February 12, 2012

Trying to Breathe

Trying to Breathe

I cough and sneeze and gasp and choke,
I’m sure that my left leg is broke-

– Shel Silverstein, Sick

I started a great post today about runner’s high (a thing I find both fascinating and elusive), but then I woke up wheezing.

I have asthma. I was officially diagnosed with this condition in my early 20s, but in hindsight that is only because it was not severe enough when I was a kid and it just got missed.

Yesterday it was not to be missed. I went out for what I thought would be a modest 2.8 mile run at sunset (and it was a beautiful night) only to find that by 3/4 of a mile my lungs were struggling to get enough air to keep my body going. I started to wheeze and cough, the muscles around my ribs started to contract and cramp, and pretty quickly I was barely walking.

When I stopped moving, I stood still and tried to recapture some semblance of normal breathing. I can sometimes do this by consciously slowing and deepening my breath. I was already feeling light headed and so I sat for a minute.

When I regained a bit of composure, I looked up and this is what I saw:

So even though part of me was pretty disappointed in my body at that moment, I could at least appreciate that the world is still a beautiful place and I can walk home looking at this and run later.

In this case, since I don’t run at night, my compromise for later was going to be a nice long run when I woke up this morning.

Then I woke up wheezing.

If you exercise at all, you know that you breathe faster when you work harder. We all do because we need to be able to more rapidly bring in oxygen and get rid of CO2. When you have an asthma attack, the passages that air flow in and out of swell and get narrow – so even at rest you are working much harder to breathe. Aside from the classic “wheeze” that is created by air flowing though tighter spaces, you also have whole bunch of other things happen that are unpleasant such as:

  • All the muscles that help you breathe constrict and get tighter – think of the worst leg cramp you have had and then move it to your rib cage and diaphragm.
  • You get increased production of mucous (always helpful for breathing, right?)
  • Your breath and heart rates both go up – and this can be very fatiguing, like you are running very hard when you aren’t moving at all
  • Some people – and this can happen to me – get anxious. I get an occasional feeling that is kind of like the walls are closing in or – in a bad asthma attack – like I am drowning or that I might die.

I am typing this while breathing albuterol (a drug that opens the airways) through a machine called a nebulizer. What I thought I would be doing right now was running down the beach as the sun was rising. Now it is getting light out my window and I am just about able to take a full breath and I am wondering how dumb it would be to push my biological luck and go anyway.

My competing urge is to go back to bed.

One of these things is going to win, but I don’t know which one yet…

I promise to let you know how it turns out.

Hope you are breathing easy on this Sunday.


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