How Asthma Made Me Closer To God
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Profile photo of John Bottrell, RRT

People who know me on a personal level know that I have asthma. As a kid, I probably spent more time in the presence of doctors than most people do in a lifetime. There were many other days and nights I suffered and probably should have sought help. These early life experiences had a significant impact on my relationship with God.

Both my parents were raised in the Catholic Church, and both were very strict about making sure we attended religious education classes every Monday evening during the school year, and Church on either Saturday night or Sunday morning. One morning I woke up and my brothers were happy because mom was sick and there was a blizzard outside: “Good news, John,” my older brother said. “We can’t go to Church today.”

Then dad strolled out of his room, and said, “Get dressed kids. We’re going to Church.” Dad never talked about God much: he lead by example. Talking about the Bible was mom’s specialty. I would try to discipline myself to pray each night and read the verses she recommended, although this was a job that often went undone. That is, until 1984.

Living as a child with severe asthma

My asthma had always been horrible. But in 1984 it got really, really horrible. My medical records show I made at least 11 trips to the emergency room for asthma that year and had many more unscheduled doctor’s visits, all because I couldn’t breathe. There is no documentation revealing the true number of days I suffered from bad asthma and just sort of dealt with it on my own, although I can attest it was too many.

Most kids don’t think about death and dying. However, when you can’t even take in half a breath, and your heart is pounding in your chest after abusing your Alupent inhaler all day, the idea might pop into your head.

This describes me on more than one occasion. I’d scratch and claw at the edge of the bed, I’d stand up and place my face on the dusty screen hoping the fresh outdoor air would give me some relief. And all along I’d continue puffing on my inhaler until it was empty.

You might be thinking: “Why didn’t you just tell your parents?”. Many times I did just that. But other times my mind didn’t work right, and I’d continue to suffer. It was almost like I needed someone to tell me what to do.

Plus, and this was especially true in 1984, those asthma attacks were not infrequent: they were occurring nearly every day. I knew if I went to the hospital I’d get better. However, I did not want to bother my parents — again. Likewise, I didn’t want to go to the ER. Who does? So I learned to cope the best I could, even pretending I was fine so my parents wouldn’t know.

So, you cannot blame my parents. You also cannot blame my doctors. Knowledge of asthma wasn’t what it is today. Back then you were prescribed asthma controller medicines only when you were sick, then told to stop taking them. This was a normal asthma theme back then. My doctors did the best they could to help me with the knowledge available at that time. So, you cannot blame them! I don’t.

You also have to consider I was born with this disease. I did not know any other way. I became used to being short of breath. I became very good at hiding how bad I was, even when hanging out with my parents, even during dinner. I became a good actor.

Seeking comfort in a higher power

So, what do you do in such moments? You reach for a higher power, and you feel comfort that He is there for you.

As a side note here, I think that most people don’t take religion seriously until they are older. Most kids have better things to do than worry about death and what will happen after they are dead. But most kids don’t have a chronic disease that takes their breath away either. So, asthma made me serious about my Faith.

I think that there are a lot of people who spend their entire lives living without God, or at least they don’t take it very seriously. Then they get older, and realize that they won’t be here forever, and decide they better get in on the good graces of God. They start going to church, reading the Bible, or at least praying.

This was not the case with me, as asthma made me closer to God long before I was an adult. Then 1985 happened. I was admitted to National Jewish Hospital/ National Asthma Center (now National Jewish). I was admitted to 7-Goodman and told I’d be there for 6-8 weeks. The doctors there were going to get my asthma under control. They did just that.

However, my doctors agreed they needed more time to fix me, and convinced mom and dad to keep me longer. They moved me out of 7-Goodman, a place I felt comfort in, and moved me to a psychological unit called 2-May. Keep in mind that back then asthma was still considered a psychological disorder by many doctors.

I was ticked. I was convinced I did not have a problem with my head. All I wanted to do was go home. I fell into a deep, deep, deep depression. I isolated myself and fell out of favor with my friends. I hated everything and everyone.

Thankfully I had a private room at this time. So, after the lights were off, the door shut, and the hallways seemingly quite, I jumped out of bed and grabbed my Bible. There was a small swath of light from a nightlight, and I used it to read the passages of the Bible mom highlighted.

One Saturday, a Counselor took all of us asthmatic kids to a mall and set us off on a scavenger hunt. When we got back I felt nauseated, so my counselor told me to take a nap. I did. And, when I got up, a ray of sun from the open window covered my body. A feeling of joy touched my heart. I can honestly say that it was as though my Guardian Angel’s hand touched me, thereby taking away my depression.

I enjoyed the rest of my time there. In fact, one day I wrote in my journal, “I actually like it here. In fact, I even like 2-May better than 7-Goodman, mainly because we have more freedom to leave the unit and do things outside.”

So, that’s how my asthma made me closer to God. And the relationship has paid dividends, as I have been blessed with gifts. My gifts are empathy for my fellow chronic lungers, and the ability to pay it forward by writing posts like this.

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