Thursday, July 04, 2013

1976: Asthma terror in the hotel room

In 1976, even though there were some on the market, I did not have access to rescue medicine.I do not know why this was. However, I might presume that it had something to do with the scare that occurred during the 1950s when the inhaler was first introduced to the market. There was a rise in asthma related deaths during the ensuing decade, and the inhaler was blamed. So, perhaps due to that, doctors feared prescribing rescue medicine for kids especially. I would verify this with Dr. Gunderson, my doctor from this era in my life, but he has since passed away.

What I was prescribed was a pink solution. It was in the bathroom medicine cabinet. Once a day, and usually only when I was having trouble breathing, mom gave me a dose with a teaspoon. She probably should have measured it out better, but this was the method her mom used with her for giving medicine, so it's what she did. At least, that's what I would imagine.

I don't know why, but my mom made me responsible for remembering my medicine when we went places. You could judge my mom and say this was stupid. But, as my wife always says: You do the best you can with the wisdom you have today, and as you learn better you do better. My mom, when I asked her about this, has no memory of it. I don't blame her. It makes sense that I'd remember it and not her, as there is one of me and she had many other kids to take care of, including herself and dad.

In my own defense, asthma was treated as an acute disease back then. This means that you didn't take medicine when you felt good; you didn't take medicine every day to prevent asthma symptoms. Mom only spoon fed this medicine to me when I complained of feeling short of breath. So, considering I might go months without needing it, this made it easy for me to forget to take it with me when we went on vacation as a family.

So, I did have a bottle of some pink syrup. When I was short of breath mom took me into the bathroom and gave me this medicine with a teaspoon. What was it? I have not idea. I wonder, however, if it was Alupent solution. Dr. Gunderson must have decided this was the best medicine, the safest medicine, for an asthmatic child. However, I would be more inclined to say it was theophylline solution. It may also have been a steroid. My memory is hazy here, and I have no way of clearing it up, unless someone reading this has some wisdom to share.

There was an alupent inhaler on the market at this time. There was also an epinephrine inhaler called Primetime Mist that was available over the counter, but most doctors advised against prescribing this medicine, especially to kids. On the box of antihistamines was a warning not to let asthmatics use it, so this was not allowed either. So, other than this little pink solution, there weren't many options when I felt short of breath -- such as if I was exposed to my asthma triggers. Here I was a kid, and I had no rescue inhaler. I had not Primetime Mist, and I had no Alupent. I did not even know they existed at this time in my life. If my asthma got bad enough, mom was told to take me to the emergency room for 0.5cc of epinephrine. Mom even had a note from doctor Gunderson for when we went on vacations, such as we did in June of 1996 when we went across country to California.

If my asthma got bad enough, dad would run the hot shower and close the door. He and I would stand in the bathroom until we couldn't stand it any more. We would exit the bathroom. It definitely felt soothing to leave the hot and steamy bathroom into the cool hallway air, but it did not do anything for my breathing. I would be short of breath when I entered the bathroom, and I would be short of breath when I exited the bathroom. This was an old wives tale that steam helped asthmatics. It does help kids with croup, but I didn't have croup. In the old days, these two ailments were often confounded. Steam is good for croup. Steam is bad for asthma. It makes air thicker and harder to inhale. But, you do the best you can with the information you have today, and as you learn better you do better. Back then, doctors didn't know better.

So, I was not aware of any Alupent inhaler. When I started coughing, wheezing, or showing any signs of being short of breath, my mom, or my grandma, or my dad, would resort to the old wive's tale asthma remedies.  I remember my grandma Lila rubbing Vix VapoRub all over my chest. My other grandma (my dad's mom) would run the hot water in the sink of her old Victorian home on 5th avenue in Manistee (she had no shower), and would put a towel over my head. This had the same steamy effect as the method dad used. I think it made grandma feel good that she was doing something. When she removed the towel, I would tell her I felt better, even though I probably didn't.

