Origins: When I Was Diagnosed With Asthma

February 15, 2008, was the day I had asthmasymptoms for the first time (or at least the first time unrelated to exercise). It wasn’t this big dramatic thing like some people experience, but enough of it sticks out in my head.

"Bronchitis or asthma?"

I was in grade 11, and in choir. We’d gone to my old elementary/middle school to do some sort of two performance choir show thing, I think to make the grade eight kids interested in joining choir. After our first round, we went back to the music room where we sat on the floor waiting for the next group. I remarked to my friends that my lungs felt weird, and asked my friend to throw me my water bottle.

She did and looked at me kind of questioningly. “Do you have asthma?"

“No,” I said. “Well, not that I know of."

“Sometimes that happens to me. Want my inhaler?"

I declined, of course. My breathing wasn’t that bad, it couldn’t be asthma, right?

Right (not, but sort of). I went to a walk-in clinic doctor a couple days later, still having issues. He listened to my chest for all of 2 seconds and said, “You have bronchitis.”

He wrote me a prescription for ten days of the antibiotic cephalexin, which I remember the brutal-ness of to this day, and sent me on my way.

Well, wouldn’t you know it, nothing happened. I waited until the beginning of April, and went to a different walk-in clinic, having since learned of my pediatrician’s retirement. There, too, the doctor said I had bronchitis, and prescribed azithromycin, another antibiotic. Winter, people get sick, seems legit, right?

Okay well by the end of April, I still couldn’t breathe well, and went back to the second guy, considering he’d actually taken the time to talk to me for more than 37 seconds. At that point he said “Maybe it’s a mild asthma,” (yes, he said “a mild asthma”) and then blamed it on my guinea pig at the time. (“Maybe you are allergic to the guinea pig.” FYI, guinea pig died, still have asthma.)

He sent me off with a prescription for Ventolin and a few refills and told me to “Take your puffer, you’ll be fine."

Well, dude, I needed a lot more than Ventolin. I’m always curious that had I been prescribed more adequate medication earlier if my asthma would require the amount of intervention that it seems to now. Maybe yes, maybe no. Here I am, nearly 9 years and 9 different inhalers tried or taken later, and I’m curious about the turbulence of my diagnosis and its impact on my asthma control. I found a real primary care doctor taking patients six months later. Between her, three specialists, and a lot of trial and error and engagement on my part, I’ve achieved better control. It’s not perfect, but it’s better, and the story goes on. Maybe it’s because of the chaos of my diagnosis that I became an engaged patient—but maybe that might have just happened, too.

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