In the Healthy Living series, Chicken Soup for the Soul partners with the nation's top medical experts and organizations to give emotional support and important information to people with specific medical needs. The books feature approximately twelve positive, heartwarming stories from real people, followed by relevant expert medical advice that will positively impact the reader's life.
About the Author
Mark Victor Hansen is a co-founder of Chicken Soup for the Soul.
Hometown:Santa Barbara, California
Date of Birth:August 19, 1944
Place of Birth:Fort Worth, Texas
Education:B.A. in History, Harvard University, 1966; M.A.T. Program, University of Chicago, 1968; M.Ed., U. of Massachusetts, 1973
Read an Excerpt
Chicken Soup for the Soul Healthy Living Series: Asthma
Important Facts, Inspiring Stories
By Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen, Norman H. Edelman
Chicken Soup for the Soul Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2012 Chicken Soup for the Soul Publishing, LLC
All rights reserved.
The Littlest Gift
The Littlest Gift There was one surprising advantage to my first asthma attack, but it was entirely due to timing: I was five years old, it was Christmas Eve, and I wanted to see Santa Claus when he came to my house with the presents.
Every previous Christmas Eve, the excitement of the holidays had meant I hadn't a prayer of being able to stay awake and alert enough to see the big jolly man in red. This year, I would have given anything for the relief that sleep would have brought from the exhaustion of not being able to get enough air into my lungs. Still, I held out the faint hope that my wheezing wouldn't be too loud to eclipse the sound of sleigh bells and the hooves of eight reindeer on my roof.
My first asthma attack was precipitated by sitting too close to our church's nativity scene at Christmas Eve mass. To lend a little more authenticity to the scene that year, the church had hauled in bales of real hay and set up some plastic donkeys and horses. My parents thought it would be a harmless treat for me to sit close to the nativity scene so I could see better. I had always loved animals, but I had recently developed quite severe allergies to most of them, including cats and dogs. My parents hadn't counted on the hay itself triggering an allergy—they had logically assumed that if the animals were plastic, I was safe. They were wrong.
Halfway through Christmas Eve dinner, my nose started running, my eyes became red, itchy and watery, and I started coughing. Several hours later, I was in the full-blown horror of an asthma attack, and it was the most frightening thing that had ever happened to me.
Every breath was a struggle, and it seemed that the harder I worked to get air in, the harder it became to breathe, and the more tired I became. It was like there was a heavy iron weight on my chest, squeezing all the air out of my lungs and taking away all my strength.
Shortly after midnight on Christmas morning, after a steam bath, hot tea, and allergy medicine had eased my symptoms but failed to cure them, it was clear that neither my mother nor I would be getting any sleep. She decided it was time to go to the hospital. I came out of the bathroom to see her arranging the presents under the tree. The room was dark but comforting, illuminated only by the gentle, cheerful colors of the Christmas tree lights. My eyes moved quickly to the plate of cookies, glass of milk, and carrots for the reindeer. Gone, all of them! I couldn't understand how I'd missed him. I'd been listening so hard. Then, as I watched my mother's quick movements with the logic and clarity of youth that inevitably leads to the first bloom of skepticism, it dawned on me. Maybe Santa Claus hadn't been here at all. I knew he was fast and clever, but how could he have waited until the exact moment when I went to the bathroom to deliver all those presents?
It was time to get this sorted out. "Hey, Mom," I croaked between wheezes, "What are you doing with those presents? Isn't that Santa's job?" I asked accusingly. "Well," she said calmly. "He's so busy that he just needed my help arranging them so they look pretty." I hesitated. This made sense, and she sounded sure of herself. Still, something didn't seem quite right.
"You can pick one present to open now and take with you to the hospital," she said gently but firmly. Still disgruntled at having missed the magical Santa Claus and growing crabbier by the minute, I picked the smallest package from the pile and was surprised when it made a little musical sound. I tore off the wrapping to reveal a miniature keyboard, not much wider or longer than the palm of my hand. I was instantly enchanted, and I did take it to the hospital with me, trying to concentrate on making familiar songs with its lovely delicate tones rather than my wheezing and exhaustion.
The little keyboard has long since lost its sound, but my asthma is much better. To this day, listening to any kind of music calms me in the midst of an attack. And my mother's real gift from that Christmas endures—she still does her best to shield me from disappointments, large and small, which I'm sure will never change.
What Is Asthma?
Asthma is a disease that affects the airways in and out of the lungs. In a person with asthma, the airways are swollen or inflamed. They are very sensitive, and when you breathe in something irritating, or that you're allergic to, the airways narrow and become more inflamed.
The muscles around the outside of the airways also tighten up, making the airways even smaller. Cells in the airways make more mucus than usual, which also leads to narrower airways. The result of all these changes: less air gets to your lungs, which leads to wheezing, coughing, a feeling of chest tightness, and breathing difficulty. This is called an asthma attack, or episode.
Some asthma attacks are worse than others. In a severe asthma attack, the airways may become so narrow that the body is starved of oxygen, and the result can be deadly.
