IT MUST HAVE BEEN 1993, which would have been the start of my junior year in college.
As someone who has been an asthmatic as long as I can remember, the end of summer/beginning of fall is often my toughest time. My allergies often kick in, which sometimes triggers my asthma.
This time though, when my asthma started to kick in, it just felt different. My rescue inhaler didn’t seem to be working at all, and I was taking it way more than I should have anyways just to find some relief. During an asthma attack, you can’t catch your breath. It’s like someone held your head under water for a minute or two and then pulled it up. Your lungs are trying to suck in air as quickly as possible trying to get that much–needed oxygen as quickly as possible, but, like the “Hamilton” song, they never seem satisfied.
My fraternity house was all set for fall rush, the time when freshmen and a few sophomores here and there, get to check out the fraternities. My house was struggling with numbers, so it was an important rush for us.
As the day went on and I played tour guide, my asthma kept getting worse. Even climbing the stairs was difficult. I wanted to go to student health, but I was asked if I could stick it out until rush was over.
I reluctantly agreed. It seemed really important to press on—or at least it did then. By the time I got to student health sometime in the afternoon, my breathing was severely labored. They gave me a nebulizer treatment, which is a breathing therapy, and still the asthma wouldn’t subside. Eventually they decided I needed to go to the emergency room, so they called an ambulance.
I remember feeling really embarrassed. The paramedics carried me on a gurney down a short flight of stairs, even though I could have walked, and then they put me in an ambulance and drove me to the local hospital. I’d later fi nd out I had to pay the bill for that ambulance ride, which set me back a few hundred dollars. Big bucks to a college student.
At the emergency room, I believe I had yet another nebulizer treatment, but my oxygen level was still low. So after a while, they decided to admit me. I had a restless night, but, with treatments, I was feeling better in the morning and able to leave around lunchtime. It was the first and only time I ever spent a night in the hospital for asthma.
So why am I telling you all this? With the COVID-19 outbreak, it’s important to take things seriously, especially for people over 65 years old, people living in a nursing home or long-term care facility, people with heart conditions or who are immunocompromised, and, yes, people with chronic lung diseases like asthma.
I’ve been social distancing for almost three weeks at this writing. Is it fun? No. Is it necessary? Yes. The last thing I want to do is catch COVID-19 and pass it on to anyone, and as an asthmatic, I certainly don’t want to test the waters of what it would feel like to have COVID-19 either. After all, a ventilator shortage could be playing out by the time you read this.
We all have a role to play in the Ballad of COVID-19. Being the hero has nothing to do with slaying a dragon or hiding in a wooden horse, but it has everything to do with a narrative where people exhale virtue through social distancing and patience. And every breath we take away from people will help breathe new life into the tale we know as humanity.
James Tehrani is Spark’s editor-in-chief. He is an award-winning writer based in the Chicago area.