Wednesday, 7 January 2015

Just Breathe [What an Asthma Attack is Like].


You don't fully appreciate the simple act of breathing until you can no longer do it. You do it so often that you don't need to remember to do it, your body does it automatically. Until you have an asthma attack.

This post has been sitting in drafts for a while, it's one of those posts that I've been unsure about posting as it's fairly personal and I don't often do 'personal' posts. But alas, I feel it's needed. A few times now when I've had an attack while by myself on public transport, it's struck me how people don't notice what's going on and simply don't know what to do or how to help.

Only once has a woman stopped to help me; she sat me down, got my inhaler out of my bag for me, and made sure I was OK before leaving me to carry on with her journey. Quite often people ignore it, other times they ask if you're OK and repeatedly ask again when you don't respond....they don't realize that often you can no longer see them or hear them, and often you just can't speak (I mean come on, you're barely breathing!). Which leads me to the main point of this post....

What is it like to have a full-on asthma attack?


Usually my asthma isn't too bad, I've had it since I was 14, and I only have an attack a few times a year. But back in November I had a nasty cough that I'd had since September. The cough wouldn't go, it was coming from my chest, and gradually my asthma was getting worse by the week. It would just take a bit of stress at work, a particularly smoggy day in London, or running for the train to trigger it. On this particular day I had ran as fast as I could for the train; from the office to the tube, down the escalators, onto the tube, out of the tube, change tubes, next tube, run as fast as possible up the escalators, out into Waterloo, and onto the train. I made it with seconds to spare.

Usually I'm not fussed about standing on the train (heck, today I stood for an hour on the train), it's only a 15 minute journey to Surbiton where most people get off, and there are far more people who need a seat more than I do. I took a position standing by the pole near the seats - the only space left. I had my winter coat on and my thick woolly scarf wrapped tight around my neck, I could already feel my chest wheezing and getting tight, I was sighing and yawning a lot (I think it's my way of trying to get air in), and I felt hot. So hot. I was feeling irritable and felt the need for fresh, clean air. I stood there in the crowd of people desperately trying to draw breath in to my tightened chest, unable to reach my inhaler due to the train being overcrowded, and not particularly wanting to draw attention to myself anyway.

Gradually it got too much and I needed air. I could feel my lungs screaming in pain, aching from the desperation of trying to inhale air, and my head starting to go dizzy from lack of oxygen, my limbs feeling weak. I pushed past people to get to the window and flung it open. Two woman opposite me started tutting and then the tuts grew into 'Oh bloody heck, what did she do that for!? It's freezing!'. I gave them a death stare as I struggled to stand, my body limp and held up by the bodies around me pushing me against the pole.

A man shifted as the train rattled on, and I managed to unwrap my scarf from around my neck. My vision started blurring, and the sighing got worse. By this time I was full on gasping for air, desperately trying to get something, anything, into my aching lungs. Not one person even so much as looked up at me from their phone or newspaper. The women just carried on tutting at me about their feeling a little chilly. I gave them a big 'fuck you' inside my head.

Finally we reached Surbiton and most of the people got off. By this time I was literally clinging to the pole to keep myself upright, holding on tight as hard as I could, as my hands were so weak they kept falling off to rest by my side, as my knees started bending down towards the ground. I must have looked like a right mess. And not one person gave a shit. I'd love to see the CCTV from that journey.

I clambered past my fellow commuters, grabbing onto the tops of the seats to pull myself along the aisle towards an empty seat. There were a set of four seats, three were now vacant and one gentleman occupied the other. I collapsed onto the two next to each other that were free, and pulled my coat off. By this point I could feel my head drowning, I could no longer see clearly, my vision was blurred and everything was just different colours. I felt like I was about to pass out. My heart was thumping so loudly in my chest I feared everyone could hear it, and my arms wouldn't work. 

My weakened arms rummaged in my bag desperately trying to find that little blue tube of life, and finally I found it. The gentleman opposite me asked if I was OK, but I couldn't speak, I tried and nothing came out, it hurt too much. I took a puff but my hands weren't strong enough, it was too weak-a-puff. Another. This time I used every ounce of energy inside of me and hit the jackpot. Another. Another good one. OK. It's OK. I'm going to be OK.

I sat there slumped against the window, and gradually my heart rate got back to normal, the tightness in my chest subsided, I could feel air rushing through my lungs, and my vision came back. My arms took a little longer to get some strength back, and even then they remained weaker than usual for a few hours. Exhaustion set in as the gentleman opposite me asked again if I was alright, I nodded and thanked him, the relief of being able to breathe washing over me.

