What is it with chronic severe asthma, self esteem, self doubt or self worthiness? Why do we tend to hide or downplay our disease or the severity of our symptoms? Why do we delay seeking emergency medical care when it’s so obviously indicated?
I can’t tell you how many people write to me in the midst of a bad asthma flare. They’ll tell me that their peak flows and their O2 sats are super low, and that they’re following their asthma action plans to the T, doing everything they’re supposed to, but they don’t know if they should seek medical attention. They’ll often tell me that while their breathing is labored and/or their asthma isn’t responding to medications, that they’re unsure if their flare up is severe enough to warrant a visit to the doctors office or a trip to the Emergency room. Some feel that seeking emergency care for their asthma is a waste of time because they’ll just be given the same medications they’re already taking and sent on their way. Others will say they hesitate going to the hospital for fear of not being taken seriously or possibly being ridiculed for what the medical staff might perceive as “just asthma”. Many will only seek medical care if they are ordered to do so by their doctors. To that I say, WTF???
Since when is a bad asthma exacerbation unworthy of urgent medical attention? This is yet another example of asthmatics not feeling worthy. Lets be real here, if you had a bad laceration on your pinky finger and couldnt stop the bleeding, you wouldn’t hesitate a moment to seek emergency care . So why on earth would you hold off seeking care if you were suffocating to death? You would be shocked at the things people go the ER for. Minor aches and pains, low grade fevers, the common cold, scrapes bruises, hangovers, etc. So don’t feel bad if you’re there for “just asthma”. If you can’t breath, you are truly sick.
Sadly, many asthmatics who’ve had the disease for a long time (and Ive been guilty of this too), have been conditioned to believe that asthma is not really a big deal. After all, how could it be so serious if so many people have it? Asthma is an extremely common disease and I think that’s part of the problem. Public awareness and familiarity with this disease is often based on almost cartoonish stereotypes, which portray asthma as more of an inconvenience than a hardcore life threatening illness. There’s no distinction between the different forms, phenotypes and severities of asthma. It’s basically a one size fits all–blue inhaler in hand image the world sees. This false narrative needs to change. We need to stop sugar coating this disease and start labeling it for what it really is. A potentially life robbing and disabling disease that causes immeasurable suffering. A condition that kills nearly a half million people a year worldwide. There’s nothing cool, trendy or insignificant about asthma, it’s a god awful disease.
Severe asthmatic or not, the next time your asthma flare is not responding to home treatment and you’ve done everything by the book, don’t second guess yourself or deliberately underestimate the severity of your symptoms, go with the your gut feeling and seek help if you need it. Even if you feel that there’s no more they can offer than what you’re already doing at home, get checked out anyway. A bad asthma flare doesn’t always get better on its own. Sometimes it requires treatment modalities that can only be administered in a hospital setting (ie IV steroids, ventilators, Heliox, close monitoring, etc.) At the very least call your doctor or healthcare provider for advise. If you think you need more urgent type care, go to the ER. Don’t worry about how busy the hospital is or that your symptoms might seem trivial and non- serious to the medical staff. The fact is, most, if not all accredited ERs, put shortness of breath of any kind at the top of their triage priority lists. If you’re having problems breathing you shouldn’t have to wait too long to be seen. It’s also true that the sooner you get checked out, the greater the chance of quelling the attack before it becomes a real crisis or a prolonged hospitalization.
My good friend and Pulmonologist, Dr Sally Wenzel, along with a couple of her patients who echo these sentiments, recently wrote an editorial on this topic, which you can view here. Every person living with chronic asthma and the medical people who take care of them should read it.
Going forward, educate yourself as much as you can about your type of asthma and how best to treat and manage it. Know your body and your limits in dealing with bad exacerbations, and NEVER, EVER, doubt for even a millisecond that you are not worthy of medical intervention for your breathing problems. Say this often and say it loud, I AM WORTHY!