Wednesday, April 4, 2012

My name is Anna and I'm an asthmatic

Everyone has their own challenges when it comes to getting fit and healthy. Some challenges we share like dips in energy and days of unfocused motivation. Others are more personalized to our own weakness but the common thread is the fact that we all experience challenging moments. 

bad                     good                     good                       bad
 Right now we are in a season change and for me that means days of congestion, itchy, inflamed skin and and a constant evaluation of my breathing status. I hate season changes and living in Sacramento can really suck when the pollen counts are high. In 2001 the Sacramento Business Journal broke the news that we were rated by the pharmaceutical company, GlaxoSmithKline, as the nation's 22nd worst city for those who suffer from allergies. I believe this rating system only took pollen levels into account and didn't factor in the fact that we live in the valley. This means that all the crap in the air (pollen, pollution and who knows what else) is stuck here. In my mind, that graduates Sacramento form the 22nd worst allergy city to king of the allergy kingdom.  

I remember begging my mom to
let me skip breathing treatments
I hated them
I have had asthma all my life. When I was really young I had to use a nebulizer every four hours and took additional medication every morning, noon and night. Thanks to all of those medications I was able to live a relatively normal childhood. I was very active and was proud of my speedy running skills. I remember beating kids two years older than me in races at school and in the park. In the summers I swam from the time the community pool opened till closing. The neighborhood kids and I practically lived on our bicycles and in roller skates. I was always on the move.

My 1st 2-wheeler
That active lifestyle seemed to disappear as I got older. By the time I was in high school I was overweight and hadn't been on a bike for a few years. The only sport I had played in middle school was volleyball but I didn't continue that into high school. The only physical activity I got on a regular basis was my three mile walk to school and gym class. I no longer rode my bike with friends, swam all day in the summer or played tag around the playground. For the most part, my asthma was still under control but I think my inactivity put me at a disadvantage. My body got used to not moving so when I pushed myself I would notice my syptoms creep up on me.

I'm screwed

Asthma is pretty common and I'd be willing to bet that everyone knows a handful of people who are asthmatic or have experienced asthma symptoms. With that said, just in case you're a little fuzzy on what asthma really is, here's some quick information: 

Asthma is a lung disease and people with asthma have two things going on in their lungs. 

The muscles around the air ways go into spasm. The muscles clamp down, causing the airways to narrow.

The airways themselves become inflamed causing mucus to form and making it even more difficult to breath. The inflammation further narrows the airways and the mucus makes breathing swampy. 

(checkout the animation thingy at
Asthma is a condition of the lungs characterized by inflammation and reversible narrowing of the airways, affecting children and adults. Asthma is very common, and often related to allergy. Pulmonary function tests may be needed to determine if narrowing of the airway is present. Goals for the treatment of asthma are to control or minimize symptoms and normalize lung function.  
If you don't have asthma and you're curious about what it feels like, try this: The next time you to to a coffee shop or restaurant grab one of those tiny straws and try to breath through it for about a minute with your nose pinched shut.That's what an attack feels like. 

Long ago, when I was a freshmen at Sacramento High, my doctor banned me from running. Why, you ask? Well, it all started with a season change. It was near the end of fall, going into winter, and we had gotten some rain over the past few days. I wasn't feeling well, my allergies where off the charts and I was pretty sure I had a chest cold. Often chest colds aggravate my asthma and I tend to suffer from more asthma symptoms. This time around wasn't any different and I had been using my rescue inhaler often in hopes of fending off an asthma attack.

