Friday, May 13, 2011

(When you can't) take a deep breath

Never Done: Something in the adoption process
Never Done: I realized I probably have asthma

But, it's not something I want to write about publicly, so I am going to write about something else entirely, that has actually been unfolding for months, and then revealed itself this week.

I have been having trouble breathing. Tuesday night, I had a particularly hard practice (running hills again) and I ended up really gasping for breath. I assumed it was because running hills is hard, and went home for dinner, and ended up coughing and coughing and coughing. Then the next morning I woke up super dizzy and still had trouble breathing. I mentioned it to Mich (who is a nurse practitioner) that night, and she asked me some questions about when it happens and what triggers it and what else happens along with it. Everything I said, she was just nodding her head. "What?" I asked. "It sounds like exercise induced asthma."

Whoa. My mind threw a lot of arguments back at her. I don't have trouble breathing. My lungs aren't weak. Running hills is hard. And then before I knew it, my mind rearranged my past 10 years with this new possibility, and suddenly the nights I would wake up desperately gasping for air, and the times I would be out of breath at the top of the subway stairs, and the times I would tell people I just don't run up hills, and the times I had panic attacks (mostly in the months leading up to both parents' deaths) that left me unable to breath, and the way I cough and cough after laughing, and the way my lungs hurt when I take a deep breath -- this all fell into place. They aren't just anomalies that I should soldier through. They are actually uncomfortable, sometimes terrifying, and I actually have had trouble breathing for years now. I just didn't notice.

How could I not notice? In, out, in, out, in, out, in, out. It's happening constantly, and sometimes with great difficulty. Over the past 8 weeks, when my lungs have actually been hurting pretty steadily, my acupuncturist has asked me repeatedly how they are. Instead of saying, Well actually, they hurt, and I'm having trouble breathing, I've said, They're strong. Isn't denial astonishing?

And isn't the pulling off of the veil equally so? Because since Mich suggested the possibility of asthma, I feel like a textbook case (as described on WebMD):

Coughing, especially at night
Shortness of breath
Chest tightness, pain, or pressure

I don't want to say I feel stupid, but I feel ... well, isn't denial astonishing?

And might I venture, isn't denial less than ethical? Because if ethics are about caring for ourselves as well as we care for others, it's disheartening to think about how long I've been neglecting to take care of myself. Neglecting to even mention any of this to anyone. Explaining away dozens of perfectly clear full-blown attacks (anxiety, bad dream, dust got caught in my throat and somehow closed down my airways.) On the other hand, the wonderful thing about an ethical practice is that every day brings a new chance to act in a new way. And so I have, and so I will. I brought it up with someone I trust. She gave me good information. Now I will face the embarrassment of admitting to my doctor that this has been going on for years without my mentioning it. And hopefully she'll choose an ethical path, and she'll engage with me and treat me without making me feel, well I don't way to say stupid, but ...


  1. Good for you, Jenny. I'm sure your doctor will be happy to hear from you and steer you in the right direction! Now, may I point to away from WebMD and toward the Mayo Clinic site instead? not just for this, but for all things medical? WebMD tends more toward sales. Mayo tends more toward a clear head and pure information. WebMD is not wrong in this case. I'm just saying, for future reference.

  2. So funny! I actually felt some embarrassment that the site I had pulled the symptoms from was WebMD, and I almost lied and cited Mayo Clinic instead, because I usually do look there, but then I decided to be honest and write what I had actually looked at. Thanks for caring, sharing, and directing! xo