When I was four years old, I was visiting my aunt’s house in Oakland. I was sitting in front of the TV in the living room watching a movie. I started coughing and could not stop. I went to my aunt, and was given cough syrup. Unfortunately, instead of helping, the coughing got a lot worse and I started having trouble breathing.
The next thing I remember was walking into a hospital with my mother. As we stood at the check in desk, I was barely able to stand up. I felt tired and kept crouching to the ground to rest. My mother kept pulling me to my feet and telling me to stand up and I kept trying to explain to her that I was tired.
Then I remember nurses taking my vitals. I was relieved when my mother put me on her lap for this part. A woman put an apparatus on one of my fingers to take my pulse. I do not remember the state of my breathing while this was happening, only that standing up was too difficult. Next I was laid down on a table face down and told to cough hard while a male doctor or nurse grabbed my torso and violently shook my body side to side over and over. I thought maybe it was to loosen up mucus, but I really have no clue what the goal was. After that, I was put on a hospital bed. An IV was inserted into the back of my hand making my cry, and a nasal cannula, which I wore during my entire stay, was taped to my face. The nasal cannula (NC) is a device used to deliver supplemental oxygen or increased airflow to a patient or person in need of respiratory help. This device consists of a lightweight tube which on one end splits into two prongs which are placed in the nostrils and from which a mixture of air and oxygen flows. A sympathetic looking nurse gave me a little black and white stuffed animal. I was thankful to have it.
One treatment that I do remember was a machine called a nebulizer. The device delivers the same types of medication as metered-dose inhalers (MDIs), which are the familiar pocket-sized inhalers. A nebulizer turns liquid medicine into a mist to help treat your asthma. They come in electric or battery-run versions. They come in both a portable size you can carry with you and a larger size that’s meant to sit on a table and plug into a wall. Both are made up of a base that holds an air compressor, a small container for liquid medicine, and a tube that connects the air compressor to the medicine container. Above the medicine container is a mouthpiece or mask you use to inhale the mist.
Examples of medications used in nebulizers include:
I was restricted to eat only jello and I soon got tired of it. One day, my mom came in with Jack in the Box for herself. I asked her if I could have some and she said no. I was angry that she would bring it in there, knowing I couldn’t have it. Of course I would want some. Other family members and church folks came to visit me. One day my dad scooted me around the hospital in a toy car. It was a fun memory and I was happy to play with my dad like we did at home. Another memory I have is struggling to pull an oxygen tank behind me as I walked into the hallway. Perhaps I was going to the playroom.
In the playroom there were a lot of toys and other children my age. I met another girl with the same name as me and we got along very well. She had short hair and a great imagination.
I was in the hospital for two weeks. I learned from my mother that I was born with asthma and I had just experienced my first fatal asthma attack. The cough syrup my aunt gave me made my condition significantly worse. I’m not sure which ingredient was to blame, but I do remember the nasty taste of the medicine which suggested it was not for kids. I was only four. I attended a few classes with my mother about what it meant to have asthma, what it felt like, and how it’s treated. There was even a big ugly blue mascot called Wheezy. From then on I regularly used inhalers and my nebulizer when things got bad. My nebulizer was a big clunky loud machine. I felt like a chemist putting the medicated solution into the container that hooked up to the mask when I was old enough to do it myself.
I struggled with asthma until my early twenties. As soon as I noticed I could go months without an inhaler, I stopped using one. Eventually, I made the decision that I had “outgrown it” as many people do. To this day, I feel like I have weak lungs, but I have come very far and no longer have breathing difficulties unless I’m engaging in intense physical activity. I attribute my breathing difficulties to a lack of stamina and endurance which I am working on by roller skating!