Category Archives: Lungs

As an asthmatic, my lungs are a big part of my life. When I get sick, I may complain about these lungs of mine.

How sick am I?

I am so sick I couldn’t even finish a cup of coffee yesterday! No, it’s true!

For the next three weeks (well, 2.5 at this point — yes, I am counting the minutes, why?) I am here in Riverside County. I got in late Monday night, felt just fine, rented my car and drove to my hotel. Slept perfectly. I woke up yesterday morning feeling pretty good, but things started to go downhill at about 9:00. I was training some of the barnacles on the use of the shell polisher initialization devices when I suddenly paused and said, “Is it cold in here?” I was cold… I was freezing, in fact, shivering there in my seat. One of the barnacles replied with a nervous grin, “Actually, it’s pretty hot in here.”

In a word: crap.

Eventually I put my jacket back on and went back to the Shell Polisher Initializers and finished the training. But I started shivering and sweating at the same time. I took 800 mg of ibuprofin and about an hour later I was burning up.

One of the barnacles announced she was making a coffee run. As usual, I asked for a large coffee with no pollutants (cream and suger? Gah!). She brought it and I took a sip. I liked it but I found I couldn’t drink it.

My appetite had taken a leave of absence, it seems.

Things just kind of went downhill. For awhile I was burning up, then I started shivering again. I took some more ibuprofin and about an hour later I was burning up again… which was, oddly, better than freezing, though when I was standing up to pass out the shell polishing kits, I found myself growing very weak, and I almost fell over.

I finally got home at 7:45, and almost at once Jennifer began convincing me to contact an advice nurse. I tried and tried but was unable to reach one from my hotel room. Finally Jennifer contacted one for me, and they said that I needed to go to the hospital and get thing thing evaluated.

And so nothing, I’ve found, is as depressing as sitting by yourself in a crowded emergency room in a strange city while all of your co-workers are off having a good time at dinner and your wife is desperately worried about you six hundred miles away from you. But one of the nice things about having asthma is that you can get the fast-track treatment at the hospital and get out of there in three hours instead of eight.

The ER doc sent me home with a prescription for Yet Another Antibiotic and More Prednisone. And so today I got to sit in my hotel room all day and try to relax (though the chest wall pain I’m suffering from has made relaxing difficult).

In general, I’m feeling much better, though I am still running a low-grade fever. I’m not shivering or burning up though, which is a good thing.

Today, though I got to start catching up on my reading. I started reading Time Forward by Maxine McArthur while on the plane the other night, and I’m greatly enjoying it. I’m still reading Organizational Behavior for class, but the instructor has also recommended The Lexus and the Olive Tree to me in response to a question I asked about globalization and how it affects management — particularly library management.

I’ve also started playing with a project I have in mind. It’s a cross platform — Palm. desktop, and web — tool for tracking books, using XML as a tool for transporting information back and forth. I made a note about it in my diary on usr/lib/info, one of the library technology sites I haunt, and I’ve gotten interest in it from a librarian at Stanford who’s interested in the XML mappings I’ll be trying to work on. And has agreed to host my project. I even received a personal note from the editor to the effect that he finds the project fascinating and is really looking forward to seeing the project (you can find the Sourceforge entry at

Well. Nothing like a little pressure to get your brain going.

Incidentally, I’m naming my project Lucien after the character in Neil Gaiman’s comic book series Sandman; Lucien was the keeper of the Library of Dreams, where all of the books that were never written are stored. I thought that the name was particularly appropriate.

Hot Pink

So the antibiotics that they’ve given me this time are hot pink. And about the size of my head.

I’ve been dealing with this little thing in my lungs for a few months now, something which has settled there and has been aggravating my asthma — kind of like our current President. But in the past couple of weeks it’s been getting worse, and while my peak flow rates have been fine and my air flow has been good, I’ve been coughing a lot and feeling very short of breath. So I got my manager to let me leave the mollusc training site early yesterday so that I could get home in time for a 6:30 appointment with my doctor.

Unfortunately, Bay Area traffic defeated my attempts to get to the doctor on time, and I wound up being too late at the Urgent Care Clininc, so they gave my appointment time to someone else. Fortunately, I was able to reschedule for this morning. And this morning at the doctor I found out two things of interest:

  1. There is a whooping cough epidemic in Yolo County; and
  2. I probably have it.

Whooping cough!??!” my mother said to me on the phone. “How can you have whooping cough?”

