Albuterol: Don’t Leave Home Without It
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If you have asthma, you cannot leave home without it. You are a member of the club. It is not a club you are proud to be part of because you don’t even want to belong to it. But, be it as it is, you are a part of it. You are a member of the rescue inhaler club. For me it’s albuterol. We even have a slogan:

Albuterol: Don’t leave home without it.”

You do not choose to be a member of this club. So, that means that you will not proudly display a shirt saying, “I am a member of the Albuterol inhaler club.” No. You will not do that. And even if you did, it wouldn’t matter, because not just anyone can be a member anyway.

To gain admittance, you must first have a diagnosis of asthma. You must also feel some sort of friendship with your rescue inhaler. You must feel a bond with it. And it’s not that you want to be friends with an object, it’s that that little inhaler can save you; can give you your breath back in an instant. It can save the day, kind of like having a credit card in your pocket when you need to get across the country.

Here’s a little story of how I became a member. I became a member in 1980. I was introduced to my first inhaler that year. It was Alupent. It was a little white inhaler. My doctor squirted it in my mouth one evening during an unscheduled visit for asthma. Actually, I think it was after hours, so my doctor went out of his way just to see the asthmatic kid.

A few months later, in the evening hours, I  was sitting in the back seat of a bright red Jeep Wagoneer. I was ten. My older brother Bobby got to sit by the window to my left. My younger brother David got to sit by the window to my right. My little brother Dan, who was five, was sitting, seatbelt-less of course, between dad, who was driving, and mom, who was holding Tony, who was two.

Speaking of seatbelts, none of us were wearing them. There was no guilt that we weren’t wearing them either, as seatbelts didn’t matter back then. Back in the 1980s, seatbelts were just annoying knobs on the seat that made sitting on them uncomfortable. The idea that seat belts save lives was not even a passing thought. And, lo and behold, we all survived.

Today, we feel guilty not wearing one. We know what might happen if we don’t. Being a member of the albuterol club is sort of the same way. Yet it’s not guilt we feel, it’s panic. And panic leads to chest tightness and shortness of breath.

It only takes dad about two minutes to drive into town to grandmas. It was not supposed to be a stressful ride. After all, we were all excited to see grandma this day because Aunt Dolly was there. I had a pad of paper in my lap, and I wanted Dolly to help me draw a picture. I wanted to learn how to draw a fence around a house, and some rocks by a tree.

But I never had Dolly help me draw that night. I never even took my art pad out of the car when we arrived at grandmas. Because, about half way there, a thought occurred to me:

“MY INHALER!”

It was sheer panic. I felt over my pants pockets. Nothing. I frantically searched the pockets of my coat. Nothing. I looked on the seat between me and my brothers. Nothing.

My chest became tight. My breathing became heavy.

That night was a long, agonizing night with asthma. I did not tell my mom I forgot my inhaler. I did not want to ruin her night. So I suffered alone. I suffered because I did not have my new friend, the white inhaler.

I ended up in the emergency room the next day. I also decided the next day that I would never again leave home without my rescue inhaler. I have left home without it, although when I do I regret it. When I don’t have it, I feel like I need it. So, I learned that I was a member of the club.

It was that year, in 1980, when American Express started running ads that said, “One word distinguishes the American Express card from the others: member. And it’s members has its privileges” Like members of this credit card club, we are members of the albuterol club.

What is the privilege of being a member? It’s knowing that you are not alone. It’s knowing that there are other people in the world who know what it’s like.

Now, there was another commercial for American Express that was more famous. It kind of helped give birth to our slogan. This commercial said: “American Express credit card: don’t leave home without it.”

So that was then. Here we are 36 years later. A lot has changed since then. Now we know that it’s safe to use inhaled corticosteroids every day. Now we know using inhaled steroids every day prevents asthma, and prevents the need for rescue medicine. Other medicines and better wisdom result in better asthma control too.

But, still, nearly every asthma expert in the world will still chime these famous words: “If you have asthma, you must have rescue medicine nearby at all times.” This is true. It is great advice. It is great words of wisdom. Even when you feel your asthma is under control, as I now do, you must still abide by that rule. You must, as you are still a member of the club.

Here it is now 2016. My asthma is far better controlled than back in 1980. Advair has pretty much made it so I rarely use my rescue inhaler so long as I avoid my asthma triggers.

So, recently I went on vacation to Detroit. We drove four hours, and I never once thought of my inhaler. We dropped our stuff off at our hotel: no thought of my inhaler. We started walking to a bar where we were going to catch a bus to the game. We walked by the lot where old Tiger Stadium used to be. I snapped a picture. I sent it to my son. We arrived at the bar. We had a beer. We left the bar. We stood outside the bar waiting for the bus. I smelled fumes from the city air. I checked my pocket for my inhaler. That’s when a thought chimed into my head:

“American Express credit card: do not leave home without it.”

Yes, I’m still a member of the club. Once a member, always a member. Although I don’t depend on it today the same as I did back then, it still offers a sense of security when I have it. And on this day, I did not have it. My chest got tight, my breath felt short, just like it did 36 years earlier, and so many times since.

But then a neat thing happened: I forgot. The bus arrived. We rode the bus, and we talked. We arrived at Comerica Park. We snapped a picture with the giant Tigers statues in the background. We entered the park. We found our seats. We both drank a beer. We enjoyed the game. We rode the bus back to our hotel.

Despite that one moment of panic, I did not feel asthma that day. This is a true testament of how much asthma wisdom, and asthma medicine, has improved during my life. Still, this day reminded me that I am still a member of the club.

“Albuterol: Do NOT leave home without it.”

Disclaimer: This post is not an endorsement for American Express. It is also not an endorsement for the albuterol club. Please do not apply; Membership by default only.

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