On January 8, 1985, I was admitted to National Jewish Hospital/ National Asthma Center (NJH/NAC). This was where the best asthma experts in the world worked at that time, and they were supposed to finally get my asthma controlled. I was 15 years old.
To put it in perspective how bad my asthma was, I made 11 emergency room visits for asthma in 1984, and was admitted to the hospital four times. This does not include the many unscheduled visits to Dr. Oliver’s office. It does not include the days I couldn’t breathe and just dealt with it by puffing on my inhaler until it was empty.
My doctors and parents feared for my life. I, on the other hand, did not worry about it. I had lived with the asthma beast my entire life, so to me it was just another minor detail of life to be dealt with.
Because the asthma beast had been with me since birth, I had become dangerously tolerant of the disease, and complacent that this was just the way my life was going to always be (because it had always been this way).
I was such a mess that Dr. Oliver, and all the other doctors who took care of me, were at a loss what to do. So Dr. Oliver and my parents made the difficult decision to have me admitted to NJH/NAC.
While I took my asthma in stride, Dr. Oliver told my parents that the experts at the asthma hospital were going to teach me a whole new way of life.
The morning I walked with my mom onto the campus my lips were blue. I met my counselor in the business office, and he immediately walked me up to 7-Goodman, where kids ages 13-18 were housed. This would be my new home.
When the nurses saw me they immediately said, "This boy is a Code Blue"
"Oh, I’m fine," I said.
"No, you are not," said the nurse. "You are really bad."
They made me sit in a chair next to a nebulizer, and they made me take a breathing treatment. Then they called Dr. Mitchell, who assessed me right away, and ordered more medicine to help me breathe better.
The asthma experts had a major challenge on their hands, but they had seen it in nearly all of the 20 kids already admitted to the unit. The beast that is asthma gripped my lungs, but it had also gripped my mind.
Dr. Mitchell saw me every day, and the nurses watched me closely. For the first two weeks one test after another was performed on me. I was poked and prodded more than ever before or since. I blew into spirometers until I felt like a rat in a lab.
But then it got better. Once the initial testing was done, and once my asthma was under control, the asthma hospital was more like a home than a hospital. In fact, the only thing that made it like a hospital is that the nurses and doctors wore stethoscopes.
I met the other kids, and they all had asthma just like me. We shared our stories. We went to school during weekdays. In the evenings we played games or watched movies. On the weekends we went on field trips. Most importantly, we had fun like normal kids.
But we also learned about our disease. We learned about asthma causes and triggers. We learned everything doctors knew about asthma medicine. We learned about asthma action plans, about asthma triggers, and about early warning signs. We learned how to prevent and treat asthma.
Bad asthma kept us from learning some of the skills that healthy kids learn. So we saw counselors, psychologists, occupational therapists and physical therapists. Their goal was to help us cope with the world when we return home with controlled asthma.
Another very important thing inculcated into our heads was the importance of eating healthy and exercising. A good diet gives you the nutrients you need, and exercise makes your heart and lungs strong so you can breathe easy. So every weekday we walked to the gym or pool and participated in some sort of aerobic activity. When that was done we played games, such as basketball or dodge ball or open swim.
It took a long time to fix me. While I was told it would be about six to eight weeks, I was discharged on July 14, 1985. I was admitted for six months.
7-Goodman no longer exists. However, the asthma hospital does. Today, it is called National Jewish Hospital, and they still have a really nice children’s outpatient program for those who need the help.