I told her that it was all the rage up in Yolo County. All the kids have it, and so do a few adults. It’s very Continental and sophisticated. We know all this because whooping cough is one of those diseases that, if you get it, needs to be reported to the Health Department, and the doctor who is in charge of the Urgent Care Clinic has pretty much become the de facto expert on Whooping Cough in Yolo County.

So now I’m taking massive steroids (more than I’ve taken since high school), some huge hot pink antibiotics (think Divine in prescription form), some lovely codeine-laced cough syrup, and a special inhaler. All of this in addition to my regular diet of pills, potions, and nostrums. I’m tied to my nebulizer with bonds of mist, and my albuterol lives in my pocket (well, it always does, but I like the opportunity for dramatic flair).

The good news, though, is that if this is whooping cough (the test have yet to come back positive, but the doctor thinks it’s a good bet), then I’m probably well past the contagious stage. This is good, since I’ve spent that past week or two working with mollusks in California, whose immune systems are not necessarily up to snuff.

On another note, I’ll be back on the road tomorrow, after less than 48 hours at home. But, at least, I’ll be in a cool hotel with free wireless network access, which is close to Yosemite.

So, until later… Whoop! Whoop! Gasp!

December Night

The wind crashes outside, slamming up against the south end of our house like a mad thing throwing itself against walls, trying to escape its prison. I look outside, and the brances and leaves of the trees next door writhe; drops of rain hammer incessantly against the window, as if trying to break it down by sheer force of numbers. Through the trees and the rain, the light of the streetlamp a house or two down the street is unsteady, flickering like a distant beacon.

The storm has made me restless. I shift in bed, trying to make myself comfortable. Jennifer shifts in response. “Are you okay?” she asks me sleepily, softly as though she were dreaming. “I’m fine,” I tell her. “Go back to sleep.” She rolls over and her breathing deepens again while I wrap my arms around the pillow anew, and try to sleep.

I’m a natural worrier, of course. I hear the wind and the rain, stronger than any storm I think I’ve seen in my fifteen years in this part of the valley, and I can’t help but wonder if that wind will find some hidden weakness in our windows, some flaw undiscovered since the house’s manufacture, and come roaring in through broken glass and ruined floor.

My imagnation works in overtime. It always has. I’ve never been able to help it.

* * * * *

The day before Thanksgiving, I went to see the new pulmonologist. The old one had retired over the summer, which kind of took me (not to mention his staff and the rest of his patients) by surprise. He’d been the one treating my asthma for something like seven years, after nearly ten years of letting my asthma go unchecked while I was in college and for years after college while I flitted in jobs without health insurance.

The new pulmonologist reads over the results of my spirometry test and reviews my medication regime. “Why are you taking Unidur?” he asks me.

“Um,” I reply medically, “I’ve been taking it since high school. I think. Probably longer. It’s theophylline, kind of the basic drug for me.”

“Hm,” he replies. Then a moment later he asks me, “What about the Atrovent?”

I shrug. “That’s another one I’ve been taking for a long time.”

“Ah,” he says. This pulmonologist is a lot younger than his predecessor; hell, he might be about the same age as I am (I remember this as a warning from someone a few years ago: “Just wait until your doctors are younger than you, then you’ll feel inadequate!”). Reading over my chart again and listening to my lungs with his stethoscope, he comes to a decision.

“Let’s cut out some of these drugs,” he says.

“I’m game,” I say. “Which ones?”

“Let’s try the Unidur and the Atrovent. The Singulair’s a reasonable drug for you to keep taking, and the Advair’s really your first line of defense against the asthma. I don’t think the Unidur’s really doing you any good, and the Atrovent’s probably doing nothing for you but complicating your life.”

I chuckle. “Yeah, it’s just one more inhaler to track.”

“Exactly. And how often do you go through your Albuterol inhalers?”

“About one a month. That’s about right, isn’t it?”

He shakes his head. “They should be lasting you about four months. From now on, whenever you feel like you need to use your inhaler, take a peak flow measurement to see if you really do need it. And if you do need it, take another measurement after you’re done, to see how much good it’s doing.”

