Wheezy Come, Wheezy Go


I’ve never been one to run to the doctor’s at the first sign of a sneeze. In fact, I could manage for years without going near the place. But now a reluctant trip to the surgery has given me a new lease of life. After years of assuming that the wheezing and coughing that I’ve intermittently experienced was part of the allergies from which I’ve suffered since I was a baby, I was beginning to suspect there was something else going on.
Occasionally, you see, the coughing would result in puffing, and louder wheezing, and a breathing pattern that would run away with itself. If I’d been honest with myself, I’d have realised that these “dos” were triggered, not just by exposure to pollen, but by a range of other things like traffic fumes, wet paint and cigarette smoke.
But a long-standing, if irrational, fear of the doctor’s had helped convince me that, even if I did have the condition I suspected – asthma – then I could look after it myself. Besides, I was doing the NHS a favour by not placing a further burden on its already creaking system. In its 60 years, the guardian of our healthcare has remained largely the pride of the nation, but in many ways it’s been a victim of its own success: more people cured means more people around to need other treatment. In truth, of course, I was being far from altruistic. I’ve inherited my paternal grandmother’s anxiety about doctors. She would probably have removed her own appendix if she’d had to.
Two months ago, matters were taken out of my hands when I had what turned out to be a proper asthma attack in front of assembled loved ones. With witnesses, I knew I could avoid the doctor no longer. Once my appointment was made, I managed to fill in the intervening three hours winding myself up into a panic. What if I was wrong? What if my extensive trawl of the internet had failed to reveal some terrible disease? I could have Blackwater Fever, Ross River virus, or some other dreadful illness.
Of course, I am a typical victim of the information age. Inundated with medical information from television dramas and documentaries, the internet and newspapers, I daren’t even look at health articles in women’s magazines. Because, less than 24 hours after reading the symptom checklists, I’ll have developed four or five of them. This time, despite my legs wanting to walk in another direction, I made it to the surgery.
And there’s really nothing like sitting in front of a doctor to make you face the truth: which was that I struggled so much, and so often, that I automatically avoided spending much time outdoors, taking long walks, or doing anything very active when the pollen count was high or the wind blustery. Without realising it, I was missing out on many of the things I’d previously loved.
After a detailed consultation, measuring my peak flow each day, trials of anti-asthma drugs, and a couple more visits to the doctor, my amateur diagnosis was confirmed: I officially have asthma.
Initially, I felt much better just knowing what was wrong. I did research and became an asthma bore to everyone who made the mistake of asking how I was. Then I had a wobble. I started to worry that I had become one of those characters in Victorian children’s fiction: the invalid weakling cousin forced to spend her days indoors. Of course, this picture is entirely outdated. Modern treatments, ironically many pioneered in my hometown
, mean that most of this country’s eight million sufferers can live almost normal lives. For me, it’s transformed the way I feel, live and act.
Rather than being the one hiding indoors, I’m now the one suggesting meals in the garden, walks to the supermarket, even trips to flower shows. I curse myself for not going to the doctor’s much sooner. Because yes, having asthma is scary. Yes, it can be debilitating. But in all likelihood it can be easily controlled – you just have to respect it and then you can go on living.