a woman uses an inhaler, then breathing exercises, and a nebulizer

Making My Way Back From the Dark Side

So here we are, the tail end of winter and I have been feeling pretty accomplished. I had a little head cold twice, but I managed both episodes with swift action and avoided a downward asthma spiral. Then, even more empowering, I went for my annual CT to make sure I am still free of any signs of lung cancer. I AM!

There are some small spots that have remained the same for the past two years, and my doctor thinks they will stay that way, based on their appearance. So I walk out of that appointment feeling on top of the world. I meet my adult children for some high fives and a quick toast to another clean scan.

Hold on sister, not so fast…

Caught off guard

I swear to you, not 3 hours later, I coughed. It was the cough from hell. I went from nothing to ‘holy crap’ in a matter of minutes. I started all the right medications immediately. Oral steroids, extra nebulizer treatments, more inhaled steroids. I opened my arsenal and began my plan that my doctor and I came up with quite some time ago. It’s my medical ‘go bag’ of tools to keep me from spiraling out of control.

Even doing everything right doesn't always result in all the right outcomes. In a matter of 48 hours, I was a mess. An urgent care office tested me for the flu, but it was negative. Bronchitis was the diagnosis. However, spiraling was in full bloom.

I woke up coughing so violently that I was sure I would explode, not to mention the explosion of pain and fire I was feeling with every cough. Then to help me feel even worse I spiked a fever. It was 2 AM. Talk about helplessness.

It pays to have a plan

The coughing was not letting up and then IT happened… an asthma attack that was more terrifying than any I had ever had. I couldn’t take a breath in to get any result from my rescue inhaler and I was having unrelenting, fiery hot coughing fits at the same time. I froze for a second, grabbed my phone for the dreaded 911 call I might have to make, and then walked myself through all of the steps of my asthma action plan. It worked, exactly as it was supposed to!

My plan is a simple one. After every attempt to get some relief from my rescue inhaler, I tried some pursed-lip breathing exercises. My next step is to use my nebulizer. Last is to get to an ER if nothing else helps. The breathing exercises worked to slow things down, but the cough was still tormenting me.

I was finally able to take a breath in between spasms and eventually, as long as I stayed still and quiet the violent coughing slowed. I called my doctor as soon as office hours allowed and she added more meds and a longer, higher dose of oral steroids.

The bumpy road to recovering from an asthma attack

It’s been a few weeks since the onset. I am going to try to walk around the block today. I may not get far, but I’ll make the effort. Yesterday, out of sheer boredom, I baked cookies. It was exhausting. Sounds silly but it is very true.

I have asthma. I also had a flu-like virus, a bacterial infection, a high fever, and now a head cold. That combination is so draining, it makes me weary just telling you about it.

As all people with asthma can attest to, the road to recovery from an attack is a difficult one to navigate. It is long and winding and filled with delays. We have to be patient with our selves and our uncooperative bodies. The spirit is willing to try that walk around the block but my body--more specifically, my lungs--not so much.

My point

Asthma is unpredictable. It is a constant that must be factored into every decision I make. It can lie in wait and sneak up even when I think I’ve outsmarted it, so I’ve learned to respect my asthma. I listen to it. I do all I can to keep it at bay--but life happens and asthma creeps up on me. Sometimes it hits me right over the head with a 2X4. It’s just its nature.

Having a plan is paramount. This latest episode of mine couldn't highlight that statement more clearly for me. From my medical 'go bag,' to my asthma action plan, right down to the recovery process, I have a plan. Sounds a little rigid maybe, but I assure you it is not. It is comforting and useful and effective.

My life revolves around asthma out of necessity, but I live my life as fully as possible in spite of that. I believe that having plans in place when dealing with a chronic illness like asthma allows me the freedom to move forward and live my life.

What are your tips for recovering from an asthma attack? Share in the comments below.

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