I nod and agree to this change. I’ve been thinking over the past few months that maybe I’m using the Albuterol far too often when I really don’t need it; maybe it’s become more a psychological thing for me than a real medical need. I tell that to the doctor, and he says, “Yep, we’ve found that that’s pretty common among long-term asthmatics. And you’ve had your asthma all your life, haven’t you?”

I nod. We talk a bit more about my medications and my lifestyle and the fact that my body has probably added GERD to its repertoire of conditions that shouldn’t hit me for another fifteen years or so but which were probably brought on earlier because of my asthma drugs.

After my appointment with the doctor, I chat with the nurse as he takes my blood pressure and prepares me for my allergy shot.

“So I see he’s got you dropping the Unidur and Atrovent,” he says.

“Yep,” I say. “It’s going to be a big pscyhological adjustment for me. I’ve been taking theophylline all my life.”

“Well, it’s probably not doing you any good anyway since you’re taking the Advair. Hell, you’re probably old enough to remember Marax, aren’t you?”

I blink for a moment; Marax was the front-lnie drug for asthma way back when I was a kid. I think I stopped taking it when my age was still measured in single digits.

I laugh. “Sign of the times, I guess, isn’t it?”

“It sure is, Rich.” He gives me my shot and then we start talking about computers and fishing, just like we always do when I come by the office, even though I know more about the first than he does, and he know way more about the second than I probably ever will.

* * * * *

Earlier this week, I got word from San Jose State University that I’ve been accepted into their Master of Library and Information Sciences program. It was kind of funy, actually. On Monday morning I decided that six weeks was long enough to wait to hear, so I had sent an e-mail to the program director, asking when I mihgt hear on the status of my application. I should have just waited an hour or so; my acceptance letter was waiting for me in our mailbox.

And so now I’m a graduate student, well on my way toward becoming a rich and powerful librarian. Jennifer says she’s just as excited, and she can’t wait until she can get away without having to pay any more overdue library fines. Me, I’m really excited. I’m taking my first class beginning in January; just one this coming semester so that I can ease my way back in to the whole study routne. I tell people I can’t wait to begin the process of juggling classes with this full-time job that’s got me on the road so much. Thank God for on-line learning.

Of course, I feel kind of strange in a way, too. Is it right to study to be a rich and powerful librarian when I’ve got a ton of late books sitting on my shelf?

* * * * *

Sitting here and writing this while listening to Celtic music on my computer hasn’t done much to curb my restlessness. While Jennifer was at practice blasting through her oboe, I was at Borders, dosing up on caffeine. It used to be that caffeine, even late at night, wouldn’t do much to keep me awake so late, but that seems to have changed. I told Jennifer that I think that cutting out the theophylline from my medications might have sometime to do with it; theophylline is very similar, molecularly, to caffeine. Perhaps I’d built up a tolerance over the years which has now vanished since I’m no longer consuming 1200 mg worth of it each day in addition to the coffee? If that’s true, it will be useful when I begin taking classes in earnest and need to stay up late to study.

In our computer room, you can barely hear the storm at all. I’ve stepped back briefly into the bedroom to see if it has died down a bit, and it has. I think that I’ll head back to bed now, stay awake for a bit longer reading, and then finally try to get to sleep.

Still Breathing…

…but only just barely at the moment. Darn asthma.

I haven’t completely forgotten about you, Faithful Reader. I’m still here, and I’m still moving, kicking, and so on. I’ve just been feeling a remarkable lack of inspiration of late, as well as beginning a process of completely rebuilding my website (all on my computer at home; it probably won’t relaunch for a month or so).

In quick summary, though, I begin a new job this coming week: back to being a temporary employee at UC Davis. Could be worse: I could be selling special medicated shoes to rugby players who haven’t washed their feet in three months for medical reasons.

Yeah. That would be bad.

The Post-Cyanotic Blues

As far as life-long, high-maintenance medical conditions are concerned, I suppose that asthma isn’t the worst possible one to have. Jennifer and I watched ER last night and we both felt very sorry for the young boy who had had two heart transplants already and was facing a third, and who had been taking so many drugs throughout his life to treat his condition that his body was permanently altered by the side effects. He was essentially trapped within his own body, and I personally didn’t blame him at all for not wanting yet another heart transplant.

