Seek Help When You Need It

So, I am an asthma educator. I’m a respiratory therapist. I’m a lifelong asthmatic. And yet I still have trouble deciding when to seek help.

That’s just the way it is. I’ve talked to other healthcare givers. Heck, I’ve talked to friends who are asthma educators. I’ve talked to people with other chronic diseases, like my parents. And we all seem to be in agreement on one subject:

We are good at offering advice to other people. But, we are not so good at seeking our own advice as individuals. When we are the patient, things are different somehow.

But, they shouldn’t be. We know better.

But, this is just how it is. It’s reality.

And I will give you the best example of this as I can:

My personal story with seeking help

So, about three weeks ago I started coughing. It was just an annoying cough. Yep, I brushed it off.

Over the ensuing weeks I sometimes became dyspneic (you know, that feeling you can't catch your breath) at work. Sometimes this would get bad enough I'd have to go back to the department to rest. I’d turn the heat down to cool the room. I’d put the fan that sits in our department so it was blowing right on me. Yep! Just like a COPDer. Just like a typical asthmatic. Fans, cool air, breezes seem to help us breathe better. Not sure why though.

This was when I realized I had used up half an inhaler that I just got a week earlier. That was when I started thinking that I should probably seek help. As any asthmatic SHOULD know, increased inhaler use is a prime early warning sign of asthma. It’s a key you ought to do something now, like seek help. Like call your doctor. I knew this. But, still, you think you can beat it out.

I didn't take my own advice

But, after rest, I was back at it. I continued on like this at work. And then it seemed to get worse on my two days off. My kids were with their mother. I was home alone. So, I didn't have someone to tell me, "Go to the ER, dummy!"

I gradually became more dyspneic. And, would you figure, I brushed it off to being out of shape. Stupid! Probably. But, I had gained some weight. I was in the process of dieting. But, I figured, well, I was just still too out of shape. I was winded because I was too fat, I guess.

Of course, in the meantime, I was now taking breathing treatments. I was taking long 5 mg treatments. Sometimes I’d take more. And it was helping some. But not reversing my asthma completely; not reversing the dyspnea. And this dyspnea was different from what I had experienced before.

Was it because I was aging? Was it because I had something other than asthma? Did I have pneumonia? Did I have lung cancer? Yikes! Stop thinking this way, I'd tell myself. But, this sort of worried me. Stop self-diagnosing. This is anxiety. It's another key early warning symptoms I could have heeded. Right? And I wrote that article. I should know better.

And, as you know, asthma is reversible by definition. Why was mine not reversing? What was the trigger? I couldn’t figure it out. That was strange too. I was not feeling allergy symptoms. I was not feeling cold symptoms. Those are my most common triggers. The cause was a mystery.

I knew I should have sought help

By bedtime I was so bad thoughts of the ER came to mind. I was like, crap, am I that bad? No, I will wait to see my doctor tomorrow. So, I went and laid in my bed. Oh my, that wasn’t happening. I sat up on several pillows. I finally decided to take a couple Benadryl. And, finally, out of pure exhaustion, fell asleep.

Then I woke up. It was 1 a.m. I was severely dyspneic. By now I’m feeling panicky. I even felt tears develop in my eyes, and words from my mouth like, “Lord, why is this happening to me?” And these were clear warning signs to seek help for bad asthma. Yes, and I even wrote that article.

Then a light came on in my head. If someone in my position were to ask me what I thought, what would I say? I’d say, "You're not short of breath because of your weight. What's happening to you is not normal. Go see your doctor. Or, better yet, go to the ER. Here, I will drive you.”

In fact, I have taken many people to the ER in my position. I have taken coworkers in wheelchairs to the ER. I have driven people to the ER. So, I would say just go just do it. You won’t regret it.

Finally, I heeded my own advice

Finally! Right?

I went to the ER. My oxygen saturation was 100% on room air. That was good. But, my blood pressure was 188/100, not so good. My heart rate was up also. I was clammy, said the doctor. These were partly due to overuse of beta adrenergics. It was probably also due to the anxiety about what I had decided to do. Even though I work with the good people who treated me, even though they all were my friends (including the Doc), I didn’t want to be the center of attention. I didn’t want to be the patient.

But, it was good I went in. Because of my appearance, the doctor said he was giving me the workup. They hooked me up to the heart monitor. They checked my heart with an EKG. They drew my blood to check for blood clots. They did an x-ray to rule out pneumonia and other things I don’t want to mention. And all those tests came out clean. That, in its own right, was a stress reliever. We decided it was my asthma.

I got a high dose of Solumedrol. Within an hour my breathing was easy. Well, at least “I’m comfortable,” is what I told the doc. I was able to rest on the ER bed in a semi fowlers position. And, due to the great service of the ER I am typically an employee of, I was discharged within an hour. I could breathe. I was not out of the woods yet, not even close. But, I had peace of mind.

What should you make of this?

Heed the advice of the experts. Don’t brush off symptoms to aging or weight gain or whatever. Seek help when you feel different. Seek help when you need it. Seek help even if you think you need it. And if you’re a healthcare person, heed your own advice.

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This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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