* * *
I love being outdoors. I love the songs of the birds, the rustling of the wind and smell of freshly cut grass. This passion comes mostly from not being able to enjoy these things as a child because of my allergies and asthma. I spent most of my childhood with my face pressed up against the glass of our patio door as I watched my friends play in the backyard.
Asthma kept me in.
When I was diagnosed with asthma and allergies at age 3, my doctors discovered that I was allergic to just about everything: grass, trees, mold, dust, pets, and milk. If it was alive or came from something alive, I probably couldn’t be near it. I also couldn’t run as much as other kids because that too would trigger an asthma attack.
Back in the mid 1970’s there were few drugs a young guy like me could take. If I had a scoop of ice cream or was outside when my dad cut the grass or was running and playing too much I often had an asthma attack. The only thing my parents could do was rush me to the hospital for a breathing treatment.
By the time I was 5, I knew all the nurses’ names.
I loved sports and playing outside but more often than not I was sick and couldn’t. And, to make matters worse, I couldn’t eat or drink anything with milk in it so the lack of those healthy fats kept me thin as a bean pole (I was 6-foot and weighed only 135 pounds in high school); an easy target for bullies.
My mom had to get up every night at midnight to give me a pill. My grandma silently prayed I would at least make it to adulthood.
Fortunately the drugs improved and I got better until I went to college. I was on my own and figured I could make my own decisions. I hated taking all the meds so I stopped taking them. Damn near killed me a couple of times.
Still, I resisted many of the recommendations of my doctors and chose to live with one or two daily meds and an inhaler in my pocket at all times. I barely got by.
When our first daughter was born, something changed. I realized that I needed to be as healthy as possible to be alive for her as long as possible. I wanted to share with her my love for the outdoors with more than just looking at it through a closed window. Plus my dad was getting older and I wanted to be able to help him on his farm.
I made an appointment with an allergy specialist and decided to do everything he told me to do.
I was put on a twice daily regiment of four medications plus weekly allergy shots for about two years. My health began to improve and the meds were dropped to once a day and the shots to once a month. On the third year, I took a trip to my dad’s farm and did not use my inhaler once the entire time.
As far as I was concerned, I was cured!
From then on I have stayed on the meds and have actually been able to end the allergy shots. My breathing is at the low end of normal (80 percent) but probably the best it can ever be, which to me feels like breathing through a drain pipe instead of a cocktail straw.
I cut the grass, go to the farm, sleep outside at Civil War Re-enactments (another perk to being healthy) and take long walks in the thick of pollen season. I can’t pet dogs or cats, but they barely bother me when I’m near them. I can have all the ice cream and milk I want.
I get to share my appreciation of the outdoors with my children from our backyard rather than from behind our glass patio door. I play basketball once a week and have even started training for a triathlon. Without the meds, and my dedication to taking them, none of this would be possible. When I decided asthma couldn’t keep me in, it didn’t.