As some of you may know, I suffer from acute chronic asthma. I’ve probably been living with this disease for most of my life, even though my condition was only diagnosed about ten years ago. The truth is I’ve been battling lung disease since I was a kid, suffering from chest colds and bronchitis, and frequent bouts of pneumonia—sometimes leading to brief periods of hospitalization and long periods of recovery. I routinely chalked it up to bad luck, as part of my genetic makeup. It wasn’t until I reached my mid-fifties that I began to notice that these episodes were becoming more frequent and fundamentally different—that along with the chest congestion and fevers, I was also wheezing and short of breath for long periods of time, sometimes before and sometimes after getting sick.
My doctors ran a battery of tests following a rather nasty bout of pneumonia that put me in the hospital for a week and kept me home from work for close to a month. That’s when they found the scarring on my lungs and the thickening of the tissues in my air sacks—two of the most common physiological causes of asthma. Had I suffered from these conditions my entire life? Maybe. But maybe not. My pulmonologists—and believe me I’ve been to many—all suspect that the damage is a cumulative byproduct of all my other lung problems, especially from a bout of double pneumonia I came down with in my twenties. Of course, I have no reason to doubt my doctors. They’re all outstanding specialists. All I know is that I have acute chronic asthma and that the condition seems to get worse the older I get.
So what’s it like living with this nasty disease?
And why am I writing this blog at this particular moment?
Well, it’s because I’m in the middle of a rather major episode and decided it might be useful to explain exactly what acute chronic asthma is for those of you who don’t understand. I got sick about a week ago, nothing real serious, just a sore throat, a runny nose, and mild chest congestion. The first couple of days I thought it was just a cold. I should have known better, because sometimes a simple common cold can lead to a severe asthma episode. Now don’t take me wrong—I went into full asthma protocol with the onset of my first symptoms. I made sure not to miss any of my maintenance drugs—two puffs of Flovent twice a day, one puff of Trelegy every night, a dose of Montelukast and my over-the-counter allergy meds every morning, plus my prescribed dose of Albuterol every four to six hours delivered directly into my lungs from either my emergency inhaler or my nebulizer machine.
And, you know, it seemed to be working.
It seemed to be keeping my asthma in check.
At least for the first couple of days.
But then the night before last I had a major asthma attack—a full Hollywood version humdinger. I woke up at 3:00 a.m. unable to breath. What does that mean? Well, there was no air, nothing, going in or out of my lungs. And as I usually do when I have a big asthma attack in the middle of the night, I sat bolt upright in bed freaking out as I desperately searched for my inhaler on my bedside table. After taking two quick puffs, I still couldn’t breathe. The freaking out got worse. So I took an extra hit on my inhaler, and after a couple of minutes of just sitting there desperate for oxygen, I managed to get my lungs going again. But as soon as I was able to breathe, the coughing started, the uncontrollable coughing, my lungs convulsing, my chest tight and filling with mucous. As you might expect, I never went back to sleep. The coughing and wheezing and shortness of breath continued unabated for the rest of the night—even though I was doubling up on my inhaler, trying to get my lungs working normally again.
That never happened.
So first thing yesterday morning I found myself sitting in my pulmonologist’s office, wheezing away, my lungs as tight as a drum, my air sacks filled with fluid. After running a whole battery of tests—temperature, blood oxygen levels, airflow levels, blood tests, chest X-ray—I managed to avoid a trip to the emergency room for a massive dose of intravenous Prednisone, and instead, was sent home with a three week prescription for oral Prednisone, ten days of antibiotics, and fifteen days of Mucinex to help open up my air sacks and expectorate the fluids. Now, I’m just praying this regimen of additional medications work, that my asthma doesn’t get worse, and that I don’t find myself back in the hospital for around-the-clock care—something that’s happened to me three times in the past two years.
Please, don’t take this the wrong way. I’m not posting this blog for sympathy. I just thought it might be helpful for those of you who don’t understand how scary it is to live with acute chronic asthma, and how it affects the lives of the millions of us who deal with this disease on a daily basis.