When I was younger, I was told that I was growing to grow out of my asthma. Most kids do. Adult-onset asthma is relatively rare in and of itself, and the number of people who don’t grow out of their asthma is relatively small. Obviously, I did not grow out of my asthma; throughout high school and college and into real life, asthma has been part of my existence. I suppose that even until recently, I had harbored the hope that my asthma would eventually go away, that I’d be able to live without the daily medications or the monthly visits to my pulmonologist or the occasional hospital stay. I had figured that a decent diet, along with some exercise, would help put it behind me.

But this week in the hospital, I realized that it simply isn’t going to be the case.

Sure, over time, my asthma may get better. But I will never be free of the medication. I will probably be taking something for my asthma every single day for the rest of my life, and probably more than once per day. There will always be pills, inhalers, nebulizers. At one point during the week, the respiratory therapist who delivered my breathing treatments told me that they may decide to send me home with portable oxygen.

It was that last part that really scared me, and really drove it home for me. I have nightmares about becoming one of those really old men who has to carry an oxygen tank wherever he goes… and apparently there is a possibility that it might come true. Even though my blood O2 levels never fell below 95%, which is excellent, I suppose there is always the possibility that my lungs — already scarred and damaged by over thirty years of asthmatic behavior — will someday lose their efficiency as oxygen derivers, and I’ll be forced to that step.

Asthma is kind of a scary disease. When you’re very young, and you don’t really understand what’s happening, it’s easy to panic and get scared when all you know is that you can’t breathe. And when you’re 33, it’s still easy to get scared when you’re trying hard to breathe but just can’t get the air to move. A really bad attack can be like breathing through one of those tiny straws that you use to stir coffee; one of those tiny straws that’s been bent so there’s even less flow. The tiny airways in your lungs get clogged; mucous builds up, tiny muscles contract, tissue swells. When you breathe, if you can, you hear wheezing, rasping, possibly gurgling. If you’re having a really bad attack, you turn cyanotic — you get so little oxygen flowing through your blood that your extremities, like your lips and your fingernails, turn blue. That’s only happened to me once that I can recall, and I was very young at the time. But it’s one of the questions that I am regularly asked when I go to a doctor with an asthma attack: are you cyanotic, are you turning blue?

So the medicines which they give you to control asthma if you’re a severe asthmatic basically treat the three effects of an asthma attack: beta-antagonist adrenalin derivatives (such as Albuterol) to control the muscle spasms (this makes sense; with more adrenalin in your body, your smooth muscles, like the ones which line your lungs, relax, allowing you to get more air into your body so that you can run faster from that lion); corticosteroids such as Pulmi-Cort or Azma-Cort to control the tissue swelling (mostly inhaled, sometimes orally administered, such as Prednisone — sometimes injected, like Salumedrol); and a host of other medications to control the mucous. Atrovent, I think, is supposed to help with that. And then there are a whole bunch of drugs that work, without any real good reason: Theophylline, for some reason, is a very effective medication for long-term treatment of asthma. The last time I asked my doctor how it works, he said something about adeno-triphosphate and how Theophylline seems to improve its efficacy in respiratory processes. I knew more or less what he was talking about; on the other hand, I also got the sense that he didn’t know much more than I did.

So now I’m on a whole new host of medications: more Prednisone than I’ve taken in nearly fifteen years, and heavy antibiotics — since an asthmatic’s lungs are prone to getting worse infections if one happens to settle in. What bothers me the most are, of course, the side effects: Prednisone has some well documented emotional side effects, and I’m finding myself irritable, cranky, and short-tempered. Combine that with the light-headedness that one of the antibiotics is causing, and you have yourself a Richard who’s pretty much useless right now (though I suppose some would argue that there really isn’t much of a difference). The only thing that’s good is that I know why it is I’m feeling cranky and irritable right now and so I can keep it in check.
And so here I am. With asthma. For the rest of my life. Asthma is on the rise, and the number of deaths due to asthma is increasing year by year (although I think that it ironically has to do with the increasing efficiency of the short-term medications that some asthmatics come to rely on instead of the long-term care that they really need). While my asthma isn’t nearly as bad as it was twenty years ago, it’s certainly not good. I would like it to be gone, of course. But it’s not going to. Like it or not, I’m stuck with it.

Showering with One Hand Wrapped in Plastic

My apologies to any of my readers who work in hospitals. Nothing personal, but I hate them. Hospitals, that is, not the people who work in them.

