Thursday, September 11, 2014

Asthma History: Introduction

According to my mother I was diagnosed with asthma at the age of two, which would be in the year 1972.  Considering she said I was sniffling, sneezing and wheezing even before that, chances are I developed asthma and allergies close to my birth on January 4, 1970.  Despite the claims of my doctors, I never outgrew my asthma.

When I was about ten-years-old, which would be in 1980, my asthma, already bad enough, took a turn for the worse.  While other kids were able to run around and have fun during recess, I was forced to sit on the bench.  While other kids were living normal lives, I was asking the Principal to call my mom because I couldn't breathe.

I remember my mother taking me to many unscheduled visits to Dr. Gunderson, and many more to the emergency room, and most of these for asthma.  Sometime in 1980 Dr. Gunderson introduced me to a small, pocket-sized device that gave me my breath back instantly.  It was an inhaler.  I quickly became great friends with this new object, taking it with me wherever I went.

One day as I was puffing on my inhaler I wondered what life would be like for asthmatics prior to modern medicine.  As I started to investigate this, I ended up on a journey that took me all the way back to the beginning of human existence 2.5 million years ago, and then all the way back to the current world.

I learned that for most of history (perhaps 99.9 percent of it) the asthmatic had to choice but to suffer through an attack.  Once I realized this I likewise realized how privileged I was to have been born in 1970, as compared with 1870 or, worse, 1870 B.C.

I also quickly learned that, as with the warpath of mankind, the path of disease can be traced back to the beginning of human existence.  In fact, disease may go back farther than war itself, as diseases exists regardless of the desires of mankind.  Although, as we learn from the Biblical Cain, fighting began early enough in a quest for selfish gain.

So while most histories follow the path of war, this history follows the path of health and healing, with an emphasis on asthma.  In order to organize this history I will use the following definitions:
  • Prehistory (prehistoric):  Time prior to the first written language, or recorded history, which is generally considered to be around 2700 B.C. 
  • Ancient:  Time after written language, or time with recorded history.  This period lasted from around 2700 B.C. until the fall of Rome in 476 A.D. 
  • Time:  After the birth of Christ people developed a need to keep track of time, and so the birth of Jesus was chosen as the date to begin time.  The date of his birth was estimated and this was chosen as 1 A.D. When a child is born we usually refer to the first year as zero.  With time the first 100 years is considered the first century, and therefore the years 100-199 were referred to as the 2nd century.  It's for this reason why the years 1900 to 1999 were referred to as the 20th century.  This is just how it is.  
This system was created to help people study history and keep track of dates and time.  Whether accurate or not, this is how history is recorded.  I will use this system to categorize this history of asthma:
  • Beginning to 5000 B.C.: Prehistoric people (prehistory)
  • 5000-2700 B.C.: Ancient Societies (Before History and Time)
  • 2700 B.C.-1 A.D.: Ancient Societies (During History, Before Time)
  • 1 A.D.-276 A.D.:  Ancient Societies (Beginning of Time)
  • 276 -1600 A.D.: Middle Ages (The Dark Ages of Medicine)
  • 1600-1800:  Age of Reason (The Age of Enlightenment)
  • 1800-1900:  The Scientific Revolution (the Age of Progress)
  • 1900-2000: The Age of Results
  • 21st Century:  The presents
  • My asthma story
Each chapter in this history is one blog post, and each will focus on one thought.  In this way I am able to keep each chapter pithy and, therefore, easy to read.  While I have done some of my own research, I try to tell this history through the eyes of those who lived it, or those who spent hours studying it.  This will, I think, give you a more complete picture of the history of asthma.  

However, considering the vastness of our history, and the brief time each person lived among it, this history is but a small glimpse of the past.  Most of our history is told by the select few privileged to be able to read and write, so it is nearly impossible to impress upon what life was like among the common folk.

Still, there was just enough evidence to draw a picture of what life must have been like for those who suffered from asthma over the years.

So what was it like to live with asthma in fill in location and year?  To best answer this question, I make a gallant effort to describe the the various cultures.  This, I think, should should allow us to gain a more complete understanding what it would be like to be sick if you lived among them.  

However, I would like you to consider the following quote from historian Henry E. Sigerist:
"We have no evidence whatsoever of any paleolithic medicine." (1, page 107)
I say this because there will be times throughout this history when we must use our imaginations to gain an understanding of what it was like to live with asthma in fill in the year and place.

So what was life like for asthmatics 2.5 million years ago?  Let's go!

  1. Sigerist, Henry E "History of Medicine," volume I: Primitive and Archaic Medicine, 1951, New York, Oxford University Press

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