In many ways, it was traveling with asthma that helped me get better control of it. Years ago, I was told I had exercise-induced asthma, and unless I was doing Zumba or lifting weights, I just did not expect it to show up. At the time, I didn’t exercise as much, because who wants to induce asthma anyway? I thought I had an exercise pass and tried to focus on my eating habits instead. I think a doctor may have told me to bring my rescue inhaler with me, but again … if I’m not exercising, then I don’t need it, right!?
Well, that was until I was late for a flight one day. I was rushing (due to who knows what) and the airport fairies thought they’d have a little extra fun with me by changing the gate! As I ran … well power walked … from one gate to the next, I felt my breathing become labored. “That’s weird,” I thought. The gates are far apart, but not that far apart. The faster I walked, the slower I felt. It seemed like my legs were made of Boeing 757 plane parts. Why can’t I move? My breathing became thick – like the first pour of syrup. Then, without a warning, my chest began to tighten! At this point, I was halfway to my gate and I was terrified. Would anyone save me if I collapsed right here near this coffee shop? I guess they have paramedics in the airport, but I sure didn’t see any.
Once I got to my gate, I was wheezing so much that I was leaning over. They were calling the final passengers to board, and I held my hand up in a gesture to beg for grace. The gate agent kindly offered me water. I couldn’t even speak. I didn’t want or need water. I wanted to request oxygen, but I didn’t want to miss my flight or hold the flight up for others. It’s amazing what we think about when our lives could be in danger. I was thinking about manners while gasping for air. I’ve only been truly scared a few times in my life, and this was one of them. Once I boarded the plane, my breathing slowed but it was still heavy. I reconsidered asking for oxygen, but once again, I didn’t want to be that passenger that holds up the plane with what I thought was a minor health issue. It took about 20 minutes for my breathing to return to normal. By that time, I was sweating profusely and exhausted.
If you’re thinking that I learned my lesson after that first incident, then you’re wrong. Again, I was thinking only traditional exercise would kick off my asthma – not anything that might get your heart rate over a certain level. Doctors must be clear with people like me. I often take things literally. The same exact scenario happened several times – run/walk fast to gate, get winded, struggle to breathe while attempting to board, think about oxygen and so on – before I decided to go back to my doctor.
My doctor ran a few tests and told me to run, not walk (not literally), to a pulmonologist, or lung doctor. Once there, she put me on a twice-daily inhaler and made me promise to carry my rescue inhaler with me everywhere. Whoa! What happened to, “If I stay away from kickboxing, then no one gets hurt, including my lungs”?! She explained that exercise-induced asthma symptoms can start from any form of exertion – yes even running to a plane.
The lessons? There are a few:
- Not being able to breathe is not OK. It’s not cute. It can be dangerous and life-threatening.
- If something is not right with your body, talk to your doctor. You should never be somewhere wishing for oxygen to drop out of the sky.
- In a duel between manners and your health, I now say go for your health. So what if others are inconvenienced? If you’re having a health crisis (and wheezing without a rescue inhaler is), ask for help!
- Bring your rescue inhaler with you – in your carry-on and add one to your checked bag. Don’t leave home without it!
Asthma does not have to stop your jet setting, road tripping, or business deal closing. Since those days of gasping at the gate, I’ve continued (now with my asthma under control) to see the big wide world.
Photo Credit: Klaus Vedfelt / DigitalVision via Getty Images
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