That is why it's so important to take asthma seriously. If you have asthma, visit your doctor regularly, avoid things that trigger your breathing problems, and take your medicines just the way your doctor tells you to. You'll be able to live life to the fullest and feel your best.
A doctor diagnoses asthma based on a number of things, including your symptoms, family history of asthma and your breathing. As part of the exam, your doctor will use a device called a spirometer to check your airways. The spirometer measures how much air passes through the airways and how fast you can blow air out of your lungs after taking a deep breath. If you have asthma, the results will be lower than normal.
Depending on the results of your physical exam, medical history, and breathing tests, your doctor will figure out how severe your asthma is. The type of asthma you have determines how it should be treated. It's important to remember that a person with any type of asthma—even the mildest form—can still have asthma attacks. The four main categories of asthma are:
Mild intermittent (comes and goes)—Your asthma is not well controlled, you have asthma symptoms twice a week or less and you are bothered by symptoms at night twice a month or less.
Mild persistent—Your asthma is not well controlled and you have asthma symptoms more than twice a week, but no more than once in a single day. You are bothered by symptoms at night more than twice a month. You may have asthma attacks that affect your activity.
Moderate persistent—Your asthma is not well controlled, you have asthma symptoms every day and you are bothered by nighttime symptoms more than once a week. Asthma attacks may affect your activity.
Severe persistent—Your asthma is not well controlled, you have symptoms throughout the day on most days and you are bothered by nighttime symptoms often. In severe asthma, your physical activity is likely to be limited.
When You First Hear the Word "Asthma"
Hearing from your doctor that you or a family member has asthma may bring on some strong emotions. You may not want to believe it's true. You might be scared, anxious or depressed. Those feelings are all normal.
Once you accept that you or your loved one has asthma, you can start taking steps to control your breathing. Working with your doctor, you will learn how to identify and control asthma triggers and take asthma medicine to prevent asthma attacks. You'll have an asthma action plan to tell you exactly what to do if you feel your breathing start to change.
The more you learn about your asthma, the more confidence you'll have in your ability to manage any breathing problems that may arise. You'll avoid unnecessary hospital visits, and be able to let go of those feelings of distress.
Allergies and Asthma
While you or your child may have asthma but not allergies, or allergies but not asthma, many people have both conditions together. Eczema (allergic skin inflammation) and hay fever are the two most common allergies that people with asthma have. If you suffer from hay fever and you have asthma, you know only too well the feeling of a runny nose and watery eyes combined with the wheezing and coughing that signal an asthma attack.
Mold, dust mites, animal dander and cockroaches can also cause allergic symptoms in the nose and eyes while causing asthma symptoms in the airways.
Think about ...
my asthma attitude
These are the things asthma keeps me from doing: ______________________________________ ______________________________________ ______________________________________
I wish I didn't have asthma because: ______________________________________ ______________________________________ ______________________________________
If I was never bothered by asthma, I would: ______________________________________ ______________________________________ ______________________________________
Something I've learned from having asthma is: ______________________________________ ______________________________________ ______________________________________CHAPTER 2
The Angry Elephant
An angry elephant is sitting on my chest. When I struggle to breathe, the elephant only presses harder, closing off my airways, making each breath more difficult than the last.
The elephant's name is asthma.
Usually, the elephant leaves me alone. I run around waiting on tables at my restaurant job without getting winded. I play tennis, hike and practice yoga. I laugh and quarrel with my husband and gossip with my girlfriends. Most of the time, I'm just another middle-age woman who worries about money, loves her family, and wonders what it might be like to kiss Brad Pitt.
Without warning, I catch a nasty cold that turns into a stubborn cough followed by a tightness in my chest, and an inability to talk without wheezing. My lungs feel as if they are full of glue.
Removing that elephant off my chest is all that matters. I don't worry about wrinkles or credit card bills or squabbles at my job. Each labored breath is more precious than the last. When my asthma gets out of control, I'm reminded that the nasty elephant is still on my chest. Since I was diagnosed with asthma 20 years ago, I've been hospitalized twice, not counting several emergency room visits and countless sleepless nights gasping for air.
And yet I sometimes still have trouble admitting I have asthma.
Growing up, everyone called me the healthy child, the one who danced through life never out of breath. It was different for my mother and little brother. My mother wore a medical alert bracelet identifying her as an asthma patient. One bee sting could trigger an allergic reaction and an asthma attack. My little brother had to drink syruplike, bitter medicine and sleep in a cloud of vaporized steam to keep his lungs open.
I was the strong, free girl while my mother and brother were imprisoned with sensitive, sick lungs. They had allergies that might trigger asthma while I could rub my face in a cat's fur without my eyes watering. I played all day in a field of flowers and tall grasses without worrying about pollen. Dust only made me sneeze, not wheeze. When I caught a cold, I didn't have to be rushed to the doctor like my brother.
While dealing with their asthma, neither my mother nor my little brother ever complained, or acted sorry for themselves or were afraid it might kill them. They both just accepted that it was part of who they were, like having blue eyes or an outward belly button. I often reflect on my childhood and admire how bravely my mother and brother lived with asthma during a time when there weren't many advanced medications.
