to your issues. Of course I am not breastfeeding an infant so I can do all the great medicines.

    • H. Stern says:

      Oh, I see! You refuse to breastfeed, do you?! JUST LIKE A MAN!!!

      Anyway, albuterol doesn’t pass significantly through to breast milk, so we’re actually ok. Just… you know… it sucks.

  3. ekgo says:

    You could just hop down to the store and get some new lungs.

    Oh, hey, you probably COULD actually hop down to a butcher shop and really find lungs, come to think of it. But don’t do that; they’re from cows or pigs and while pigs and humans can often swap pieces, at least that’s what I’ve been told by comic books and vaguely scientific blogs, you’r e not allowed to have pig parts in you, right? So just don’t take my advice. Do NOT go get new lungs at the butcher. Or, if you do, eat them and don’t put them in your chest. But maybe don’t even eat them because that doesn’t sound yummy at all.

    Skip the lungs.

    Onto the breastfeeding. My sister breastfed both of her kids for, like, a million years each. It got to the point where one of these fully-toothed children would crawl into her lap and start climbing up the inside of her shirt and I was like, “DUDE! The fridge is RIGHT THERE! You know how to open it! Start doing things yourself instead of relying on your poor mom to do it all for you!” and then my sister would lecture me and then I’d pour a big glass of wine and guzzle it in front of her, laughing evilly and dribbling wine down my chin and onto my chest. And that’s why I didn’t have kids. I’d have been a horrible mom. I’d have freaked out over breastfeeding because of my unnatural aversion to leeches. I’d have plucked that baby straight off my breast and chucked it at the nurse, yelling, “IT’S SUCKING ON ME! OH GOD, IT’S A LEECHY VAMPIRE! GET ME SOME ANTI-BACTERIAL GOO TO SLATHER ON THE SUCK WOUNDS! OH, HELL, I’M LEAKING NOW! LOOK WHAT IT DID TO ME! GET IT AWAY! GET IT AWAY!” and probably Social Services would have taken the child away right then and there.
    So, see? It could be so much worse…somehow. I don’t know that I’ve illustrated the worseness part except that you didn’t throw your child across the room and use blasphemous language, so…extra mom points for you!

    Oh, and don’t laugh at any of this. I think that’s bad when you’re in the middle of a longass asthma attack. Just, read calmly and nod sagely.

    • H. Stern says:

      So, you CAN have pig parts put in you if you’re Jewish, because that’s for medical purposes. So, you’re good. Or… I’m good? Either way, I don’t think the local butcher is going to just toss me some lungs, and I can do the ol’ switcharoo in the store… or CAN I?! Hmmmmmmmmm…

      Right, so, everyone asked me when I first started breast feeding, “Isn’t it a WONDERFUL feeling?!” Well, actually, it made me kinda queasy. And you do kinda get the leech feeling when they’re inside of you and then when they’re nursing. Plus, and I LOVE my son, but he could suck the chrome off of a car. This kid has a latch that made my nipples bleed. So, you wouldn’t have been that far off from at least SOME other moms.

      Also, I tried very hard not to laugh. On the bright side, when I failed miserably, I was able to get up a lot of fluid that had been sitting in my lungs for most of the night. YAY FOR HOPEFULLY NOT GETTING PNEUMONIA AND HAVING TO BLOG FROM HOSPITAL!!

      • ekgo says:

        This: This kid has a latch that made my nipples bleed. made my nipples cringe and then run back into my chest and hid behind ribs. That was unpleasant.

        But yay for anti-pneumonia measures! Who knew coughing up slugs would be so wonderful?

        • H. Stern says:

          This is absolutely why, when some people tell me they don’t want to have kids, I applaud them. Because it’s better to know you don’t want to get balls-deep into this BEFORE you actually have a child in the picture. Now, to be fair to Max, my experience is REALLY uncommon, and I had a tremendous support network that helped me get through it. But yeah, I knew I wanted him, and I knew that I wanted him breastfed, so I was going to put up with almost anything.

          And I hate when folks tell people without kids, “Oh, you’ll change your mind!” You know what? Fuck that. If you already know this isn’t what you want, then good!! Be a great auntie or friend, and leave the parenting to people who don’t mind the odd bloody tit. So, in all sincerity, BRAVO TO YOU!!! Not everyone is that self aware until after they’ve spawned.

  4. Hannah, oh no! I’m so sorry to hear of all your troubles. Go see a doctor right away. I hope you can get on some meds that can give you some quick relief! You poor thing. Hang in there.

    • H. Stern says:

      Thanks Bumble! I’ll check out the pharma on my way out today. But honestly, if this is the worst thing that happens during my entire experience in Ireland, I’ll count myself lucky. This place is great and 99% of the people we’ve met have been the NICEST folks! Even the couple who stopped to help us when I had my asthma attack. Just lovely. So, fingers crossed that everything turns up from here!

  5. FreeRangeCow says:

    Oh, H…I am sooo sorry! Hubby is dealing with almost debilitating allergies this year and to hear his constant sinus agony makes me produce milk. If he hit the ground in a gasping coughing fit, I might spontaneously conceive AND deliver on the spot!!! I wish I could give you a big hug. Hang in and good luck with some sort of relief, be it cheese or medical.

    • H. Stern says:

      Yup. Off to see the doctor today for a rescue inhaler. I’m feeling better, but the hubs won’t hear of it. He’s right; what if the next attack is worse, and I don’t have an inhaler with me? Better to spend the 55 euro and just see a doc and get it over with. Blah. Waste of a nice sunny day.

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