Well, actually there was a moment of relief as you left the hot steamy air to inhale cool, refreshing air. But this was probably because humid air is heavy and hard to inhale, and the cool air gave me an immediate feeling of relief.  In essence, this therapy was no better than creating pain in one part of your body to make you no longer feel the pain somewhere else.

These were all days when I felt mildly short of breath. You know, you can live that way. It's similar to what you see with many COPD patients today who, as the disease slowly progresses, get gradually more short of breath over time.  It happens so slowly they don't even realize they are short of breath. Then they come to the emergency room, we give them a breathing treatment, and they are amazed at how much better they can breathe. Chances are they didn't even come to the emergency room for their breathing. They had a bad stomach or something, and the ER doctor recognized the classic signs of COPD.

No, I'm not implying I didn't know I was short of breath.  I'm not saying that.  What I am saying is I sort of developed a tolerance to it.  I had asthma attacks since I was two years old, so I had lived with it for so long, knew there was nothing I could do about it, so I developed a coping strategy of grinning and bearing it -- at least until it got severe. But it was not severe in 1976 -- not yet. 

I must have been a little older than six if mom made me responsible for my medicine. Maybe it was 1978 or 1979. Maybe I was ten. But it seems it must have been before 1980. Anyway, sometime around there we went south to a Quinn family reunion. This would be my dad's mothers side of the family. I can't remember where the reunion was, but it was at a campground. Years earlier we camped. This year mom and dad rented a hotel room. Mom hated camping. Camping was bad for my asthma. So we stayed in a hote.

I remember getting there and feeling short of breath. I told mom. She got mad at me when it was learned I forgot my medicine. Again, I don't fault my mom here. Don't write me emails telling me how bad my mom was for making me remember my own medicine. Mom denies this ever happened. However, I am convinced it did. In fact, I know it did.

So, instead of going to a pharmacy and getting me some medicine (or maybe this was not an option then), or instead of taking me to the hospital, mom gave me a cough drop and left us five boys in the hotel while they went out on a date.  Yes, that's a true story.  My older brother Bobby was in charge. No. Wait! I actually think my cousin Molly babysat us. I think that was it. 

I remember my brothers goofed around, and I never left my bed.  Little Tony was a baby and he was sleeping.  And Dan fell asleep right away.  David and Bobby were closer to my age (Bobby a year older and David a year younger) and they had fun.  They kept farting and running around the room. They might even have teased me, as they had no idea why I was being such a baby. In the meantime, I was stressed, sweaty, and panicky.  

Finally my brothers all fell asleep, but I remained awake.  I tried to sleep, but I could not turn the wheels off in my head.  I could not help hoping my mom and dad would walk through the hotel room door.  It seemed like hours, days, even weeks.  In actuality, it was probably only a few hours.  In actuality, it was probably no later than nine-o-clock: late for a kid but not late for adults out having fun with their friends and relatives.

I must have fallen asleep at some point, because all of a sudden I realized my inside cheek is all wrinkly from where the cough drop rested.  I was still positioned high on my pillow, and air I inhaled was hard coming.  I could get half a breath, but it was still very uncomfortable.  I remember I started to cry after my brothers all were sleeping. I was up late when my brothers were breathing hard, and farting in their sleep.  

Anyway, this was a terrible night in a hotel room. I think that by the time mom and dad came home I never said anything. By this time I didn't want to ruin their night. I had made it this far, I can make it the rest of the night. I do not remember what happened after that.More than likely, I just dealt with it

The next day we went swimming in the hotel pool. We did this all day. However, while my brothers had fun swimming, I stayed on the shallow end with my chest above the water. If my chest went under the water, my breathing became too heavy under the pressure of the water. I think at some point I decided to just get out of the water, as the chlorine must have bothered my asthma too. A fun day for everyone else, a not so fun day for the asthmatic who forgot his medicine. 

1 comment:

  1. It scares me to think there are still parents like that out there who don't take their kids' conditions seriously or know enough about them. Kids are so dependent on their parents for so many things. I was a lucky kid. I am also not the only asthmatic in my family.