Asthma Forgetfulness and Asthma Honesty

Health Professional

Have you ever tried to forget your asthma past?   Do you have an asthma story you've never shared with anyone?   Do you have asthma forgetfulness?   If you do, perhaps it's time to share your story.

Trust me.   I know from first hand experience that asthma is no fun.   I also know that asthma forgetfulness may be the easy route, yet it also leads to poor asthma control later on.   If you bare with me I'll explain.   I'll also explain why a little asthma honesty might be the cure youve been looking for.

One such experience came to light this morning. It was 6:00 a.m. and I was working as a respiratory therapist. I was paged STAT to the emergency room (ER).

Upon entering the ER I found one of our regular asthmatics sitting on the edge of the bed, slouched over, huffing and puffing to get air in. Her oxygen was so low when she arrived the nurse had put an oxygen mask on her.

I started up a breathing treatment and replaced the mask with a misting pipe in her mouth. The mist was Ventolin, the Godsend to asthmatics; the juice that gets the lungs moving air again. I could tell by the way she held the pipe firmly between her teeth -- the no hands technique -- she was an expert at this.

I sat in a chair the opposite side of the room while the nurses worked their magic: inserted an IV line, inserted Solumedrol into IV line, and asked a million questions. I couldn't help but remember the days of long ago when I was in her shoes, with a Ventolin Peace Pipe proficiently stuffed in my mouth.

Then the nurse asked this question: "So, how many breathing treatments did you give yourself at home before you came in?"

The asthmatic said, "Oh, more than enough."

That was more honest than any answer I ever gave, I thought. Then said, "When I was a kid and a nurse asked me that, I would just lie."

The patient, obviously breathing better now, said, a smile on her face, "You have asthma too."

"Oh yeah," I said, "I had it very bad too when I was a kid. In fact, I used to go through a Ventolin inhaler every day."

"You did what" The nurse said, peering down at me, bug eyed.

"I would use an inhaler every day, and then I'd also take breathing treatments in between. In fact, back then you could only get one Ventolin refill at a time, so there were weeks when I'd have mom go to the pharmacy every day to get a new inhaler."

I wrote about this experience in more detail in my post, "Confessions of a bronchodilatoraholic."

The nurse gasped at my story, yet the patient smiled.

Years ago I wasn't able to be this honest, yet now asthma stories flow easy, and allow me to create a bond with my asthmatic patients. It also helps prevent asthma forgetfulness, as asthma forgetfulness only results in worsening asthma.   Trust me:   I know.

In fact, for many years I completely blacked out my severe asthma past. I'll be honest, there were days I used up my Ventolin inhaler, and then was so miserable, so afraid, that I never told my mom for fear she'd be mad at me. Then I'd suffer until about 2 in the morning when I couldn't stand it anymore and finally break down and wake her up.

Dad would take me to the emergency room having no clue how long I had suffered.

So then I'd be in the ER, shoulders high and scratching at the mattress to stretch out my lungs to get any extra air into them I could, and the respiratory therapist (perhaps one I work with now), gave me a breathing treatment.

Then came THE question: "How much Ventolin did you use at home?"

"A couple puffs," I'd say after a long delay. Yes it was a lie. A very bad lie.

My asthma -- my hardluck asthma -- was so bad my mom and dad and doctor thought I was going to die. And in 1985 they had me admitted to the asthma hospital in Denver Colorado (then it was National Jewish Health-National Asthma Center (NJH/NAC). I ended up staying there for six months (Yes, I wrote that right).

Once I was discharged my asthma was under better control than ever. I never missed school again due to my asthma, and I rarely ever needed the services of an ER. My asthma was under control -- finally.

All was great right? Well, all except for the fact asthma forgetfulness set in. After several years all the great wisdom I learned from NJH was lost.

The thing is, asthma forgetfulness only leads to worsening asthma because when you forget you have it, you forget to control it (something a gallant asthmatic would never do).

So 10 years after leaving the asthma hospital, my asthma was almost as bad as it was before I went there. I had to relearn everything.

Asthma is a very fragile and devastating disease when it's not controlled. If you don't control it, it controls you.   Forgetting you have it, or pretending you don't have it, only makes matters worse.

What comlicates matters are myths that asthma goes away with age.

The best way to overcome asthma forgetfulness is with asthma honesty. Where I once had blacked out my past, I have since forced myself to relive it. I even wrote about it to some extent here. I realize now if I hadn't forgotten,   my asthma never would have gotten bad again ten years later.

So my advice to other asthmatics is to never forget how miserable you were before your asthma was controlled. Don't ever forget how you gained control of your asthma. The best way of doing, the best way of being honest, is to share your asthma stories. Thankfully that's something I get to do at work and right here.