For as long as I can remember Christmastime has always brought memories of being sick. We still have the silent home movies of me coming downstairs to find presents under the Christmas tree. While there is no sound, there is no mistaking the fact that my tongue keeps flying out of my mouth and my head bobbing up and down – coughing…coughing and coughing…
I am an asthmatic and have been since I was diagnosed as a very, very young child. Back then, it was not as prevalent and as my mother toured the pediatrician circuit and was given every cough syrup under the sun. She finally met a wonderful doctor who made the connection and diagnosis. He explained to her that I have what he termed “mucus producer asthma”. Now all asthmatics produce mucus for the most part, but I appear to be special in that I mass produce the mucus. Couple that with constriction of bronchial tubes and you’ve got a recipe for constant coughing and choking. The doctor explained that it is the equivalent of drowning in your own mucus. My triggers were easy enough to figure out – change of season – (first grass cutting, going into October with changing leaves) change of weather (any storm front coming through, the first time we dip below 60 degrees), and the most terrible of all the triggers – ANY upper respiratory illness including the common cold.
My childhood was spent coughing and choking, taking many different bronchiodialators that would make me shake and cause horrible nausea. Eventually I’d be given antibiotics to fight off the infection that the pools of mucus laying in my body were developing. After several rounds battling my asthma during the winter season, I would eventually be given prednisone. We tried to keep prednisone consumption down to a few times a year but sometimes there would just be no choice if I wanted to breathe. I missed a great deal of school growing up. I fought off things as best I could, but ultimately they would take me down and I would miss weeks of school each year. My mother sometimes wrote notes explaining that I wasn’t contagious because when I began coughing they would send me to the school nurse. I remember being told that my coughing was disruptive to the class and that I should go home.
With my first pregnancy, I read up on breastfeeding. I was told it was really my only advantage to tip the scale to help the asthmatic gene stay away from my children. I breast fed my first born for the first 10 months, but by the time he was a year old – I saw all of the signs. His pediatrician had not seen the likes of the coughing or mucus production that came with this child – but I had. I told her that I had been diagnosed as a “mucus producer asthmatic” and she was emphatic there was no such thing – that an asthmatic was just an asthmatic. As my son’s symptoms progressed, she sent us to Johns Hopkins for a sweat test. She believed it was Cystic Fibrosis. But I knew that it wasn’t. We complied and tested and it was negative. Finally, I returned to my childhood asthma/allergy doctor who was still in his exact same office as when I was a toddler. He held my face in his hands, kissed me and said, “You know what is happening here.”
One by one each of my four children were born. One by one I breast fed each child for the entire first year of their lives, and prayed that I would save them from the asthma. One by one I took each of my children to meet my childhood doctor. Upon taking the last one he hugged me and said, “Congratulations, you went four for four. They all have it.”
It has been rough raising these kids like this. I think I have an advantage having the condition myself because I know what they are going through and how they feel. Then I also think I have a disadvantage because I know what they are going through and how they feel. We’ve yet to experience a Christmastime that wasn’t filled with illness, coughing, medications and sleepless nights. When they were younger I would sleep with them in a recliner as they coughed all night. I did all of those things that my mother did with me throughout my childhood. Up in the middle of the night making tea, filling vaporizers in their rooms, reading books, and propping up their pillows. The good news was that medications improved from the time that I was younger. I was given a nebulizer to have at home and I could nebulize my children to keep from having to go to the hospital or doctors office. The bad news was that all four children needed to be nebulized every 3 hours, with each nebulization taking about 20 minutes each. This could go on for weeks. Exhausting for us all.
Now that they are older they have their own inhalers. But Christmastime hasn’t changed. Here we are on December 8, 2010 and my 16 year old is home from school, the 12 year is battling his “croupy” cough, the 14 year old was out of school last week and is still on his inhalers, and my 10 year old daughter was sick and coughing all of last week.
But here’s the real problem. People don’t understand. People don’t care. When my oldest son was 4 and in preschool, mothers would drop their kids off with yucky noses and junky coughs. I would try not to be a germphobe but I would get so upset because I knew what was coming. It was 3 day a week preschool for 3 hours in the morning. Why did that kid HAVE to come to school that day? I don’t think he was going to miss anything and get behind. Yet he was there, sharing Legos with every child in the room and sharing every germ covering his hands.