I was the one who whined about asthma. Why couldn't we have a cat? Or goose-down pillows? Why did my mother have to spend my seventh birthday party in a hospital bed? Why did we have to cut short our vacation to Canada just because my brother was wheezing?
During my early twenties, I moved away from home and put my family's asthma behind me. I smoked cigarettes, worked in smoky nightclubs, slept on feather pillows in dusty rooms and took my lungs for granted as I always had.
Then, when I was 29, my genetic time clock kicked in. I always was the late bloomer. Part of me was glad I escaped asthma as a child, and the other half of me refused to truly accept the doctor's diagnosis.
I didn't like to tell friends for fear they might view me as "weak." It embarrassed me to use my inhaler in public. I took my doctor's advice and medication haphazardly. I told people I didn't mind if they smoked in my house. I'd wait until that elephant was stomping on me before I'd seek help and then become impatient when the doctor couldn't "fix me" immediately.
I wanted to pretend I was still that little girl with the perfect lungs who only watched other people have asthma. All I could see was what was taken from me and not what was given, the opportunity to take better care of my body.
With age comes many things, but especially the understanding that immortality is reserved for people in white robes with wings. Besides, the mirror won't let me pretend I'm a little girl anymore. Breathing matters more than other people's opinions.
As I inch closer to 50, my angry elephant and I have finally come to an agreement. I take my medications, get plenty of rest, don't smoke, avoid air pollutants and get exercise. I go to the doctor without shame.
Asthma has taught me I must accept my weakness to truly be strong.
A person with asthma has his or her own set of asthma "triggers." These are things that can set off a reaction in your lungs that can lead to an asthma attack. Triggers can be found indoors or outdoors. Check off the triggers that make your asthma worse:
__ Cold air
__ Tobacco smoke
__ Wood smoke
__ Hair spray
__ Other strong odors or fumes
__ Dust mites
__ Animal dander (tiny scales or particles that fall off hair, feathers or skin of pets)
__ Common cold, flu or other respiratory diseases
__ Other (fill in here)_____________________
It's not always easy to figure out what your triggers are. If you do know what they are, cutting down your exposure to them may help you avoid asthma attacks.
If you don't know your triggers, try picking one or two on the list above and limiting your exposure to them. See if your asthma gets better. This may indicate these are triggers for your asthma.
IN YOUR HOME
Some people with asthma find their symptoms get worse at night. If you're one of these people, try sleeping with air conditioning. Because you keep the windows and doors closed, you're keeping pollen and mold spores outside. Air conditioning also lowers the humidity indoors, which helps control mold and dust mites.
The following are tips for controlling common triggers:
Tobacco smoke. Don't allow smoking in your home. Ask family members and guests to smoke outside. Even better, suggest they quit smoking!
Cockroaches. Small pieces of the insects and their droppings end up in house dust, and from there, into the air you breathe. To get rid of roaches:
Store food in sealable containers and keep crumbs, dirty dishes and other food cleaned up.
Fix leaks and wipe up standing water.
If you choose to use a pesticide, consider baits—they're less likely than sprays or foggers to harm your lungs.
Indoor mold. Bathrooms, kitchens and basements are prime spots for mold when humidity is high.
Make sure air circulation is good in these areas, and the areas are cleaned often.
Consider a dehumidifier for the basement— empty the water and clean the container often to prevent mildew.
Wash foam pillows every week to get rid of mold that may form from perspiration. Dry them thoroughly and change them once a year.
Check houseplants for mold. You may need to keep plants outdoors.
Strong odors or fumes. Avoid or use very sparingly:
Dust mites. These tiny, microscopic spiders are found in house dust. One pinch of dust may have several thousand mites.
Put mattresses in dust-proof, allergen-impermeable covers, and tape over the zipper.
Excerpted from Chicken Soup for the Soul Healthy Living Series: Asthma by Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen, Norman H. Edelman. Copyright © 2012 Chicken Soup for the Soul Publishing, LLC. Excerpted by permission of Chicken Soup for the Soul Publishing, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
ContentsIntroduction: Breathe Easier with Asthma Norman H. Edelman, M.D.,
Don't Let Asthma Control You!,
The Littlest Gift Anne Stopper,
The Angry Elephant Susanne Brent,
Breathing to Death Felice Prager,
Beating Asthma Emily Bamberger,
Life Off Stage Vicki Armitage,
Disney Dreams Jessica Berger,
Asthma Can't Smash Olympic Ambitions Jackie Joyner-Kersee,
Camp Catch Your Breath Jessica Rogerson,
Running on Asthma Shari Davis Gonzales,
Like Mother, Like Son Shawn Scott McSwain,
God Knew What I Could Handle Renee Hall-Freeman,
Asthma at Sixteen Jessica Lynn Blazier,
My Asthma Friend Joyce Stark,
I'm Breathing! Jaye Lewis,
Who Is ...?,
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Cute stories about cats and their antics.