Just Breathe

Just breathe…a mantra easier said than done when each breath flows in and out smoothly, instead of in ragged, wheezing gasps.

I’m no stranger to asthma. I dealt with it throughout most of my childhood. The details are blurry on when I experienced my first asthma attack, but all I know is that it left me rasping and feeling (on top of sounding) like the cute little penguin from the Toy Story series, Wheezy.

The only thing that would keep my asthma symptoms at bay was nebulizer treatments. The nebulizer is one of those loud machines that generates vapors – albuterol medicine – that must be breathed in through a mouthpiece. I hated these treatments because they left me feeling shaky for a long time afterward and often caused high blood sugar, but it was much easier and more comfortable to breathe after them…so they were worth it.

Throughout my teenage and most of my young adult years, though, asthma slowly became a distant memory. I experienced it less frequently until it stopped altogether, and suddenly diabetes was the only thing I had to worry about. And I was glad for it.

But then…let’s fast-forward to the week leading up to Christmas. I was busy. I mean, wicked busy. I was running all over the place, jetting from one party to another, interacting with all sorts of people who were bringing germs from all over to each of these merry gatherings. I was getting run down and sleeping less due to the holiday celebrations, so really, it shouldn’t have surprised me when I felt the first tinge of a sort throat in church on Christmas Eve. But when that sore throat was soon followed by a tight chest and a whistling sound whenever I exhaled, I was taken aback – not to mention straight-up annoyed.

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The rescue inhaler that’s been my best buddy the last couple of weeks.

I treated the initial waves of wheeziness with my rescue inhaler. But when that started to be less effective over shorter and shorter lengths of time, I knew I needed to get in touch with my primary care doctor. So I did, and I met with a nurse practitioner who diagnosed me with something new: reactive airway disease. I left the office feeling shell-shocked over a new diagnosis that would mean that I would have to use a different kind of inhaler twice daily for the next two weeks.

I was afraid to start it for many reasons, but the two biggest ones were 1) I was nervous it would make my blood sugar go up and 2) it can cause thrush (also known as an oral yeast infection, which sounds positively nightmarish) if I forget to rinse my mouth out with water after each dose.

Overall, though, it doesn’t sound like too big of a deal, right? If it helps my breathing, it shouldn’t be an issue to add this inhaler into my morning and evening routines.

Silly old me, however, did turn this into a big deal. I wasted far too much time fretting over this inhaler and saying “woe is me” for having to deal with yet another medication that was extremely expensive (I paid $56.83 for the darn thing…I have no idea what the total would have been if I was uninsured).

My logical self knows that this won’t do any good. So now, I’m getting my act together and just rolling with the punches.

I’m trying to gently remind myself…just breathe.

 

Why It’s Important to Remember That The Doctor Isn’t Always Right

We should always do what medical professionals tell us to do…right?

I mean, why wouldn’t we? They’ve gone through many years of extensive training. They’ve got the education and degree(s) to prove their medical expertise. So why would a patient question a doctor or a nurse when they’re telling them to do something that will improve the patient’s health?

Well, a patient might question a medical professional’s advice when it seems contrary to everything else that the patient’s been told by other, trusted members of their healthcare team.

This is exactly what happened to me when I went to see my primary care doctor a few months ago.

Actually, more specifically, I saw a nurse practitioner who works at my primary care doctor’s practice. I made an appointment with the office because I’d been experiencing some wheeziness that made me think I might have asthma that couldn’t reliably be treated with a rescue inhaler (which is all that I had) on its own. I figured it’d be smart to talk it over with my doctor, or at least someone at his practice, to see if I should start treating my symptoms with another kind of medication or therapy.

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As patients, we should always do what the doctor says…right?

My appointment barely lasted 20 minutes. I met with a nurse practitioner who I’d never seen before. I explained how I’d been wheezing the last several days, and how it got worse when I went to lie down in bed at night. Before I could get another word out, she asked me if a rescue inhaler was all I had to use in these situations. I said yes. She proceeded to tell me that rescue inhalers aren’t designed for daily use because, as the name implies, they’re for emergency situations. Then she started telling me about a steroid that she thought I should begin to use twice daily.

I cringed at the word “steroid” because I know that they don’t interact well with my blood sugars. Steroids can make blood sugars go high rapidly, and it can take hours for blood sugar to come back down to normal levels. I told her this, and she shrugged off my concerns by telling me that the inhaled steroid would be going directly to my lungs, not my entire body like a typical steroid. I remember nodding uneasily and asking her how to use the steroid – I wasn’t going to leave the room until I had a satisfactory amount of information on this new, unfamiliar drug.

She told me I’d take it once in the morning and once at night, before brushing my teeth. Apparently, I would need to be careful and remember to rinse my mouth out with water immediately after administering the medication in order to prevent…thrush. (If you’re unfamiliar with that word, it has something to do with oral, yeast, and infection…A.K.A. something that sounds like a nightmare.) That’s when I really became alarmed. I told her that people with T1D are already more susceptible to that kind of infection, and wouldn’t it be a bad idea to even risk it by taking this steroid two times a day? And again, she essentially disregarded my protests and told me I’d be fine as long as I remembered to rinse. Then, she sent the prescription to the local pharmacy and left me in the exam room in a confused daze.

I went to pick up the prescription, but I never used it. I decided to trust my judgment and avoid a steroid that seemed like it would cause more harm than good. I also figured that since the weather had abruptly gotten cold, then perhaps my asthma symptoms would subside before long; in the meantime, I could use my rescue inhaler as necessary. And you know what?

I was right. My breathing was normal again in a matter of days, and I only had to take a few puffs from the inhaler when it was all said and done. My decision to take my health in my own hands was further validated when I went to go see my allergist soon after this ordeal. I told her all about it as we ran through the list of medications that I regularly take. She was incredulous that I was prescribed the steroid in the first place, seeing as my asthma is practically non-existent. To quote her, “You’re (meaning me) already sweet enough, you don’t need this steroid or a risk of thrush!”

That remark alone sealed it for me: I did what I thought was best because I knew I was capable of making a decision about my body; nobody knows myself better than me…even a medical professional.