Asthma + Elephants + A Holy Fight

So this is what yesterday looked like.

I woke up in pain. Bad pain. My chest was so tight and sore I felt like an elephant was sitting on me and I might split wide open, my heart popping straight out of my body. This is normal. Each day I dread the first few breaths I take because I know how bad my chest will hurt. This is normal too. I’ve had this sensation for as long as I can remember and just assumed it was normal. That all people dreaded waking up because the pain of getting the first few puffs of air in their chest caused their eyes to well up with tears too. Then I found out in June that I had asthma.

I was in a meeting when the elephant came to sit on top of me again, squeezing my chest so hard that I immediately broke out in sweat and chills from the pain. By this point I had watched enough Oprah and Ellen to know that thirty-year-olds have heart attacks and chest pain shouldn't be ignored. So I called my doctor and they told me they were not allowed to see me with chest pain, that I needed to go straight to the hospital. So I went to a walk-in clinic instead.

The doctor was incredible. He began the way most doctors do with working mom’s. “Tell me about what kind of stress you are under.” And I get it. I know this is a good, necessary question. But if I were a man, I would have been hooked up to an EKG machine right away. As a female, first, they want to know if you are stressed. I told him I have an amazing therapist, psychiatrist, yoga-class, hiking schedule and prayer life. The magic Zoloft pill has long eradicated the debilitating anxiety I experienced in my 20’s. This was not stress. This was an elephant. Which is the universal code for I think I am having a heart attack.

The EKG was normal. The chest x-ray was normal. The blood work was normal. It was all normal, normal, normal. Except that I couldn’t friggin' breathe. And that’s when my little minute-clinic-doctor said that based on the X-ray’s, I have a very small frame and passageways around my lungs and he couldn’t believe I was a singer. He asked about asthma, pulled out a tubular device and asked me to breathe as hard as I could into it. I tried. He looked at the numbers puzzled. He told me to try again, this time coaching me like I was a track star, “Harder, go, go, go, go, harder!” I finished in a coughing frenzy and thought I might pass out. He said my lung capacity appeared to be about 50-60% lower than what it should be and I was essentially only getting 40% of the air I needed. He sent me to an asthma doctor.

Since that day seven months ago I have been working with doctors to try and figure out how I can breathe better. And the whole process has been maddening. The inhalers make me shaky. Like, hands shaking so bad I can’t pound out words on the computer or hold my mascara tube without dropping it shaky. So they move me from taking normal inhalers to taking rescue inhalers as my normal inhaler. And this does not make me shaky. But it jumpstarts my chest so drastically that the coughing spells take over and Ryan notes I sound like a dying bear. I weigh the options. Do I want to breathe? Shake? Or cough to death? Finding the right medicine has been a nightmare.

And then there are the well meaning people who want me to know that they were cured of every illness in the world when they went gluten-free! sugar-free! meat-free! fill-in-the-blank free! Then others who want to know whether I have used Thieves because Thieves cures everything. And I have used Thieves and I am not cured. Then others who want me to know my body is strong in the Lord! And my body was built to overcome illness without medicine! Then others who swear by Zyflamend or swear by this acupuncturist or this herb whittled down from a tree-of-life at the top of the Himalayas. You get the point. Everyone’s best intentions are to see you made well, without all the pain and struggle in between. And each one of them has a different opinion than the team of doctors I have carefully, thoughtfully chosen for myself. They are sure that their mantras, cures, doctors and homeopathic remedies will fix me better or faster or without all this modern-day medicine hoopla.

And I am tired of the cacophony.
I just want to breathe.

Just a few days without this dang elephant threatening to split my ribs wide open. Just a morning where I don’t have to talk myself into taking my first deep breath and wincing through tears from the pain that follows.

Yesterday the pain hurt worse than it has in years. For three days I’ve been tied up with heat packs and ice packs. I’ve taken Zyflamend, Thieves, epsom salt baths and tried every inhaler the doctors have given me. You name it, I’ve tried it.

So I went to Walgreens to get the new prescription that the doctors swore would work wonders. I was hopeful. Desperate. It rang up for $500. Insurance covered $13.  And I immediately started crying. Poor Walgreens girl. I told her I could not buy it and left the store snotting and tearing over everything in my path. Once home, I wrote my doctor on the online portal to tell her that the miracle meds were too expensive and was there anything else I could try? But then the nurse wrote back and said my doctor was now working at a different location and the doctor currently in the office suggested, if I wasn’t allergic to it, Aleve.

That’s when I really lost it.

Tears and snot and sobs because, Aleve? Seriously?! I’ve got a one-ton animal sitting on my chest and you think Aleve is going to cut it? Are you sure you are an asthma doctor? And of course I’ve taken Aleve. I’ve drained the bottle.

Three emails later, I finally got my real doctor back. She forgot to send in one of the meds, a simple Medrol dose pack to give immediate relief and a new inhaler to try. Ryan went to Walgreens this time. He got the new meds. He also brought home the Fekkai hair products that I never let myself buy but always want. A new bottle of hairspray. Some chocolate. And a Bota Box. Because Medrol and Bota Box go together in his mind. And literally two hours later, I felt like a new person. A person who could breathe without being in horrible pain.

This morning there was no wincing when I took my first breath. No tears before I got out of bed. No dread in the bottom of my stomach. Just a normal morning. The kind of normal I haven’t experienced in way too long. Today has been good.

I share this experience because there are some of you who know what it’s like to live with an illness or sickness that threatens to suck the life out of you, rob you of your joy and make you want to scream at the next person who suggests using Thieves or Aleve. You are not alone. And you are fighting a holy fight. To seek wholeness for the body which God himself created and called good is one of the most honorable battles we can face on this side of heaven. So keep writing the doctors back on their invisible, online portals. Keep insisting that they try a new medicine. Or put you in contact with your original doctor, or send you on to the next person who might be able to help you crack open the mystery of the elephant that you KNOW is not coming from stress.

To seek wholeness for the body which God himself created and called good is one of the most honorable battles we can face this side of heaven.

You, wounded and broken, are not alone. Though your body may fail you, your spirit can soar. So keep fighting. Keep finding the tiny slivers of light and hope. As Margaret Feinberg says, keep fighting back with joy. Cry to the poor Walgreens lady. Eat a bunch of chocolate. Tell your significant other that it is not nice to tell people they sound like dying bears. Then cry a few more tears. Then rally the troops. Pour the medicines out in the bowl and start over. Go through them again. Pray that God will meet you right there in your lostness, pain and frustration. Pray that you might have the patience, grace, stamina, fight, endurance and humor to get through one more step. And then the next. And then the next. Celebrate the mornings with no elephants. Or whatever you have come to call your enemy. Give yourself grace on the mornings that it is there, rearing its head in rare form telling you it controls your life. It does not.

The body is not the sum total of a life. The soul can sing a different tune.

So sing, friend. Sing a different tune when you can. A tune more beautiful than the mysterious thing deep in your bones, blood and body threatening to steal your story. Sing a different tune.

And keep fighting.