Community Member Spotlight: Meet Jill Aristeo Batchelder
Jill Aristeo Batchelder has been an active member with Asthma.net for a while, sharing her thoughts and insights on our Facebook page. We asked her to elaborate for us in this article so more community members can hear about her experiences with asthma. Does her story resonate with you?
Our interview with Jill Aristeo Batchelder
When and how were you diagnosed with asthma?
I was first diagnosed with asthma 30 years ago while I was working in a casino. Throughout my childhood, teens, and young adult life, I had chronic bronchitis and respiratory infections and had a chronic, productive cough daily that I was used to. However, working in a smokey casino brought on more symptoms. I felt short of breath while at work, my chest was tight, I was wheezing, and I eventually had an asthma attack that landed me in the emergency room.
I was officially diagnosed with asthma, and my doctor implored me to quit my job and gave me prescriptions for inhalers, steroids, a nebulizer, and a lot of literature. I kept working in the smoke-filled casino because I loved my job and needed great health insurance. I figured if I just use my inhalers and rescue inhalers I would be ok. Wrong! I needed to remove the trigger - cigarette smoke. Sadly, I had to resign from a long-time job that I loved. Unbeknownst to me, this wouldn't be the last job I would have to leave because of my asthma.
How has asthma impacted your life?
Asthma has impacted my life every day and in every way, and with everyone. Most people do not realize all the challenges for an asthmatic that normal people take for granted, like washing your hands in a public restroom and having an asthma attack from the scented soap or not being able to walk down the laundry soap aisle in the grocery store. The list is endless. I must be aware of my surroundings for every potential trigger. It's exhausting.
You can't just go to work, a party, or even visit a family member without speaking with them and checking off your asthma trigger list. Questions like: does anyone smoke? Is anyone sick with a cold? Are there pets in the house? Is there a lot of dust? Do you use scented laundry products or perfume (my biggest trigger)? Do you have a fireplace or a wood-burning stove? These are just some of the questions that come to mind when I go anywhere at any time.
Has asthma caused any limitations?
Having a job is out of the question because inevitably I will be confronted with some kind of scent. Having stable relationships is equally difficult. I simply cannot have the relationships that I want with family, friends, neighbors, or coworkers because something will affect my asthma negatively and cause conflict. I have lost many friends over the years due to my asthma. This is the greatest loss. Asthma is very isolating and lonely. It excludes you from doing things, going places, and being in the company of people you care about. My home is my only safe space. Asthma, for me, has caused a great depression because of all these limitations. I feel cut off from the rest of the world.
What events have you missed out on because of your asthma?
Over the years I have missed out on many events due to my asthma. I have missed many family outings, bridal showers, and parties because something always triggers my asthma. Something as trivial as a basket of cinnamon-scented pine cones on a table can set off my asthma and I have to leave immediately.
If a restaurant, friend, or neighbor has a fire going in the fireplace, I can't go and I miss out. If there is a picnic outside and people are smoking I have to find a place to hide, and the smoke always finds me anyway, so it is safer just to miss the picnic. Church is completely out of question. That includes weddings and funerals. The incense, candles, and soot from candles when they are blown out are overwhelming. It is the same for movies, concerts, Broadway shows, anything where there are people in general.
The holidays are the hardest and loneliest for me. I have missed out on many Thanksgiving's and Christmas's due to my asthma. Especially if someone has a real Christmas tree... I am out of the loop and have to stay home. When I have a flare I need to get to my nebulizer treatments every few hours and that puts a damper on the festivities of the moment. These are just a few examples of events missed over the years from having asthma.
What advice would you give to others with asthma?
Some advice I would give to another asthmatic is to take your symptoms seriously.
- Don't try to persevere and hope things will subside; they won't. Listen to your body and know when to go to the emergency room.
- You need a strong support system from family, friends, spouse, coworkers, and neighbors. People who know your triggers and will do whatever it takes to ensure you do not have an exacerbation and, if you do, can take appropriate measures to help you.
- Keep an asthma journal with recorded peak flows every day. This way you will be able to see if you are falling into the red zone.
- If you know something affects your asthma you need to avoid it. Avoiding your triggers can keep you out of the hospital and taking medications with serious side effects, or worse: having to be intubated.
- Keep your rescue inhalers with you at all times. You never know who or what could set you off.
- Switch cleaning, hair, bath, and laundry products to fragrance-free and 100% unscented.
- Invest in a high-quality air purifier for every room in your house. If possible and affordable, hardwood floors are better than carpet.
- Your daily symptoms can range from minimal, to bothersome, to debilitating, and even fatal. So, yes, you do have to religiously take all your medications every day even if you feel fine.
What should non-asthmatics know about asthma?
Asthma can be life-threatening. Just because I am not in distress or wheezing doesn't mean my asthma is controlled. Yes, we really do mind if you smoke around us, even outside, but we are too shy to speak up and don't want to cause conflict. Just the smell of cigarettes on a person's clothing is enough to set an asthmatic off. That is third-hand smoke and it does affect us. That perfume you sprayed on your coat last month is still as overpowering as ever... it lingers and we suffer. Just because you can't smell something doesn't mean that an asthmatic's lungs won't be irritated.
It's not that we don't want to visit you, we do, but, we can't! Rover and Fluffy are huge triggers and their dander is invisible. Lastly, every asthmatic is different. Some can still exercise, play sports, even run, while others can't even go up the steps without getting out of breath. We value your support and need you in our corner.
Have asthma inhalers affected your dental health?