Are Asthmatics Nerds?
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Profile photo of John Bottrell, RRT

You do know that asthmatics are nerds, right. I mean, we must be, because that’s how we’re portrayed on television. I mean, just look at the nerd on the Big Bang Theory as he puffs on his inhaler.

Portrayal of asthmatics in popular media

The Nickelodeon series “iCarly” had a character called Jeremy who was called “germy” and was often referred to as the germiest kid in the whole school. It was never revealed what the kid had, although I liked to think he was an allergic asthmatic. He was nerdy because he was sick, and therefore he was “not normal” made fun of.

Do asthmatics “appear” nerdy?

Merriam-Webster defines nerds as “unattractive, unstylish, and socially inept.” I think it’s fair to say asthma can make a boy appear to be all three. Imagine going to school, the shortest boy in your class, with your pocket bulging because you have an inhaler stuffed into it. And, to add to this, you’re embarrassed about the bulge, so your face is probably red from stress.

Now, let’s take this a step further. Say you are having trouble breathing. You’re breathing is loud and heavy. Your chest is fully expanded, your shoulders are up, and your arms are dug into your chair to assist with breathing. You’re too embarrassed to use the inhaler you have in your pocket. So, all this makes you even more unattractive.

And then the bell rings and you have to go out for recess. The air feels good, maybe even makes your breathing easier, at least momentarily.

But then one of your classmates approaches you, and says, “Hey, _______, do you want to play baseball? We need another player.” You can’t say no, because you don’t want them to know you are sick. You also don’t want to ruin their fun. So, you choke out a simple, “Yes!”

So, you run out to left field. And when a ball is hit your way, you trudge to the ball, because you already can’t breathe. The batter runs around second. You find the ball. You throw it awkwardly. Then the dust from the infield enters the air, and you inhale a good chunk of it. This makes you feel even more miserable.

Now your eyes are red. Your nose is runny. You sniffle. You sneeze. You are now the kid on iCarly with the snotty nose. Although you are not germy, you most certainly look the part, maybe even more so. You cough. You sneeze. You breathe funny. You talk funny.

And, yes, I’m describing a moment from my asthma childhood. I was an asthma nerd even as a kid. And, because I was different, some kids picked on me. And I never once used my asthma as an excuse to get out of a nerd beating. I actually had a teacher try to help me out once, and he was impressed with me for turning down his offer to stay in the classroom during recess. He said I was a touch kid with class.

Merriam-Webster also defines nerds as “devoted to intellectual or academic pursuits.” What do you think I did when I was a kid and my brothers went into the woods to gather wood for the fireplace? I tried being a normal boy/guy, and I did do this job a few times, but the end result was as described above. So I learned to stay indoors.

What did I do indoors? Well, I would hang out with the ladies, for one thing. I would hang out with mom and my aunts and whatever ladies she hung out with. I would cook, and clean, and, when those were uninteresting, I would read. And when you read you get smarter. I would read a lot.

I would also do nerdy things like write and draw. In fact, I can honestly say that it was my asthma that resulted in me becoming rapt in asthma. I began studying it upside down and inside out when I was fifteen-years-old. While my brothers were playing catch, I was learning the chemical composition of Azmacort. In fact, ten years later, while my classmates were learning about asthma medicines, I finished reading the Talisman.

Asthma experts

I’d have to say that, while my friends are busy socializing today, I’m sitting here in front of this here computer researching how viruses trigger asthma. I’d say that’s kind of nerdy, especially considering I consider this fun.

And, of course, while they’re out having their sort of fun tonight — the way normal people do, I’d guess, I’m sitting here pondering the question: “Are asthmatics nerds?” I think this alone qualifies me as a nerd.

My obsession is asthma. I am adamantly rapt in this disease. I yearn to learn it inside out and outside in. I get up every morning at 4 a.m. just to read complex articles about asthma genes and the mediators of inflammation. I can name specific asthma genes, and I even know what mediators come from what genes. For crying out loud, I even know the name of the first person to use the term “asthma.”

I suppose I cannot say that all asthmatics are nerds.  I suppose you can say that having an inhaler doesn’t qualify you as a nerd, because anyone can use one. However, I think it’s safe to say this asthmatic is definitely a nerd. And, as our fellow asthma expert Kerri said about being an asthma nerd herself: “I don’t care.”

What about you? Are you an asthma nerd?

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