As easy as breathing. I’ve heard this expression all my life but never really knew what it meant. Having grown up with a father who spent many Augusts lying under an oxygen tent when his asthma and allergies were too much to bear, it sometime seemed as nothing could be harder. My brother, too, suffered from childhood asthma and I often saw him struggle with catching his breath – as if it was constantly running away from him.
I developed my own breathing problems in my late twenties though they never evolved into anything extreme. Still, I can remember times when I suddenly had to stop whatever I was doing, sit calmly, and slowly recover the rhythm of my life. It is a terribly frightening thing to fight to catch your breath.
Breathing problems are often an invisible disability. People who have them sometimes keep them secret – perhaps all too aware of the way asthmatics are treated in fiction and film. Kids in particular are portrayed as weak, as outsiders and as lacking in inner strength. Children can be cruel; adults are seldom better.
I am struggling right now with the worst virus I’ve had in years and late at night, when all my airways began to close and I literally had to think; breathe in, breathe out, I thought – what an embarrassing way to die that would be: to simply forget to breathe like the subject of some dumb blonde joke. But I overthrew the lethargy of sleep and got up for a while until my breathing cleared, took some medicine that would assure me that things would be alright. And it was.
Still, it makes me think of all those people who struggle with their breathing – there are far more than you think. Some diseases – such as Cystic Fibrosis have been described as slow drowning – the lungs filling with fluid over and over until it finally overwhelms the victim.
Others develop COPD – what used to be called emphysema I think, a constant struggle for breath that puts pressure on all the systems. Then there is sleep apnea. Breathing stops altogether and then resumes – often with a loud barking snort. Funny unless it is happening to you. Over the long term is is debilitating, even deadly.
I’ve never heard anyone’ breathe their last’ though my wife has. Her brother died short of fifty of a multitude of illnesses – though lung disease wasn’t one of them. She was beside him as he died. Breathe, pause, breathe, breathe, pause, pause, breathe, stop.
It will happen to all of us one day. Something to think about in the dark of the night when your own breath comes slow. And you sit up and gasp. And think, keep breathing. As long as you do that everything will be fine.
And that’s ten minutes. From my sick bed.