Around 8:00 last night, I wound up having to go to the emergency room again. I was still having trouble breathing… lots of trouble. It had been going on all day, but at 8:00 I finally admitted that I was pretty sick and should go back to the ER, and Jennifer said, "Good." After another 4 hour visit, the physician on call decided to admit me on the grounds that after 4 hours on the nebulizer I was still having labored breathing. And, so, here I am.

This newest asthma adventure of mine is apparently more than a mere flare up. This is some sort of lung infection caused by chlamydia or something like that. My peak flow — the measure of how much air you expel from your lungs, measured in liters per minute — is fine, and the doctors can detect very little wheezing or other odd lung sounds, but I’m still short of breath and I get winded easily — walking, say, from my hospital bed to the bathroom. I had hoped to leave this hospital today, but when the doctor listened to my lungs, the first thing he said was, "Yep, he’s going to be here for another day." I groaned inwardly; I have a lot of work to do that I can’t do from the hospital, and I miss being at home. At least, though, I could avoid going to Portland this week (my apologies to my regular readers from Portland; it’s a beautiful city, but I’ve spent enough time there).

One of the things that I dislike about hospital stays is the smell. When you sit in one bed for more than a day, you acquire… well… an odor. The last time I was here, I wanted to do something about it, but was told that showers were not an option unless I wanted a nurse’s assistance — and for some reason I allowed my modesty to overcome my desire for cleanliness. So this time, you can imagine how excited I get when the Nursing Assistant came in to my hospital room this morning and said, "Would you like to have a shower?" Naturally, I said yes. The downside, though, was that there is no shampoo available here so I had to wash my hair with hand soap; and the protect the shunt in my hand where they’ve been sticking IV medications (a clever practice, and a nice way to avoid getting repeated IV’s; they just stick a plastic catheter in and leave it there and inject new medications through that), my hand would have to be wrapped in cellophane and a latex glove. So I wound up there in the shower with one hand wrapped up completely in plastic and trying to wash myself down with the removable shower hose and trying to wash hair with hand soap and trying not to splash water all over the bathroom.

Hm. Perhaps the shortness of breath I had at the end of the shower wasn’t due so much to the asthma as to the mere gymnastics involved in taking a shower.

Jennifer and I had originally planned, last night, to go over the floor plans for the house and decide once and for all where the computer room is going to be. We had thought that we should put it in the south side of the house, on the argument that the room there is larger; but now we’re thinking that the front of the house might be better, since the room there is cooler during the day. Well, our plans for that were spoiled by my errant lungs, of course… but at least Jennifer is going to be able to come over to my hospital room tonight; she’ll be bringing the floor plans and we’ll be able to make a decision tonight, in the hospital. Naturally, my preference is for the two of us to go home and do this planning together there, but this is good enough, I suppose. While I may not get to spend the night at home yet, at least it’s the middle of the week and we’re both in the same state.

Until next time….

Club Albuterol Now Accepting New Members

Jennifer’s mother is a hospital chaplain, and she tells me that she has seen several people with minor cases of asthma who use their asthma to get attention; it’s sort of like those people, I suppose, who claim that every headache that they have is a migraine headache, when, in fact, all they have are simple vascular or tension headaches.

I guess I can see it. I admit that I’m not above using my asthma as a convenient excuse to play hooky from work every now and then (though I haven’t since I left the Labor Relations department at the University six months ago); and when I was in school, I even (and this will come as a shock to many readers, I know) used it as an excuse to play hooky then as well.

But apparently there are people who take it to an extreme of some sort. Some people feel lonely and use their asthma as an excuse to go to the hospital and get some extra attention. I personally have never done that; I hate going to the hospital and getting the breathing treatments and the shots and the new medications. The other night at the emergency room, I was given an injection of cortisone through a needle that I’m sure was designed by the Defense Department; nothing with a bore that large is meant to be inserted into the human body, not even into the hip (my apologies to every single woman out there who has undergone an amniocentesis examination; I know that the needle used for that exam has a bore wide enough to drive a truck through, and I know that men are wimps when it comes to pain compared to women who always have the "natural childbirth" ace to hold over us). And cortisone itself is not a pretty drug; sure it helps with the asthma but the side effects of long use — osteoporosis, liver and kidney damage, and so on — are just not pretty. In high school, I was on daily maintenance doses of Prednisone, and the acne that it gave me was bad enough to get me the nickname, "Oil Face". Even now, when I take Prednisone, I still get pretty bad acne.

