Today, as has been the case for over a week now, I was having trouble breathing. Something about late August, maybe. For a year, I had been good – no sudden difficulties or that incredibly tired feeling – just the effort to breath taking everything I had. The act of eating seeming to be more effort than I had in me. One of the blessings of being unemployed right now is during this episode, I was able to just lay down, sometimes sleeping for three hours at a time. The body repairing itself.
I have this breath test “machine” I can use to monitor how I’m doing. On a scale from zero to 800 – 800 being a really healthy person – on a good day, I come in at 180-220. The pulmonary specialist set the gage on the right to indicate green, yellow and red for danger zones. Green is anything upwards from 150, yellow is 100-150, and red… well, red is 100 and downward. At red, you call 911. At yellow, you monitor and start doing more medications – I am already on Advair and Spiriva – you know, those commercials for COPD and breathing that show the elephant sitting on the woman’s chest or following her through the room. I have a rescue inhaler and a nebulizer with the medicine to go with it. I also have prescriptions on hand so I don’t have to delay if I get a cold or pneumonia, as I did one day in the middle of a fierce snow storm that shut the power off throughout the city and sent all the doctors and pharmacies home.
My brother, who is six years older than I am, and suffers from sciatica and loss of the spongy stuff cushioning the vertebra swears he would not trade places with me despite the truly bad pain he has. I wouldn’t trade places with him – the idea of that pain – no thank you. I’ve done my share of root canals and I don’t like pain. The first time I lost my breath, I was out walking the dog – or maybe, it was simply walking from one room to the other. We take those actions for granted. We take breathing for granted until suddenly, your breath is short, shallow, and your shoulders move in an effort to get more air in. You find yourself bent over with your hands on your knees, just focused on moving that air in and out and you find the nearest place to sit down, thankful for it.
Today, the reading was at 120. Scary that. That was four hours after the usual medication. I used the rescue inhaler and tested about an hour later. 160. Thank you, God and thank you, Body. And, thank you to the pharmaceutical companies that make it possible for me to breathe. I will say it puts the problems in perspective – I don’t worry so much about more money coming in or how I’m going to handle a job when I do get a job. Breathe in. Breathe out. Again. Again. And, again.
It worries my family and friends, and while I appreciate their concern, it can feel like that elephant sitting on your chest. Just. Breathe. In. Out. Again. Again. And, again.
Milton said, ” ‘The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven.” This is true. It is within my power with my next thought to change how I’m feeling. I have proved this to myself over and over again.
I’ve said before I am a political junkie and politics can make you crazy with frustration. When I got up from that nap, having listened to the situation in Syria and the possibilities we might intervene or do SOMETHING all morning, as well as celebrations of Martin Luther King’s “I had a Dream” speech from 50 years ago, and all the hoopla over Obamacare and the deficit and and and…, I drank a bunch of water and a cup of coffee to clear my head. Took the test and read 120. And thought to myself, “Self, here’s the thing. I know you want to be of service. I know you ran up $40,000 in debt to get your Bachelor of Arts and Master of Arts degrees so that you would be ready when called upon. Right now, though, Self, you have to let that go and focus here. You have to just shift from frustration to some form of joy – it will immediately make you feel better.” Strangely enough, I heeded my own counsel.
I remembered I had checked out two books on cd. One was “Killer Angels” about WWII and the other, Proof of Heaven, A Neurosurgeon’s Journey into the Afterlife.” Killer Angels was in the car, but Proof of Heaven was sitting on the shelf right by the computer. I put the first cd in and sat down. Breathe. In. Out. Again. The doctor reads the book himself and he has wonderful delivery. Eben Alexander, M.D. He writes as a scientist, but also as a man who was in a coma for seven days and what he experienced. I took my breath test again after the first couple of chapters. 160. Better. Much better. It’s a good story.