Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Fourth-Grade Cure for Asthma


Way back in July I began to tell stories about my grade-school years. In my last posting on rationing, I covered third grade. Here’s a story from fourth grade. It’s been posted before, but it now fits in the arc of this on-line memoir.
         During the first five years of my life, Mom and Dad rushed me to Emergency six times. I almost died four of those times—or so mom told me. She kept me alive. She put her finger down my throat when it clogged. Thumped my back. Rocked me. Read to me. Gave me mantras to recite in the midst of an attack.


            “Distract yourself,” she told me. “If you think about breathing you won’t be able to. Just think about something else. Ice cream cones. Raggedy Ann. Look at picture books.”
             Distracting myself helped. In fact, those library books helped me learn to read when I was four. Ever after, The Little Engine That Could, Ferdinand, and The Story about Ping have been dear to me. One may explain why I push myself to accomplish things. The other two, why I so love animals.


Eliza Doolittle with whom I lived for twenty years.

            As I grew older, the asthma didn’t lessen in intensity. In kindergarten and first, second, and third grades, I missed three out of nine months of school. I’d miss a day or two or even a whole week at a time. Every time I returned to school, I was behind. The other kids had moved on from where I’d been. They knew more spelling and arithmetic. They reeled off answers to the Baltimore Catechism questions.
            I was always trying to catch up and always exhausted from trying to breathe. So exhausted that I couldn’t think of answers when the teachers called upon me. My classmates, of course, thought I was dumb. On the playground they shouted, “Dummy. Dummy. Pain in tummy.” I hid behind the trashcans.             
         Mom wanted to change all that for me. So the summer before the fourth grade, she and Sister Corita who’d taught me in the third grade—and would have me for the fourth—encouraged me to try for perfect attendance that year. Each of us committed to doing something.
            Sister Corita would watch me carefully in class. If I looked overly tired, she’d send me to the cloakroom to nap.
            Mom would watch me carefully at home. She’d send me to bed immediately if I came home from school drooping. She’d make sure I got lots of extra sleep on the weekends.
            I’d rest whenever it was suggested to me. I’d try to breathe slowly when an attack started and not panic. I’d “go the extra mile,” as Mom said.
            She promised that if I pulled this off, I’d get a charm bracelet like the one the scout leader had. Incentive enough for going that extra mile. In June of 1946, at the completion of fourth grade, I actually got two rewards: a certificate for perfect attendance and a bracelet, which jangled seven small, silver objects whenever I moved. Wow! 


         The frosting on the cake came in fifth grade. The class voted on who were the five smartest students. Out of twenty-eight, I was number five.
            I beamed all the way home. I wasn’t a dummy. I was number five. Five! Imagine.

 Photographs of mother and children and the charm bracelet are from Wikipedia.

39 comments:

  1. What a great memory--and lesson--turning something very difficult into a major success!

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    1. Dear Sister Ann Marie, it was a major success and asthma didn't return until 2003. So most of my life I've been asthma-free. Peace.

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  2. I cannot believe what you have been through in your life. And I cannot imagine anything more scary than not being able to breathe. Now or as a child. I am so glad you were able to flourish with the help of your mom and an understanding teacher. Five is a great number, indeed. I'm still going to write about how Dulcy's Habit Number 5 helped us survive our sad loss earlier this year, Samson and I.

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    1. Dear Inger, I'm pleased to learn that you are going to blog about Dulcy's 5th Habit that she meows about in her companion book "A Cat's Legacy." I'm so touched that her book/habit helped you and Samson survive the loss of Angel this year.

      As to the asthma, with the three of us working together, it didn't have a chance!!! Peace.

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  3. Your mother and teacher were so wonderful to encourage you in this way. I'm sure that your success at the time helped you enormously in facing the demands and challenges the future would hold for you.

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    1. Dear Broad, I think you're right, that I learned a lot about challenges and demands from living with asthma those first ten years. As Juliana of Norwich said, "And all shall be well, and all shall be well. And all manner of things shall be exceedingly well." And so my life has been. Peace.

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  4. such a great story! I already knew you weren't dummy! you are super smart :) both educationaly and in spirit :)

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    1. Dear Baiba, thanks for the compliments! I'm sitting here grinning. Peace.

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  5. Oh, Dee, this made my heart swell with happiness at how you, your mom, and Sister Corita turned this around. What major lessons you had to learn so young, just to preserve your life.

