(and a bunch of other people!)
Public perception about asthma seems to remain the same despite advances in science, information campaigns, and famous athletes discussing the condition. It’s been a long time since I saw that Chuck Norris movie in which he cured a boy’s asthma with karate training, but it still makes me angry when I think about it. I once had someone try to cure me of asthma with physical exercise, and she almost killed me.
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I was a sickly kid. I’ve had asthma since before kindergarten. When I was a freshman in high school, we were all required to take P.E. (physical education). There were the star athlete students, and then there were the rest of us. I was super clumsy from a recent growth spurt and my team sports skills were negligible. The P.E. teacher did not hide the fact that she loathed me.
This came to a climax one day when a P.E. class ended with running laps. I was sick with asthma during the rest of class and I had been light-headed and even more incompetent than usual. By the time lap running came, I could barely plod around the gym. The gym teacher started yelling. I gasped out something about asthma and she yelled some more about excuses. She was not going to let me go until I ran every lap, even if I was late to my next class.
By that point, I was wheezing so much that girls running by me could hear it. Some of the star students tried to tell her that I was really sick while a couple of my friends stayed with me as I staggered round and round the gym. She ordered the friends away and told the star students something along the lines of “I needed to learn a lesson”.
I finished every lap though it took me through both tardy bells and into the next class. She finally dismissed me. A couple of my friends half-walked, half-dragged me up to the principal’s office. I was so bad by then that the office didn’t waste time calling the school nurse. The principal drove me straight to the emergency room, where they shot my thighs full of adrenalin (a fairly standard treatment of my youth before all the great medicines of today) put me on oxygen for hours, and prayed.
Obviously, I lived. The principal had stern words with the gym teacher, who in turn had stern words with me, in front of the whole class. I should have let her know that I was ill. I shouldn’t push myself if I was feeling that badly. The important thing for us to know was that this incident was not her fault, it was mine, and by golly she wasn’t going to have her teaching record ruined by the likes of me. By pure happenstance, I never had another bad asthma episode in her class again.
Since I can’t really punch Chuck Norris or my former gym teacher in the face, let me try to spread some knowledge instead. We asthmatics are not just being lazy. We don’t have asthma because we’re fat and out of shape. P.E. won’t cure us. We don’t always outgrow it. We aren’t “wheezing on purpose for sympathy”. And if you force us past our limits (or if we force ourselves), you CAN kill us.
Don’t be all Chuck Norris about asthma.
P.S. I grew up to be a reasonably active adult. I hike. I dance. I do other stuff. I still have asthma.