My earliest childhood memories, apart from that family trip to Disneyworld that no one ever forgets, revolved around my ever-so-frequent middle-of-the-night trips to the Alberta Children’s Hospital Emergency Room. Having a large mask placed over my face, air and smoke billowing out, was a fairly intimidating experience for an 8-year-old. These experiences started to become second nature to me and my dad though, who was almost certainly the one to roll out of bed at 3am to rush me off to the hospital. While challenging and scary to face, these nighttime trips were my first exposures to a condition that has affected some aspect of my life for the past 20+ years.
Armed with my first Ventolin inhaler and spacer at age 8, suddenly controlling my symptoms was not as difficult as it had been before. Although there was nowhere I could go without it, there was a feeling of comfort knowing that I had the medication I needed to ensure trips to the Emergency Room became increasingly less frequent. Even more, I started to recognize what it was that was making me produce the noisy, wheezy sounds from my lungs; being equipped with this knowledge only helped me continue to adapt to being an asthmatic.
I wasn’t alone
One of my earliest worries about asthma was the feeling that I was the only one who had to deal with it. Very early on though, my dad explained to me that he too grew up experiencing these same symptoms. I guess I always knew he had this blue thing that he puffed into his mouth every once and a while, but until I started experiencing symptoms myself I didn’t think twice about what he may have been doing. Nor did I think it would ever be something I would have to do too.
Embarrassed and self-conscious
Although I became more accustomed to my asthma diagnosis and use of an inhaler, the same couldn’t always be said for my classmates, teachers and sports coaches. I felt like they didn’t understand why I had to take a break halfway through gym class or why having flowers in the classroom was a bad idea. The education around the topic was lacking and this resulted in me feeling embarrassed and self-conscious to “take a puff” in the middle of a class or ask to be excused for the same. It started to feel like it was more my problem as opposed to one many others experienced just as often if not worse than me.
As my recognition of triggers for a flare improved as I got older, so too did my ability to participate in any events that I wanted. I wasn’t the fastest kid on the soccer field or the best athlete on the basketball court, but I was almost certainly one of the kids having the most fun doing all of it! With the understanding that these activities “triggered” the spasms that were happening in my lungs, I knew that little blue inhaler would be my best friend either before or after the onset of my symptoms. It started to become a part of my pre-game routine while playing basketball in High School and my sensitivity to using it in front of other people slowly faded away. If I wanted to do everything without restrictions, I had to take it upon myself, with constant support and reassurance from friends and family, to control my asthma and not let my condition dictate my abilities.
Every experience is a learning experience
Through the years I have tried to find more ways to be involved in asthma education and encouraging young people to face their condition head-on. Participating in research, both as a subject and researcher, has kept me closest to the field and it will continue to be a passion of mine for years to come. My advice would be to tackle your condition head on and take every opportunity to learn, teach and grow.