    It just goes to show that with encouragement, support, and effort, things that look immovable can indeed be turned around.

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    1. Dear Shelly, your words are so true. That we can turn things around when we work together as One--as a community of support and concern, compassion and love. Peace.

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  6. I believe I have said this several times to you, Dee, but I am so impressed with your mother's wisdom! Your asthma, although a terrible thing to struggle with from your end, must have been terrifying to your mother. How helpless she must have felt! And yet to calm you by teaching you how to distract yourself, how to focus on other things and to be sensitive to the taunting you were receiving at school and come up with creative ways to make the situation better, simply amazes me. She was wise long before they wrote books on parenting or gave a parent any tools to help with ill children. You learned very early how to go deep within yourself, and in reading this portion of your story I know even better some of how you developed into being the compassionate and wise person that you are! I hope that memoir is coming along well...it needs to be published! oxo

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    1. Dear Debra, my mom was very wise and she loved my brother and me in a deep, abiding way that placed our needs front and foremost. I know Mom felt hopeless before those asthma attacks. She cared for me so gently during them. Rubbing my chest with salve and boiling water that she brought and put on a table so that I could lean over it and inhale in the hope that my bronchial passages would open.
      My mom had a hard life with my father who was an alcoholic and spent much of his earnings on drink. But she was a survivor and she loved him just as she loved my brother and me. I think of her as a woman who gave her life for all of us. And I wonder sometimes what her life would have been if she'd been born fifty years later. She was so wise and so intelligent and so creative. She was and remains one of the gentlest blessings in my life. Peace.

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  7. Oh, I felt for you as I read that, Dee, because I know from bitter experience what it was like to be a child with asthma before modern inhalers were invented. I was 14 before I managed one whole term (we have 3 terms in a school year in Britain) of perfect attendance, so your Mom and Sr Corita worked a small miracle for you. I can imagine how you treasured that charm bracelet.

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    1. Dear Perpetua, I so feel for you also to think that you were 14 before you managed to attend school for a whole term of perfect attendance. Mom and Sister Corita did work a small miracle. In my life at the time, it was an enormous one for it changed so much of my school life and my friendship with my classmates.

      I did treasure that charm bracelet and wore it up until the time I was 22 and entered the convent. When I came back home 8 1/2 years later, the bracelet wasn't there. I don't remember what had happened to it. But I do remember it fondly. Peace.

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    1. Dear Fishducky, I was one loved kid and one downright lucky kid! Peace.

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  9. What a good mother and fine teacher you had. I used to have asthma. That feeling of trying to draw in a breath and not being able to is terrifying. You were never a dummy, but the children who were unkind to you may not have been terribly bright. I hope they outgrew their unkindness the way you conquered asthma.

    Love,
    Janie

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    1. Dear Janie, not being able to breathe is terrifying. Asthma didn't rerturn until many years later--maybe in 2003. Now I take Singular and use an inhaler when needed. But that's truly seldom.

      You know I think kids can be cruel without knowing what they are doing. They don't have the ability when young to empathize and imagine what someone else's life is like. So I don't fault those children. They were simply being who children are. Peace.

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  10. How wonderful that must have felt to be number five! Cade, too, was sick a lot during school and had to take many months off through the years.

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    1. Dear Elisa, I can remember just bubbling over with joy when the class picked the top five smartest and I was #5. But the truth is that as a retired teacher, I cannot imagine a teacher let that happen in the classroom. The remaining children, beyond the five, would feel so left out and so grieved and hurt. It wasn't a good technique.

      I sorry to learn that Cade also was sick a lot in school. I wonder what his memories of that are. Peace.

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  11. Oh Dee, another post which moved me to tears. I love your mother and Sister Corita for the support they gave you and am so happy you had not one, but two tangible proofs that you are not and were never 'dumb'. Another beautiful, heart-rending post. Thank you.

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    1. Dear EC, thank you for your kind words. The truth is that I felt so "dumb" for so many years longer. It wasn't until I was in my fifties that I finally realized that I had a fairly good mind. Those old tapes often keep running in our heads! Peace.

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  12. This story touches me so, Dee; for your strength and determination at such a young age, for your mom and her care and wisdom, and for the good sister who taught you more than was in your school books. Asthma is frightening and debilitating at any age, but, for a child so young and so long before the inhalers of today, I can only imagine. Thank you for sharing this story again.