I had my very first asthma attack when I was less than a year old, my mother tells me; all I know is that asthma has been a part of my life for as far back as I can remember. I spent a lot of time at the hospital when I was young, including six weeks at Stanford Children’s Hospital in Palo Alto; even though I was four or five years old at the time, I still have vivid memories of that stay.

The first doctor I remember seeing regularly for my asthma was a Japanese man who looked about thirty even though he was pushing fifty at the time (I think). He frequently encouraged me, when I was a kid, to take up yoga or meditation, his idea being that relaxation, discipline, and overall goood health were probably the best approaches to asthma control, much more so than medication. I wish now that I had taken him up on his advice and suggestions when I was much younger. I’m sure my asthma would be under much better control now than it is. When this doctor passed away a few years ago, I confess that I nearly cried.

When I was in college, dealing with asthma was easy; there were lots of doctors on the campus in the Student Health Center, and the student insurance covered everything. Right after I got out of college I wound up without a job and no way of paying for my medical expenses. For years I dealt with my asthma by using over-the-counter inhalers and no maintenance medications whatsoever. I’m pretty sure that I did my lungs a good deal of damage during that period of time. I was very fortunate to find a physician who was willing to treat me at greatly reduced rates and give me free samples of the medication I needed to treat my asthma. When I finally got a job which had medical insurance, I continued going to the same doctor, though I paid full rates of course.

Anyway, the point is this: I really hate having asthma.

Asthma — especially the degree of asthma that I have — is a pretty high-maintenance disease. Between my new antibiotics and steroids, in addition to my regular maintenance medications, I counted a total of eleven pills that I have to take twice a day.

That sucks.

My biggest worry right now is how I’m going to take care of my asthma while I’m on the road in Europe in May. I’ve posted my concerns to a couple of different on-line forums, and talked to my doctor’s head nurse. I think it will be okay, but so much for traveling light. With all of my pills and inhalers, my backpack is going to be full of lots of stuff.

With asthma, my lungs take every opportunity available to turn any illness into bronchitis. A cold turns into bronchitis. So does the flu. Or a mild respiratory infection of any sort. Stomach flu. Athlete’s foot. All of them turn into bronchitis, I swear.

So here I sit, working from home today, having convinced my boss that I don’t need to go to Portland this week, with bronchitis and feeling very whiney.

So. Are there really people in the world who use their asthma for attention, or who even fake it to get attention? Seems like there are. And I confess that I just don’t understand it. All in all, I much prefer people paying attention to me because I’m a fun, interesting, charming person (how could I possibly be otherwise?) than because I happen to be unable to breathe from time to time.

Ah, well. Breathing is overrated anyway.

Until the next time I have a chance to play with the new "save entry as draft" feature of the on-line journal maintenance program I’ve written, I remain…

Addendum, three hours later: I have added the ability to add "widgets" to each of these journal entries. The "Jabberwock Inn" image and the car images to the right are examples of widgets, snippets of HTML code which are associated with this journal entry in the same database which tracks all of the entries. The next step is a web-based interface for creating widgets and associating them with journal entries.

Breathing Lessons

I’ve been plagued with asthma since I’ve been two years old. It’s a nasty condition: when you have a full-blown asthma attack, trying to breathe is like breathing through one of those tiny coffee-stirring straws. Air actually can go in to your lungs just fine (unless you’re having a really bad attack), but breathing out is the difficult part. Your lungs spasm; the smooth muscles that line the bronchial tubes contract, narrowing the airways; in addition, the lung tissues can also swell, and excess mucous can be produced, further blocking the airways. Your chest feels tight, like a weight is sitting on you. I’ve even heard it said that an asthma attack can feel like a heart attack. And I know of at least one doctor who believed he was having an asthma attack when he was, in actually, having a heart attack (two hours later, he was under the knife, undergoing a quadruple bypass operation).

Last Sunday, Jennifer and I were cleaning the house. I’d been short of breath for the entire day and the day before, but had shrugged it off, figuring it was the side effect of the new hypertension medication that my physician had given me. But on Sunday night it got so bad that I had I to have Jennifer take me to the emergency room. I guess more than sick, I was annoyed that this was the second time in two weeks that I’ve had to go to the emergency room, after being away from hospitals for over a year (the time prior to that, I was in for a week for pneumonia). Some day I hope to go for an entire year without having to go in for one problem or another. While I was in the emergency room on Sunday night, Jennifer stayed with me the whole time, making me laugh and smile, and generally keeping me cheered up. She made some observations about the sounds in the ER resembling a routine by Stomp, and that made me laugh through the facemask that the respiratory therapist had hooked me up to.

