Saturday, April 28, 2012

A Child Living with Asthma

(Edited repost from June 2011)
I was born with asthma. 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. 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.

            Another thing Mom told me was to “tough it out.” The fact is that I did this so well for so long that ultimately, as an adult, I had trouble acknowledging pain or extricating myself from difficult situations. I kept toughing it out. Maintaining a stiff upper lip. Much of my adult life has been given over to enduring and so I've caused myself unnecessary pain and stress.
            But back then, when I was a child, Mom’s advice kept me alive. As a child of three, I knew that I had to will myself to live.
            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.
            Teachers would call on me, with or without raised hand. I had no ready answers. So the kids thought I was dumb. On the playground they shouted, “Dummy. Dummy. Pain in tummy.” I hid behind the trashcans. 
            I was always trying to catch up and always exhausted from trying to breathe. So exhausted that I couldn’t think of answers.
            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 from Wikipedia


  1. What a wonderful story of success. That feeling of achievement must have carried you far in other endeavors~

  2. You're my number one, too.


  3. How amazing! All that asthma, and the will to endure and even overcome it by sheer will power. You are an amazing and determined person, Dee. There's no doubt about that. And I agree with Fishducky: you're number one in MY book, too! :-)

  4. No arguments here. You are an inspiration Dee. Thank you. And most certainly no dummy.

  5. Oh, how I feel for you in this post, Dee. As a lifelong asthmatic, who didn't manage even one school trimester of perfect attendance until she was 14, I really admire your achievement and your mother and teacher's support.

  6. My mother had severe asthma so I know a little of the struggles you had to endure. I admire your pluck and courage but your Mom and Sister Corita deserve kudos also.
    Add me to the group placing you as number one.
    I know, where were we in the third grade?

  7. Good for you! It takes a lot to overcome things in life and sounds like you have done a great job! Oh, how I remember the cloakroom! Only I probably had to go sit there when I was bad! :)

  8. Great post, Dee! You are a survivor, that's for sure. And you have done it well. ;)

  9. I see that a teacher became your role changer along with your mom. And being #5 sounds so cool. The year you did this I was just born. You are wiser and older. And I respect all you've done but not because of age. Courage and determination!!!

  10. One of my dear friends has life-long asthma and I've seen her in a life-threatening asthma event. It's a frightening disease! You are quite an overcomer! Debra

  11. What an inspiring story of survival, persistence and the love of your mother and your first/fourth grade teacher! And what an amazing turnaround for you! You've done so wonderfully in life that, as far as I'm concerned, you're Number One!

  12. Having an on going illness is not pleasant, You are an inspiration.
    Epilepsy lives with me....I refuse to live with it. That's the only way I can do the things I want to do.

    Good luck

  13. Ferdinand the bull, one of my favorite stories!!
    It had to be tough missing school as much as you did.
    Didn't slow you down forever though.

    Mimi Torchia Boothby

  14. Delightful account! I can certainly identify with those cliches: "tough it out," "keep a stiff upper lip" that you mentioned here. Not sure if that partially accounts for why I have such a high level of pain tolerance, but may be why I've practiced trying to "stay strong" for others,and not cry -- then can "let down" later, maybe when alone.