So it’s 6 a.m. and I’m driving down I-75 South in Georgia in the wee hours of the morning when the anxiety strikes. I couldn’t find my rescue inhaler. My Ventolin had gone missing.
Did I leave it in the hotel? Did I leave it in the lobby? Did my wife pack it in the bathroom bag? I looked behind me and her head was resting on a pillow. I wasn’t about to wake her to ask. The kids were sleeping soundly too. So I continued to roll possibilities around in my head.
Thankfully I follow my own tips for vacationing with asthma and had three inhalers packed, and all in different places. I had one in the suitcase, but that wasn’t going to help me now. And I certainly wasn’t going to pull the car over to check. We were on the way to Florida (Mickey was waiting) and were already running behind.
I looked on the cup holder under the radio. It wasn’t there. I felt between the door and the seat. It wasn’t there. I felt in my pocket. Nope While focusing on the road, I reached my right hand over the cooler that set between the seats. Not there either.
Then a thought occurred to me: “You’re being ridiculous. You’re panicking over nothing.” It was true. I wasn’t even short of breath. The past two days of travel from Michigan I barely even used it. My asthma has been pretty well controlled the past two years, and my rescue inhaler usage greatly diminished.
Yet that didn’t matter. Old habits, they say, die a long, hard death. That old faithful inhaler had been part of my life since I was first introduced to Alupent when I was a ten-year-old boy in 1980, and later to Ventolin in 1991. I wrote about being a bronchodilatoraholic, someone who used his bronchodilator medicine (which most peope call their rescue inhaler) far too often. An inhaler in my possession was my lifeline. It was like having a third hand. Even now when I need it less often, when it’s gone I feel a true sense of loss.
Like at home, every morning I woke up on my vacation, one of my first thoughts was, “Where’s my inhaler?” When I was a kid I slept with one in my grip, so when it’s not there I get a little anxious. Then I remembered I set it on the bedside stand. There it was in all its blue glory.
When I go to bed at night I have to concentrate where I set it last, because when I get up in the night I need to know where to find it. Sometimes, though, I wake up in the middle of the night feeling alongside the bed in the dark.
My wife woke up once when I was doing this. She said, “What are you doing?” Modestly, I lied “Nothing dear!” I inhale. The breath seems somewhat tight. Now many options fill my mind: Do I try to sleep through it? Do I turn the light on? Do I rummage the house looking for the other one’s I’ve lost?
I remember when I was growing up with hard-luck asthma excitedly racing my brothers David and Bobby to the family car shouting, “Shotgun!” I won this time. It was always nice to ride in the front seat. It was a great day. That was until half way to grandma’s my heart fluttered as I realized I didn’t have my inhaler with me.
I felt my pockets several times. It was not there. While my asthma was fine when I left home, I was now feeling short of breath. I knew the only reason I was short of breath was because of my bronchodilator anxiety. If I have it I’m fine. If I don’t have it I’m bound to have an asthma attack. It’s an asthma rule.
So now I’m an adult. I know I have two inhalers in the car somewhere. I know for a fact I have one in the suitcase. I know my asthma is not acting up. I know my asthma is controlled, and yet my bronchodilator anxiety still strikes. I’m now starting to feel a mild shortness of breath. Or am I? Maybe it’s all in my head. Throughout the entire trip my inhaler filled a portion of my mind – or my entire life for that matter. If you’d pay close attention to me you’d see me occasionally swiping my palm over my pocket. I need that constant reassurance it’s there. If I don’t feel it, I have to find it. I have to know. Otherwise I’ll need it.
The weather was awesome in Florida, the kids were able to meet Mickey Mouse, swim every day, and visit with their grandparents. And, thanks to good planning, the asthma was a non issue.
Ironically even as I sit here typing this I’m wondering: Where is my inhaler? Where was I the last time I used it? I don’t need it right now, but…
I bet I’m not the only asthmatic with bronchodilator anxiety. If you’ve experienced this or something similar let us know in the comments below.
John Bottrell is a registered Respiratory Therapist. He wrote for HealthCentral as a health professional for Asthma and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD).