Last night was an interesting night, full of twists and turns and changes of plan. When I arrived at home, it was only to be informed that our eldest daughter was sick, or more accurately, still sick. She has had the same hacking cough, with the same fluid filled lung sound for about a week and a half, and although we had been to the doctor before, it appeared that the prescribed treatment was ineffective. Our daughter was still coughing like she had consumption, which was worrying, yet was still so full of energy that she appeared the perfect picture of health, which alleviated our worries somewhat.
So it was up to me to sit at home and watch the little one, daughter no. 2, Kathleen, as her sister Mackenzie was led out to see "The Dock-or" as she, in fact, made sure to tell Kathleen in person.
"I have to see the Dock-or, okay. I'm sick. I go see the Dock-or. You stay here."
It was odd and illuminating to see this little two and a half year old take on the airs of an adult, imperiously deliver her orders, then kiss her little sister goodbye before heading off. Apparently she imperiously told the other kids at the clinic that she was sick and going to see the "Dock-or." After the Doctor had seen her, so I am informed, Mackenzie made sure to remind her that she was owed a lollipop, like she'd been given the last time she had seen the "Dock-or."
Hearing my wife tell the tale, I had to laugh. Not only at what seemed my daughter's surprisingly prodigious memory, but at how she seems to have taken on airs of royalty, and commands all those around her. But I'd be lying if I said I wasn't worried. Colds are one thing, which don't cause me to bat an eye. They are common enough as it is, and incredibly common for children. But persistent colds that produce lungs full of fluid, such that at night it creates a symphony of rattling breath is another matter.
As an asthmatic, who has lived with the disease for twenty years, I'm well past the age were my breathing would grow shallower and shallower without my noticing it in some way. Asleep, half-asleep, or awake, I respond in the same manner. Get up, stumble over to a certain drawer, take two to three puffs from a certain inhaler, and go back to bed, breathing freely and easily. I've done this same routine awake, half awake, and even asleep, as far as I can gather from the few times I've awoken with an inhaler in my hand and no recollection of how it had gotten there.
But a little girl like Mackenzie hasn't developed the same responses, and at night over the past week, I can, at times, swear that her breath grows ever more shallow as the night progresses. And it worries me to the point of nightmares. I worry that she may have something worse than a cold, like pneumonia. But that's an acute problem, a doctor can solve in relatively short order. Which leads me to my greater worry, that she will be like me, an asthmatic.
I grew up in houses filled with second hand smoke. There was second hand smoke in the cars, in the houses of friends and relatives. I could never scape it. IN the car, I could alleviate the onslaught somewhat by rolling down the window and sticking my head and shoulders out the window as we barreled down the highway - which provoked no end of motherly screaming. But by issuing an ultimatum, I usually managed to convince the others in the car to put out their cigarettes, at least for the remainder of the ride. I wasn't an asthmatic at that time, but as I look back on it, maybe my body knew something was up, for on my 12th birthday, I had my first real asthmatic episode, strong enough that I ended up in the hospital, and left a day later with a bag full of medicines, and a diagnosis of chronic, life long condition.
Second hand smoke is what I blamed for my asthma. I had been healthy as a child, and only became an asthmatic after years of constant exposure to second hand smoke. But as I listen to my daughter's rattling breathing, I begin to wonder. Our household is smoke free, and always has been. Nobody, but nobody, friend, family, or important guest, is allowed to light up here. With the punishing heat of the summers here, I usually keep my daughter inside in the summers, and only outside when the weather is clear and relatively cool. This could mean that particulates in the air inside are the culprit, but my wife is fanatically clean. Dust, and particulates don't survive her housekeeping kung-fu, and even if a spot was missed, the wife insists on bringing in outside help one a week for extra special concentrated attack on whatever had missed her eye.
Which leaves my sitting confused and dispirited. I worry my daughter has inherited my condition, regardless of the lengths I and my wife have gone to ensure that our environment was clean, and entirely free of all those elements that I had always believed led to what happened to myself. I imagine my daughter, wanting to go run as fast as she can, and slowing down, drained of energy, like I was so many times, struggling to draw in shallow breaths. I can just see my reaction, at sometime or another, as I hear my daughter's breath get shallower and shallower, as the lung engages in a vicious cycle, that leads to ever more breathlessness.
When the same happened to me, my mother went to the pharmacy to get the medicine I had been prescribed that day. A kindly lady at my school had dropped me off at the hospital, in contravention of school policy (which, if followed, may have eventually resulted in my own tragic end), where I informed the doctors that I'd already had thirty or more puffs of my inhaler that day, which had my heart beating at a massively accelerated rate. They put me on a mask, but that meant only giving me more of the same medicine I had already overdosed on, but at least I had a prescription, even though I had no money to buy the medicine with. So ended up on the street, barley making it home by a combination of bus, taxi, and foot when I ran out of money for the taxi, and ended up on a couch at home.
The feeling of little to no energy, and even less will to get up and do anything about it scares me to this day. My inhaler had ceased to be effective in relieving my breathing for anything longer than five minutes, and by that point I had used an entire inhaler in one day, at least 40 times the limit inscribed on the side of the canister. When my mother got home after work, and saw me lying on the couch, she didn't seemed particularly worried, which is entirely reasonable, since she had no personal experience with asthma. She couldn't see how seriously wrong things were with me, and in my state, I didn't have the breath to tell her. I didn't have the energy to move, and was literally trapped in my body, unable to cry for help, or even help myself at that point.
From my mother's point of view, I am certain it appeared like I was having one of my frequent migraines. I'd been getting those since I was six or seven, frequently enough that seeing me in that state was nothing new. Luckily, however, I had my prescription in my hand, and my mother was perceptive enough to notice what it was, and left to get my medicine. When she finally returned, a bit more concerned at that point since she'd spoken with the pharmacist about the mountains of pills she had to give me, which went far beyond the normal puffer she would pick up, I was almost gone. With my breaths growing steadily shallower, and without the energy to scream, speak, or even whisper, I felt the world around me start to fade. Things became blurry and faded, and I began feeling that thread of thought, of who I am, where I was, and what was happening, slip away. And then, the next thing I remember was hands pulling me upward, putting a handful of pills in my mouth (12 of one kind, 4 of another) and pouring water in my mouth to wash them down.
The doctors called it "shock therapy." The basically shocked the lungs with steroids, to to stop my lung's asthmatic reaction, forcing the airway open. The pills continued for a few weeks, in addition to a new inhaler I had to take along with my old one, but I could breathe again. Eventually I was weaned off the pills, and well enough to be as active I was used to being. I was never sure if my mother realized just how close she had been to losing her son, as we never talked about that night. But the memory of coming so close to dying was permanently ingrained in me, to the point that, on at least three occasions later in life, when the very same vicious cycle kicked into gear, I knew enough about what to do, and had made sure I always had a reserve of cash just in case, that I was able to get the appropriate help in time.
Which brings me back to where I was last night, as I listened to my daughter's rattled breathing, overwhelmed by worries accrued through a lifetime of personal experience. I had no choice but to shelve my worry for the nonce, as by that point we were late for a Christening party my wife's old schoolmate was hosting. It was a big, fancy affair at a hotel, and we had to get going.
By the time the party was over, I felt I had less to worry about. Though my daughter still cough that rattling cough, she had spent almost the entire time at the party out there on the dance floor. She danced for two hours straight, then ran around playing hide and seek with a couple other girls almost up until it was time to leave. The few times my wife or I had ventured onto the dance floor to dance along side her, that imperator regina had surfaced, and Mackenzie quickly ordered us off the dance floor. At two and a half, she was already acting like a fifteen year old, mortified at the thought that mom and dad would get down and boogie in sight of her.
The crowd seemed happy to have her up there and dancing, and the Emcee even started mimicking her dance moves. My little one really got that party started as, one by one, a laughing adult came on to the dance floor, looking down at this little girls bopping away, and began dancing along side her. The hostess was o taken with the whole thing, that she brought out a big present and gave it to Mackenzie on the dance floor. Mackenzie only stopped dancing long enough to take the present, run over to me, and say "Dada, hold this," before returning to her place in the center of the gyrating mob.
One thing about asthma is that it robs you of energy. You cannot draw enough oxygen into your lungs because your lungs secrete a certain fluid that actually forces the lungs to close. So the wet, rattling breath of an asthmatic means that the lung walls are collapsing. It is a serious, and dangerous sign. But for a non-asthmatic, the rattling sound of fluid in the lungs is not a sign of superb health, but it also is not attended by the same loss of energy, and downward spiral into further and further breathlessness.
Watching my daughter there, using up more energy than a CANDU reactor can put out, I didn't feel so worried any more, at least about the possibility of asthma. I'm sure if she keeps this love of the dance floor going forward, I'll have entirely more prosaic concerns, especially when she hit her teens and starts chatting about the last cool club she'd heard about. But that's a problem for a different time, and a different me. For now, I can only be thankful, that a little music, and a little dancing has allowed me cease worrying so much, to smile, and to gain a precious memory that I can bore friends and family with for the rest of my days.