Trigger warning: Fictional accounts of death, near-fatal asthma, death from asthma, child loss.
Death is one of those unfortunate side-effects of life. And while I don’t like to think about it often, asthma still kills people every day.
When it happens, it often sneaks up. This is true in real life, but also, strangely, in fiction, as I discovered while reading a book today.
Spoiler alert: This article will be impossible to write without containing spoilers for the book Losing Gabriel by Lurlene McDaniel. So, you have been warned. There are enough nuances to the storyline that I think it’s still worth reading anyways, if you want to read about tragedies and such.
A character with asthma
When I began reading Losing Gabriel by Lurlene McDaniel, I honestly assumed it was about a teenage couple having a baby, the baby being born premature, and the baby dying and then the teenage couple having to navigate their life. That didn’t happen.
Instead, I had to come to grow and love little Gabriel in the story, the struggles of each of his young, split parents, and the young nursing student who is brought in as Gabriel’s babysitter/caregiver, helping to manage his asthma when his dad and doctor-grandfather were at work.
(There are other tragedies in this book. I just have to leave some in case you want to read it so I haven’t spoiled everything.)
The (sub)plot twist of “the kid has asthma” surprised me. Every so often you’ll come across an asthmatic kid in a book. And, while this was about 50% realistic, it did a better job than many books do. I didn’t ascertain this child was on any controller meds, which is why it only gets a 50%. That, and him having a nurse care for him after he came home after being born premature and a student nurse a caregiver for him — brilliant, yes — but in most families means? Not so much.
Here’s the most spoiler-y paragraph: One day, with no other options, little Gabriel is taken to a barn with his caregiver, and suffers an allergic reaction and severe asthma attack. The three-year-old is intubated and recovers. Except soon after, still in the hospital, he develops hospital-acquired pneumonia from the intubation and he does not survive.
An unexpected death from asthma
That part surprised me. Because so often, the stories of asthma we hear are sunshiney, rainbowy, even though I have asthma, I can do this. And yes, they should be, because that’s how it is the majority of the time.
Except we must be cognizant that 10 Americans each day die from asthma.1 And that conversation needs to be had, too. Because so many asthma-related deaths might just be preventable — from proper medication to proper care to improved affordability of medicines to education.
In the book, the child's parents, the doctor-grandfather, and the student nurse who saw Gabriel as far more than just a job must figure out how to pick up the pieces. As everyone must after the death of a loved one — especially one which is unexpected or tragically young.
My own experience with death from asthma
I lost a friend from asthma almost three years ago as I write this (and three years to the day I’m submitting this article, actually). I still think of Simi often, miss our iMessage conversations at all hours, our Skype calls, and all the moments of our lives that we shared.
Even fiction, even when it’s nothing like my reality, it hits home for me for this reason. Because you just never know.
And these stories, they remind me why we must never stop fighting for better. For better treatments, for more accurate diagnosis, for better access to doctors, and more affordable medicines that everyone can take without a trade-off. For all death from asthma to be not just preventable, but prevented.
Have you ever gotten "moon face" as a side effect of prednisone?