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    1. Dear Penny, the modern inhaler is a marvel for it opens those bronchial passages and allow a person to not only breathe in, but also breathe out. Both being essential.

      So many children today have asthma. I'm not sure why--whether it's smog or air quality or what. But I can see them in stores and recognize the look in the eyes and the mouth held open. That's the thing, an asthmatic has to breathe through his or her mouth. Peace.

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  13. Giving a child incentive to move beyond their fears and pushing through the wall to reach their potential is what is called mother's love.

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    1. Dear Arleen, yes. My mom's love saw me through so many difficulties throughout my life. That is, until I reached 32. She died in May 1968 and I miss her still. Peace.

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  14. What a wise teacher and mother you had. Encouragement goes a long way and it certainly left its mark on you, as you still remember it. Fear has a lot to do with asthma and respiratory problems. Allergies can contribute also. I believe you are a compassionate soul and like many of us, thrive on love.. Much love sent your way today. Hugs to you.

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    1. Dear Crystal, thank you for sending love and hugs my way. Today is overcast and the temperature is steadily going down into the low thirties. Such weather has the power to make me feel a little melancholy. But as I write these responses to comments from all of you, I'm feeling the warm regards sent my way and so the chill outside isn't invading the inside! Peace.

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  15. I have asthma, but not that bad. And I like how much you were loved and taken care of. sandie

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    1. Dear Sandie, my asthma is minimal now. I didn't have any for nearly 60 years and then it came back. But I have an inhaler now and take Singular so I'm hardly aware of it. I hope that you, too, have gotten help with asthma.

      I truly was "loved and taken care of." Peace.

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  16. dear dee. this was a very sweet story about persistance. i credit your mother but also you for sticking with it. great job

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    1. Dear Bev, that's the word: persistence. I didn't think of it as I was writing the posting last year (it's a repost) but that is exactly what Mom and Sister Corita and I had. We persisted in believing in change. Peace.

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  17. I hear about so many kids having asthma but they must grow out of it as they get older. Didn't you love charm bracelets back them? I still like them. I was having lunch with a friend last week and the gal at a table next to us was wearing one. I could barely carry on a conversation I was so mesmerized by the bracelet. She was a hand talker. :)

    I'm happy you got your awards.
    Love and peace...

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  18. Dear Manzanita, I'm always delighted when you have the time to stop by. Thank you. Like you, I'm mesmerized by charm bracelets. I don't see them much anymore but what a joy it was when Mom gave me mine at the end of fourth grade. I hope all is well and that your health is good and that you are living fully in this Advent season. Peace.

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  19. Asthma is a big concern these days because it is on the rise in children and they do not know why.

    My sister missed so mush school due to her asthma, lung decease and hospital stays that she finally left high school.

    Have a blessed Sunday, Dee.

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  20. Dear Pam, I so hope that your sister has outgrown her asthma. Having it so bad that she had to drop out of school is a tragedy. I hope that hasn't adversely affected her life.

    And you have a blessed Sunday also, Pam. Peace.

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  21. In a strange way it was for oxygen that I taught Dagan to remain calm, too. With his severe heart defects he got less oxygen to begin with and if he panicked or was stressed his heart beat faster and then it pumped even shallower and he got even less oxygen. And every time he ran a temp (until he was 12 and got a pacemaker) his heart went into arrhythmia and skipped beats like crazy--so that he turned greyish blue and could go semi-conscious from lack of oxygen. So I taught him from the time he was a baby to stay calm when he was sick or in any kind of a crisis. He's really, really good at it to this day. :)

    You certainly did have people who loved you and taught you wonderful survival skills. Your mom was really something, Dee. And you grew up to be a wonderful woman. :) :)

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    1. Dear Rita, thank you for sharing this story about Dagan. You were so wise--as was my mother--to think of a way to help him. I'm so sorry to learn that he had severe heart defects. I'm wondering how that shows itself in the present time. But for him to stay calm in the midst of crisis is such an achievement. A truly admirable one.
      And one that makes him the kind of person others would always want to be with during hard times.

      Yes, I've been blessed with many people who have loved me and helped me on this journey through life. Mom was "really something." She died in 1968 at the age of 58 and I miss her still. Peace.

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