That particular year, my oldest was 4 years old, Son #2 was two years old and Son #3 was just a baby at a whopping 3 months old. My oldest son went to preschool, caught a cold and brought it home and by October the baby had pneumonia. I had to put that 3 month old baby through a chest x-ray TWICE because the pneumonia wouldn’t clear. All because someone sent their child to preschool sick.
Over the years I would have play dates come over for my kids and they would arrive sick. Green runny noses, coughs and glazed over eyes. I hated putting my children in the church nursery or Sunday School for the exact same reason. I tried to talk to other mothers about this but they thought I was crazy. A “germaphobe”. I would hear, “It’s only a cold.” But they had no idea what a cold was going to do to my family…every one of us….for weeks.
For some people a cold is literally a 3 or 4 day thing. There is no such thing with my family. My kids get the cold and it goes straight to their lungs. Their asthma is triggered and they begin producing mucus at a rate that you couldn’t understand. If I don’t get those bronchial tubes opened big and quick – that mucus can no longer move – it becomes stagnant and the next thing I know they have ear infections, sinus infections and bronchitis. I have a cedar chest upstairs full of my children’s cat scans and x-rays through the years as they battled sinus infections and chest infections.
I have taught my children to be diligent about hand-washing. They know to cough or sneeze into their elbow. They pull their shirt sleeves down over their hands to open doors thus avoiding the door knob.
We don’t go into malls, movie theaters or crowded places during the winter. We never fly. I’ve lived a life being very careful to avoid what I can so to spare them from the masses of people who are sick and continue to go through life as if they weren’t. Do these people think they are heroes of some sort because they keep plowing through with all of their disease and pestilence. Do they deem themselves martyrs of some sort? To talk about how they are so sick but they managed to still go to work and send the kids to school? Great. Want a cookie?
After several unpleasant encounters with mothers who became argumentative with me when they sent their children to my home ill, I realized that my efforts were futile. Nobody listens. Nobody cares. Nobody stops to think that one of the reasons you stay home when you are sick is so that you don’t contaminate other people. Today’s society just keeps going and doesn’t care who it takes down with them. After all if they are sick – why shouldn’t everyone else be?
One of the things that was always very hard for me was the fact that my grandmother had COPD. You don’t know how many Christmas dinners went into a holding pattern because my children were sick with upper respiratory illnesses and asthma. I would call her to tell her and keep her updated. She would decide if she would attend Christmas dinner – whether she would wear a mask or if everyone would be well enough. We were all very careful with her. COPD made her lungs so fragile – if she caught a cold, she could end up in the hospital in the intensive care unit fighting for her life. None of us wanted to be the reason that happened. She would avoid grocery stores and restaurants especially during this time of year…because the masses of sick people monopolized the world.
So as hard as I try to get excited about Christmas and go into it with a joyful spirit, I am exhausted again. It’s nothing new. It’s all that I have ever known for every Christmas of my life. I really do try to stay upbeat and positive but it is still disappointing and overwhelming. Imagine doing everything you have to do to prepare for your holidays with 4 sick children and yourself being ill…every single year. So when I walk into my daughter’s dance studio and I hear that mother say, “She was running a fever earlier today but I gave her Tylenol.” I want to scream. When I hear that mother in the grocery store say, “He was up throwing up all night but I sent him to school.” I want to scream.
I had all 4 children in the doctor’s office last week getting new prescriptions for their inhalers as a cold was making its way through my home. Yesterday I woke up with a sore throat. Then my oldest son called from school to come get him, that he was sick. He is home again today and running a low grade fever. Looks like we will be returning to the doctor again. I called my mother ready to cry. I told her it is utterly depressing.
My daughter is performing in The Nutcracker this weekend. 4 shows in 3 days and tech rehearsal as well. That means 3 nights being up after 11:00 each night. That means being with everyone who has sniffles, colds, coughs, fevers, vomiting or anything else – because that’s right – the show must go on! I keep drinking my tea and taking my vitamins and making sure that my kids do the same. I know what is coming...
…Another Christmas morning video while all of my children and I cough and gag. Merry Christmas