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Living with Asthma

Asthma is a chronic respiratory condition that causes narrowing of the airways. One of the main symptoms of this disease is shortness of breathe or difficulty in breathing. It’s usually diagnosed during childhood and some people are fortunate to recover before adulthood while for others it’s a lifelong disease. It has also been noted that there are some people diagnosed later in life, even at very old age, who may require more attention to manage it. People with a family history of Asthma have a higher chance of getting it. Some of the triggers can be exercise/physical activity, allergens (pollen,dust mites etc), smoke, dust, cold air, respiratory infections like the common cold just to name a few.

When were you diagnosed with Asthma?

Ever since I can remember I have had asthmatic symptoms but it wasn’t until I was about 10 years old that I knew what I had was Asthma. Thinking about it now, it was funny how I found out. My dad had an auto spares store back then and I used to go there after school. The year my older sister was done with college, she came back home briefly and helped with the shop. One day my sister and I were at the shop with our mother. I can’t remember quite clearly the events leading to this conversation but I must have recently had an attack because my sister asked my mom, ” Why don’t you guys find out if she has Asthma?” ” What do you think it is?” Mom answered. If you know African mothers, when God forbid you ask them any question, rhetoric and sarcasm is in their DNA with their hands placed on their waist, stern looking faces and a cold stare from their eyes. I can’t ascertain when exactly I was diagnosed only when I knew I had it.

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What was it like growing up with Asthma?

I remember being the kid with a million sweaters and jackets even when the others had none. There was a time in primary school I remember missing school because it was particularly cold that season. My mother bought me this very long warm jacket that I loved and sadly when I went back to school I got the nickname “undertaker”. Well to be fair, the jacket did look like Undertaker’s undefined.

I also remember not being allowed to play with other kids and it especially stung when we were at family get-togethers. I always got angry because I couldn’t understand why I was different. At home people got used to me always having jackets that they would joke about it. I think these experiences made me an expert in hiding my emotions or it made me stronger and resilient? It depends on whether I’m in the mood of looking at the glass half full or half empty.

For most of my life in primary school I constantly felt sorry for myself but things changed when I went to high school. It became the perfect excuse for everything. I owned it, probably misused it. I never went for school marathons, showered with hot water, used it to get out of trouble plenty of times but one day things didn’t pan out the way I had hoped. Don’t get me wrong, I did get attacks when I engaged in physical exercise or when I used cold water but I loved the ‘privileges’. During evening preps we weren’t allowed to leave the classroom for bathroom breaks so in form one I decided to take one and as I was going back to class, I saw the teacher on duty who I must say was quite a tyrant. Lucky for me she didn’t see where I had come from, just saw me getting into class so I decided to pretend I had gone out for some air because I was having a serious asthma attack. To sell it further, I pretended the inhaler wasn’t working and ‘unfortunately’ people took this situation very seriously and in what seemed like a split second, I was taken to the school nurse (who was scary and extremely rude). Why are all school nurses like that? Long story short I got one of the most painful injections in my life on the wrist and regretted every moment of it. But hey, it was better than some punishment right? From that day on I made my fake attacks long enough for my inhaler to ‘kick in‘.

Can you think of particular instances where Asthma has affected how you relate with the people around you?

Kids can be insensitive. One time in my final year of high school someone made a rude remark which I can’t remember the context but was something like, “At least I’m not sick, I may not have the brains but I’m not sick.” My soul was crushed but I had to carry on like a stallion, unfazed. That is one statement that haunted me for a long time.

My university life was a breeze because I purposely applied to a school at the coast. Next came the workplace. Being at the coast, the office was prone to getting a bit stuffy so the air conditioner came in handy. This however, made me very symptomatic and my four years of barely having attacks was gone. The hospital visits became all to often with the same diagnosis, ‘acute bronchitis’. It felt like I had taken a step back to my childhood. We also kept on bumping heads with some of my colleagues as I had to occasionally request for the AC to be turned off. I bought sweaters and jackets for use in the office but that didn’t always work.

You have to understand that this condition sometimes becomes hard to contain or even avoid triggers because some are embedded in our day to day lives. When I’m on a bus or whatever means of transport, at the back of my mind I always have this fear of getting triggered. It only takes someone with some really strong perfume or someone leaving their window open, or the seats and floors being dusty…..just small stuff really. And sometimes the attacks don’t come immediately. They have a way of showing up later in the night or in the day.

The life of an asthmatic is filled with uncertainty and worry, not knowing what triggers are awaiting you, if they’re going to affect you because sometimes they don’t or if this attack is going to be the one to send you to your grave. Sometimes you live with some kind of shame because people react differently when they find out you have the condition, some become sympathetic, some victimize you in a way and others don’t care, but more so because sometimes you need people to do things differently so that you can avoid an attack. My family has to adjust their lifestyle when I’m around, for example they have to stop using their perfumes or air fresheners during my entire stay. I once had a conversation with my mum where she advised me to leave because I was getting too sick at home so I imagine it takes a toll on them too.

How do you manage it now?

Well, I don’t know if I have been able to manage it per say but I always make sure I have an inhaler with me, always keeping warm and avoiding dusty places as much as possible. From experience, to help prevent the symptoms, the lemon, ginger and garlic concoction (and honey if available) is a must have, which if I may add, I’ve doubled down on during this Covid-19 era. I need my immune system top notch because individuals with respiratory conditions are at a higher risk of complications if infected with the virus and can very easily be fatal.

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  1. I never knew this, I only noticed that you always kept very warm at shags, what a story….you are a strong woman to have gone through all this, I mean, no one can tell coz you look so together…. May God protect you always

    Liked by 1 person

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