Freshmen year
I thought smiling made me ugly
During this time I had been taking the bus to school instead of walking and I hadn't fully participated in gym class. I still did everything that was asked of me but I wasn't giving it my all or exerting myself. Around this time our gym teacher wanted us to run laps around the soccer field. The freshly cut, grassy soccer field. I knew I shouldn't participate with the class so I talked to the teacher. He was less then sympathetic and told me that I didn't have to run but my grade would suffer. That was unacceptable to me, I was not going to be one of those kids who got a bad grade in gym, so I ran. 
Sac Hi - You Know!
I know, I'm an idiot, right? I should briefly share with you why my grades and GPA were so important to me. At this time in my life, my parents had been separated for about five years, I lived with my mother who ran family child care home during the day and did drugs and partied at night. She was very absent from my day-to-day life and, like most addicts, spent more money on her "hobbies" than important items such as food and household bills. My life felt pretty crappy and totally out of my control. In an effort to have some kind of control I focused on my grades. Getting a grade less than a "B" in anything would be devastating to me. It would mean I had failed at controlling this small part of my life.

Back on the soccer field, I barely made it through the run and I wasn't breathing well at all when I was changing for orchestra, my next and final class of the day (I played the violin). As soon as I got to the music room, I dropped my backpack on the floor, sat in a chair and tried to get my breathing under control with help from my inhaler. It wasn't working. I told my teacher what was going on and he sent me to the office to call home. He had my stand partner go with me to 1) make sure I didn't pass out in the hall alone and 2) to carry my backpack. I was so weak, the added weight was making walking and breathing at the same time even more difficult than it already was. 

My mother had to pack up her day care kids into her car to come get me and she wasn't happy. I knew she was worried but it manifested as anger. She seemed more focused on the interruption of her day and the inconvenience of having to pick me up than my current medical situation. Once we were home I did a breathing treatment but it didn't seem to help very much. A couple of hours latter I did another treatment and  some additional medication. That night my condition seemed to be getting worse so my mother finally took me to the ER. My oxygen level was so low by that point that I don't remember most of that night or following day. I was admitted into ICU with sever asthma symptoms, multiple asthma attacks and pneumonia (remember that chest cold I had...). 

When I was released from the hospital I was ordered to stay home from school until further notice from my doctor. Two weeks later I was in his office for a followup appointment. He gave me the "okay" to go back to school and wrote me a note excusing me form running activities for the rest of my life. I'm serious, a copy is in my medical file.That fact makes every race I finish taste so sweet! Even if my time is abysmal.  (My dad met with my gym teacher and the school principal while I was in ICU. I wish could have been a fly on the wall in that meeting. He still wont tell me what was said) 

[My Races-Take that, asthma!]
River City Half
  Shamrock'n Half 
Super Bowl Sunday 10K
Lou Gehrig 5K
California International Marathon
Run to Feed the Hungry 5K
Mermaid Run 10K
Urban Cow Half Marathon
Miner's Ravine 10K
Susan B. Anthony 5K
Women's Fitness Festival 5K
No Excuses 5K
 Rock n Run 5K
Mermaid Run 12.5M
Sacramento Zoo Zoom 10
Nutrition Fuels Fitness 10K
Valentine Run 4M
Lou Gehrig's Run 5K
Mermaid Run 5K
Miners Ravine 5K
Susan B. Anthony Women's 5K
Alzheimer's Aid Society Memorial 5K
Fleet Feet Women's Fitness Festival 5K 
Nike Half Marathon

The point of my story was to show the relationship between allergies and asthma. If one is bad, the other will follow suit. For me, at least but I'm sure I'm not unique in this way. Every time I experience asthma symptoms or an attack I can trace it back to either my allergies or forgetting one of my daily preventive medications (I still take medication for my asthma twice a day but I no longer need breathing treatments on a regular basis). 

Allergies are evil and continue to hold me back. I've been missing workout after workout due to my allergies and the negative effect they have on my lungs. Last weekend was the first neighborhood run I was able to do in weeks. It's no wonder why I've slowed down so much or stopped losing weight. I will be so happy when summer is here and I can get back to being me again. Until then I will have to evaluate my allergies and breathing daily and be happy with the runs I can get in on good days.     

PS ~ Both of my kids are asthma free, allergy free and eczema free (Thank God!)                    

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