Skip to Accessibility Tools Skip to Content Skip to Footer

Hiding My Condition From My Employer

I had hidden my chronic illness from my employer for 4 years because I had seen so many teachers not rehired after they had exposed if they had a chronic illness. As a media specialist, I was required to move all around the building and repair machines that were malfunctioning or get people’s computers up and running. Little did I know that upon a couple of occasions I would be walking into a dangerous situation for my asthma

Having an asthma attack at work

As I walked down the hallway towards the art room, I could smell the roofing work that was going on above me and I thought to myself, “if I quickly do this and get back to the library I will be fine”. That was not to be. After I repaired the art teacher’s projector, my cough was triggered, and by the time I reached the door, it had become serious. My throat had seized my lungs and I could not get a breath in. I thought to myself “if instead of going to the library I go outside and away from the building, I could perhaps catch my breath”.

I tried to take my inhaler and that did not seem to be working. I hit the door in a flash, stepped out into the fresh air, and I realized I was losing control completely. My body violently racked with spasms and I collapsed in the doorway. Apparently a little of my rescue inhaler had reached the edge of my lungs and I was able to get enough of my breath in time to stand up using the wall. I saw that my car was just 50 yards away so I stumbled to it and just about fell into my car seat.

I closed the doors without turning on the car to try another puff of my inhaler and it seemed a little more got into my lungs, deep enough for me to gain control. I drove home trying to think of what to do. I thought to myself, “if I reveal my illness at the office I will be replaced,” like I had seen happen to the teachers around. If I don’t, I have to come up with a good excuse for leaving the building. I decided on a compromise. The fumes had caused me to have a headache, so I thought I would reveal that portion of my difficulty and not my asthma.

Hiding my condition from my workplace

While I was chided for not telling the office immediately that I had to leave because of a headache, I still avoided exposing the extent of what the reroofing had done to trigger an asthma attack at work. I figured I had a win-win.

I know we are told that we should reveal our chronic illnesses to our employers early on. Much later in my employment I eventually did, but I had seen too many people lose their jobs after doing so. Once having done so I found out that I was a target as well. Fortunately, people are never fired for having asthma I found out or for having diabetes. Some other situations had always come up under heightened scrutiny and people had lost their jobs, I did not want to fall into the same category.

Later on I saw the video of my collapse. I could see that I nearly had or completely lost consciousness in the doorway. I asked the secretary why she didn’t send help and she said that she was waiting to see if I would get up. I thought to myself, “I was lucky I made it out of there alive and I should have gone to the emergency room.” But then again those are the tensions that you face on the spur of a moment during an asthma attack.

Taking care of my family

In one way I perhaps despise myself for not having stood up under the rules of the ADA but on the other hand, I had seen how often people are quietly replaced the next year after they endured a medical issue. I had a family to feed and it seemed to me that higher obligation overrode the greater fear of having an asthma attack at work in the future.

I guess you would have to say having food on the table and a good retirement had more power in my life than the ADA and the negotiated contract that was overlooked when people who had severe illnesses were removed. I am lucky I survived that day.

Tell your asthma story here.

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.


  • jenTMarinewife
    4 months ago

    After reading your story I totally get what your saying ! However FMLA and other resources are there to protect you ! You must remember your family needs you alive and well ! And you may want to look into another fiend of work if your asthma is being triggered by this around you that your can’t not control . Just a thought — and as a nurse please please never drive during an asthmatic episode you were very lucky this time ! And most importantly never be afraid to seek help when a severe asthmatic episode comes . I’ve seen it to many times and lots of lives are lost that could of been prevented!
    Best of luck to you Jenny

  • Leon Lebowitz, RRT moderator
    4 months ago

    Hi Tom77, and thanks so much for sharing your story with the community. We appreciate your candor here. All the best, Leon (site moderator)

  • Poll