Quick note: I know I promised a recap of my gear testing, but upon further reflection it might make more sense to do a review of everything once I’ve put it through a variety of conditions on the road. So the gear talk will be back, but a bit later!
My eyes open before my alarm breaks the stillness. I stretch, feeling cozy in bed, and think about getting up to go for a ride or a run. I contemplate the weather and environment outside—if it’s too dry, my airways will constrict; if it’s too hot or too cold, they’ll constrict; if there are allergens that my body doesn’t like, they’ll constrict. I inhale, feeling that familiar feeling tightness in my chest, listening to the air rasp its way into my lungs. I exhale and listen to the whistle that is my breath’s constant companion, wondering if that’s how everyone's breath sounds. My friends have promised me that it’s not, that their breathing doesn’t come with noise on a regular basis, but there’s this unquenchable hope inside of me that somehow, my asthma isn’t real.
Which is some seriously delusional thinking, not to mention dangerous, but I’m not accustomed to letting things get in my way. Being asthmatic feels like my body betraying me, as though my lungs are purposefully trying to thwart my ability to enjoy sports and the outdoors. While I’m not easily thwarted and my asthma is mild, it can be frustrating nonetheless.
For those of you who are unfamiliar, asthma is a lung disease that causes one’s airways to become inflamed and narrowed. Certain things can act as a trigger to make it worse, resulting in an asthma attack wherein your passageways constrict significantly, making it somewhere between difficult and impossible to breathe. Triggers can be a wide range of things; for instance, mine include airborne allergens (pet dander, pollen, mold, pollution, etc.), smoke, and exercise. Get more information about asthma here.
In the early 1900s, steroids and other treatments were discovered to help manage asthma. While steroids have been cast as the poster child of everything that is wrong with professional sports (coughbaseballcough), steroids come in many varieties and formats. The effects of a class of steroids called corticosteroids can be life saving for those with medical conditions such as asthma, who use them to simulate hormones that prompt the lungs to heal themselves, reducing the severity of their condition.
When an asthma attack strikes, it can be quickly and easily treated with an inhaler containing albuterol, a bronchodilator (not a steroid), which helps the muscles in the airway relax and open up. Without access to treatment, asthma can be fatal when an attack occurs.
The last thing I want is risk being unprepared for the worst—a lesson I learned the hard way when I was young, hardheaded, and a walking example of what not to do.
In 2008 when I visited New York City for the first time, my trip coincided with Nike’s Human Race 10K, so I signed up for it. I had decided that my asthma was really just a figment of my imagination, despite having been diagnosed and experiencing breathing troubles previously. I showed up for the race without an inhaler or an understanding of my triggers (exercise is one of them). Around 8.5K, I ran (literally, ha!) into serious trouble. My airways went from somewhat constricted to fully seized.
I couldn’t draw air at all, and I didn’t have any to exhale. Runners passed me by while I waved frantically at them, unable to speak or call for help. I got weird looks, and one guy turned and ran backwards at me to stare, but kept on running. I thumped at my chest, waving and panicking. As my vision started to dim, a man finally took notice and asked if I was OK. I shook my head no, and thumped at my chest some more.
He shouted at some people to get help, and the med team materialized almost immediately. They gave me an inhaler, which released my airways and allowed me to breathe again. My brain pushed the trauma of the attack aside, and focused back on the race. For the remainder of the run, I was assisted by the med team and the man who'd called for help.
Not being able to draw a breath induces an indescribable level of terror. The feeling of panic, the helplessness, and the sheer stupidity of wandering around without the pocket-sized solution for an easily treatable disease remain with me today.
Which is why, for the trip across the country, I will be well equipped with albuterol inhalers. On top of carrying a few with me, Gavin, my riding buddy, will have one on him in case something happens and I’m unable to reach mine. Because exercise is a trigger for me, it’s important that I make sure I have control over my breathing at all times as we progress. I haven’t had spent much time at high elevation (above 5,000 ft) and don’t know how the thin air might affect my breathing. We’ll be keeping a close eye on it as we go and will be ready for it if it rears its ugly head.
But before I leave for this trip, I’m heading off on the AIDS/LifeCycle starting this Sunday, May 31st! I’m going to try to post daily updates from the road, and will be back with a post to on Saturday to tell you all about the ride, affectionately known by participants as The Love Bubble.