One thing that’s been pounded into me since I was a child with asthma has been the importance of relaxing when you’re in the midst of an asthma attack. Becoming tense or nervous will actually make the asthma attack worse. So while sitting in a doctor’s office or in an emergency room, the doctor will always tell me, "Just keep yourself calm. Stressing about it will only make it worse."

Easy for them to say, I’ve always though in response to that. They’re not the ones who can’t breathe at all! It’s awfully easy to panic when your air is cut short, when you can’t draw a breath (a really bad asthma attack will prevent you from inhaling as well as exhaling), when you’re light-headed from lack of oxygen, and the only thing you can think of is where your next inhalation is going to come from. Still, it’s true; if you can relax, then you will start to feel better, and it actually does become easier to breathe.

Generally, deep breathing is a good way to relax, calm down, and get a grip on things. When you’re in the middle of an asthma attack, of course, it’s impossible to take some deep breaths and calm down that way. But at other times…

Breathe in deeply…


Patience is also key when you’re suffering an asthma attack. Asthma is a temporary condition and when you have an attack, it will go away, assuming proper treatment. But when you’re desperate for air, it’s hard to be patient.

So you’d think that after struggling with asthma for nearly thirty years, I’d be a pro at being patient, right?

Yeah, right.

I wrote in an earlier journal entry that I could learn about patience and determination from the adult literacy students that I was working with. I did learn some of those lessons; but I seem to have forgotten some of them.

So here I am, five months later, in my new job, far away from the administrative assistant position I used to hold at the University, and still frustrated by the direction my career is taking. It’s not, of course, what I want; but is it realistic to really expect to have reached my ultimate career goal at this point?

So, here goes. Inhale deeply. Exhale.

My first non-administrative job started on July 10. My new job started about a month after that. In four months, I’ve gone from an administrative assistant position in the Human Resources division of a large University to being part of an enterprise-level web development team. I used to work with the front end of an ancient FoxPro application; now I’m answering questions about PL/SQL and Oracle8i, as well as Unix development and some basic functions in Perl.

Still, it’s not what I ultimately want, which is to take leadership roles in the development of large enterprise-scale web-based database applications and in their deployment. I consider myself an expert HTML/JavaScript developer at this point (even though I’ve pushed my HTML skills as far as I want to, and no longer feel challenged by HTML development), and a decent SQL programmer, and a beginner at Oracle. So is it even likely that I’d get my dream career at this point, with only four months of experience?

Then again, there is also a part of me which worries that I’ve moved too slowly. I got a late start in this career, after all; I’m 32 years old now, and most of the people I’m working with are younger than I am, and more advanced in their own fields than I. Our Senior Oracle Programmer is just a bit older than I am, but has been programming for years. I suspect that as long as I’m in this field, I’m going to be playing a hectic game of catch up.

As you can probably tell, I’m dithering over my job again. When the new job you’re in isn’t where you’d hoped to be, it’s easy to forget that between where you start and where you want to end up, there is a road that you must travel; just as there is a period of less-than-perfect breathing between a severe asthma attack and a pair of well-functioning lungs.

Your lungs will clear. You will get that dream job.

I’ve only been with this company for four months, and I’ve started poking around to see what else might be out there for other jobs. A couple of weeks ago, when it became clear that I wasn’t going to be receiving training in Oracle or programming and that I might be stuck doing nothing but HTML in this job, it seemed like a good idea. But now that I’m able to converse intelligently with the corporate programmers about the Oracle database and even help out our local Unix guru with some Perl and Korn shell scripting, I’m starting to feel a bit better about where I’m going with this job. I’ve told my boss that I’m no longer interested in doing straight design and UI, and that I’d like to work on more back-end projects, including reporting and database development. We are working now on hiring a webmaster/developer who can focus on the UI and graphic design; but I personally had no idea how hard it would be to find qualified applicants for that sort of position.

I’m still not sure whether taking this job was the best move for my career, but perhaps it’s simply that slightly congested part of breathing that comes between a severe asthma attack and clear breathing… between a dead end job in administration and the job that I’m really looking for.