You honestly don't know how truly beautiful fresh air is, until it's flowing through your lungs after an asthma attack. 

I don't think many non-asthmatics know what an asthma attack is like, and I don't think they know the severity of it. A few years ago an old school friend of mine died from an asthma attack, she was just 17. Her attack caused her to go into cardiac arrest.  Three people every day die from an asthma attack in the UK, seriously, this should not be happening.

If you see someone in distress and struggling to breathe, please do the right thing, don't ignore them and hope that someone else will help. Ask them if they're OK, if they're clearly not OK and can't answer because they're struggling to breathe - call an ambulance on 999. Help them before it's too late.


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11 comments

  1. So glad you did decide to publish this. It's so difficult to explain what an asthma attack truly feels like to someone who breaths completely naturally. Like you, mine aren't always really severe but it's so scary when they are. I think panic also sets in which makes it doubly hard to breath. I am gobsmacked no one offered help, at what point do people feel the need to peel themselves away from their phones to check if you are alright?!

    sheepishlyshameful.blogspot.co.uk

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    1. Yes! It definitely has an impact, it's so hard to stop yourself from panicking when you feel yourself wheezing/chest tightening, it's like a vicious circle - you try to deep breathe to calm yourself down, but you can't breathe, so it makes you worry even more!

      C x

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  2. Luxy! As an asthma sufferer this post really touched a part of me (mostly my feeble lungs and mucus-y airways). I'm so sorry for the ignorance and unhelpfulness you endured during what is one of the most terrifying and frankly fatal things that could happen to someone with asthma. Hopefully more people will read this and be more aware of what an asthma attack looks like, the ramifications for the sufferers, and what they can do to help.

    If it makes you feel any safer, anytime you're with me we'll both have our inhalers on us and I know exactly what to do! x

    Jasiminne | Posh, Broke, & Bored

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  3. Best post I've seen this year... I'm sorry you to had to write this due to the horrible situation you were in. Please, remember that not all people are like this, some would actually help...I wish people could show more compassion in this world.

    One of my best friend has Asthma (Due to being born at 26 weeks) and has to suffer the indignity of people treating it as it wasn't serious to be considered an actual problem. I can only hope she never ever feel that way you did that day.

    If it helps, I'll make sure to educate the people I know, on being able to help anytime they see anyone in need, whether it's due to asthma or any other condition...

    Happy New Year!

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  4. I think I held my breath the whole way through reading this - how terrifying it must've actually been for you. My boyfriend has mild asthma and hasn't had an attack for years, but it suddenly came on last Saturday when we were in a Chinese restaurant, he literally changed colour in front of my eyes. Well done for sharing, well needed.

    Rosie xx

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    1. Oh gosh, it's so frightening isn't it!

      C x

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  5. Definitely worth publishing. I can't believe people never stop to help? How awful. My four-year-old had asthma attacks when he was younger and it's terrifying to see your child unable to breathe properly (I'm extremely grateful he seems to have grown out of it, and hope it never returns!). Great post. And I hope people stop to help next time (I would!).

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  6. Do you use Symbicort? I have terrible asthma (I've been hospitalised quite a few times) and this inhaled steroid has helped me loads. Make sure you get it from your docs if you don't have it. Also, ask for help next time you're anywhere in public having an attack, please. People are happier to help than you think, I bet most were either embarrassed to offer help in case it was unwanted, or may not have noticed. Hope you're better soon, and remember, you can manage it pretty well these days using drugs. Symbicort + blue inhaler and you should be good most of the time. Take care. J x

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  7. I would just like to say i am a chronic asthma sufferer and you have described having an attack accurately. I hate the pain and soreness i feel in my lungs. Its so uncomfortable and frightening at the same time:( It's also an invisible illness and not very well understood or recognised as asthma until one is practically on their knees almost dying. I was put on Symbicort and it didnt suit me it made my lungs even more sore and painful as I later found out - there was a component in the drug that was deemed an allergy trigger for me! It had been making my asthma worse all along! My doctors were ignorant of this trigger for years before it was realised. I was so upset taking something i believed should have been helping me. I am now on Seretide 250mcg and ventolin. This suits me. So it is wise to find a drug that suits you and if you feel no better after a reasonable period, it may well be that you're allergic to it. Different asthma treatments suit different people.

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