A lot of attention is focused on what goes on during a severe asthma exacerbation, but very little about what occurs after. What a lot of people ( and even some physicians ) don’t often realize, is that once the initial asthma crisis is over, the party has only just begun. There’s a perception that once you get past the acute phase of an asthma exacerbation, that your breathing rapidly returns to normal and everything is fine again. Well, that may be true in a very small percentage of asthmatics, but for most severe asthmatics like myself, the reality is much different. No matter how many of these severe exacerbations I go through, (and believe me, Ive been through a lot of them), it’s always the post hospital recovery period that’s the most difficult for me.
When you suffer an asthma attack that is severe enough to warrant hospitalization, once that critical acute phase is over , there’s also a recovery phase that you have to contend with. Though maybe not as scary or dramatic, can nevertheless make one feel just as miserable as the initial attack and can last 10 times as long!
You just don’t walk out of the hospital after a bad exacerbation and go about your business as if nothing ever happening. A sbad asthma exacerbation and all the medications and interventions used to treat it, can reek all kinds of other havoc on your body, leaving you weak and breathless for days and weeks after the initial assault. There’s also an accumulative effect, whereby each subsequent exacerbation takes that much longer to recover from. The recovery phase almost always is a bumpy one. There will be days when you feel like you’re starting to breathing better, only to be cancelled out by a string of really bad days. And it’s not just a physical recovery, steroids can really mess with your head making your feel like superman one day, and a sobbing emotional wreck the next. I remember times when I fell into periods of deep depression. My breathing was back to normal again, but I was so depressed I actually contemplated suicide to escape it. As soon as I came off the prednisone, I was fine.
The length and severity of this recovery phase varies for everybody. For me, it’s usually determined by how severe the initial attack was, how many days I spent in the hospital, whether or not I was on a ventilator, and how many steroids they had me on at the time of discharge. Generally, the longer the hospitalization and the higher the steroid dose, the longer it will take me to fully recover. Age and overall health play a big role as well I’m sure, but in general it takes anywhere from 3-6 weeks to get back to semi normal.
Dont get me wrong, Im grateful for the medical care I receive when Im in the hospital, but if you think about it, all they really do for you in the hospital, is stabilize you enough so that hopefully you won’t die. There’s no actual concern about “how you’re feeling” as long as your numbers are survivable. Once you’re over the hump clinically, you’re booted out and basically left to fend for yourself. There are no Nurses, Doctors or Respiratory Therapists to hold your hands or monitor your progress after you leave the hospital (unless of course, you live with one). At best, you might have a follow-up a appointment with your doctor a couple weeks down the road , but by then you’ll probably be back to normal ,which kind of negates the whole purpose of such an appointment.
Maybe I’m asking too much, but I really think its important to have some kind of ” immediate” post hospital follow-up care or monitoring for severe asthmatics. Even a series of phone calls during the first week following discharge to see how you’re doing would help. Not an automated call from a computer, but from a real person.
I’m not slamming any particular health organization or hospital for the lack of follow up care options for severe asthmatics, I’m just trying to bring attention to the fact, that there is often a prolonged and difficult recovery phase following an asthma hospitalization.I know this first hand, not just because Ive been through it, but most of the mail I receive on this blog are from people dealing with this issue.
Finally, and maybe Im unique in this regard, but one thing Ive learned over the years, is that the faster you can get back to your normal routine, the faster you’ll recover. By that I mean, it’s important that you NOT stay in bed and rest too much..it will only make you weaker. I know it sounds contradictory to everything you’ve heard, but you really need to start thinking like a non-sick person again. Take baby steps at first and don’t over it, but don’t stop all physical activity just because makes you a little short of breath or you’re afraid that it might re-trigger your symptoms all over again. Your body is not going to rehab itself, you need to help it out. Just be smart about it.