A lot of things people learn about my asthma surprise them. For the first, I was diagnosed as “maybe” having asthma three years ago on April 28th, 2008. I was sixteen—that’s the first thing that shocks people. I’d been experiencing symptoms since mid-February, which were diagnosed as bronchitis twice.
Did I mention I didn’t have a doctor? That could be why I was diagnosed with bronchitis twice. The first walk-in doctor at the end of February listened to my lungs for about 10 seconds and declared bronchitis and prescribed crappy antibiotics that made me sick [cephalexin], the second did a little more thorough examination and then also declared bronchitis, tossed some Advil and cough syrup samples at me along with a prescription for azithromycin.
So guess what? It didn’t freaking go away. I went back to second walk-in doctor who asked some more questions and said “It could be a mild asthma” [yes, a mild asthma. That could have just been his accent, though] and gave me three fills on a Ventolin inhaler [the blue inhaler that opens your airways within 5-10 minutes and lasts for about 4 hours], which I used three or four times a day for the next few months until I found my way into another doctor’s office in September with a quarter of an inhaler of Ventolin left in my possession. I saw him, he seemed okay, his physical exam was a joke and he never even requested the PFTs (pulmonary function tests) he said he’d ordered.
Fortunately, my current primary care doctor’s office phoned around this time saying they were able to take me as a patient. I started on control medicine [Flovent—an inhaler that works on inflammation in the lungs] and got more Ventolin on October 31st at my second appointment with my current primary doctor. Two visits later, things were only a little better, so she added Singulair [an anti-leukotriene pill—leukotrienes are like really hardcore histamine, sort of] to my treatment. In June ‘09, I was put on Symbicort instead of FloVent which helped a lot more—Symbicort has a long-acting bronchodilator, kinda like Ventolin, and lasts for 12 hours PLUS an inhaled corticosteroid like FloVent (Pulmicort).
In the last three years, we’ve changed my medications a lot. Advair lasted three weeks and made me pretty sick. I’ve been put on Atrovent, a different type of bronchodilator called an anticholinergic, that I take 2-4 times a day. My allergist and I have now tried lowering my Symbicort dose by supplementing with additional Pulmicort and then taking me off the Pulmicort and adding Qvar, which is another inhaled corticosteroid. The allergist and I also ditched Singulair completely, which is awesome. It wasn’t helping, apparently.
I now take anywhere from 10 to over 22 hits off of different inhalers every day. I have a nebulizer machine for when my lungs really start acting up. And you know what? Yeah, that shocks people too. I still use my rescue inhaler more often than the asthma control guidelines say is acceptable.
But, this just touches the surface of what some of my friends with asthma do to keep their breathing in check every day.
I have primarily non-allergic asthma, but I have a pulmonologist, an allergist and a second allergist and research study doctor behind me—as well as my primary doctor. I’ve also been lucky enough to be in contact with rockstar respiratory therapists and the amazing Dr. Sally Wenzel at the University of Pittsburgh’s Severe Asthma Research Program. [Seriously, how cool is it that she is like, THE BEST asthma doctor in the world and one of the most prominent researchers in asthma, yet she still answers e-mails from everyday people like me?
The medicine stuff only scratches the surface. Asthma affects some of the decisions I make and how I do things. I try my hardest not to affect WHAT I do, only HOW I do them!
For example, at this point, I still get really short of breath really quickly when I try to run. It’s not that I’m in bad shape, it’s just that it freaks my lungs out. One time I crashed on the bleachers after the 12 minute run in gym class and didn’t get to play ringette, it was lame. So I walk—I try to walk fast. I go to the gym. I play hockey with my friends in the winter. I work around it all with an inhaler in my pocket. My friend Steve (or his superhero name Breathinstephen) has taught me a ton (if not most) of what I know not only about digging deeper into asthma and working out with asthma, but also educating and advocating for asthma awareness.
So what do I do? I’m an Asthma Ambassador with the Asthma Society of Canada and talk to people where they’re at. I tweet about asthma. I teach asthma education classes to high school students a couple times a year (we watch Arthur. You know you wish you were there). I wear my Team Asthma.ca shirt [heck yes. I love the ASC]. I try not to push people off when they ask about my medical bracelet (yes, I’m self-conscious about it).
And I tell my story, like I’m doing now.
One in ten Canadians have asthma. Yet, there are still a lot of misconceptions. Asthma is bigger than a blue inhaler. But asthma should never, EVER stop you from reaching your goals, even if it changes how you achieve them.