One breath at a time


When I arrive at my pulmonologist’s office I am thrilled to see my doctor who has been treating my chronic bronchitis and Kartagener’s Syndrome since I was 21. Thirty-one years. We greet each other behind our masked faces, eyes light up in recognition it has been nearly seven years since we’ve seen each other. My bad. I think I have a handle on my disease and then I land in the ER with pain from a lung infection gone awry. But seven years is a good run with no hospital visits as I’ve gotten much better at taking care of myself, until I stop.

I’m brought to a room for my vitals, this office visit with everyone masked and on edge from Corona. And then the words I cringe to hear: breathing test. Off we go, through a maze of hallways to another waiting area where a senior gentleman is reading on his Kindle, waiting his turn with the dreaded machine. He looks up and says what we’re both thinking. I hate this test. Me too, I say. He looks at me quizzically as if to ask why I would have apprehension about this test. I look young. I look healthy. My lungs, in fact, are as old as his body.

The wait is fifteen minutes with all the disenfecting and cleaning that must go on between patients now, and then it is my turn. The directions haven’t changed since my last visit. Sit. Take a deep breath. Exhale. Clip on nose. Take a deep breath and blow into the mouthpiece as forcefully and long as you can. They let you sit now because it makes you dizzy and probably one too many of us have lost our footing and fallen to the floor while attempting this standing up. Repeat process twice more. The nurse tries to say something positive. Great job. But she stumbles to sound positive as I imagine my numbers surprise her based on how I present. Back to the exam room.

It is another 20 to 30 minutes before my doctor enters the room, as he reaquaints himself with my charts and tests. We catch up on life since we last saw each other. We’re like old friends who occasionally meet up. His kids are adults, mine is thirteen. He’s down to halftime work. There is an ease and comfort in knowing this man for so long but I now fear his retirement and the need to replace him. At least that won’t be today. We finally get around to my visit. The cold facts of my latest CT scan from the ER visit, my lungs loaded with white spots that trouble him. My breathing test troubles him. My lung function is getting worse.

We hatch a new plan. A new drug. A new regime. More nebulizer treatments and exercises to strengthen my breathing output. I’ve been down this road before but as I get older, I realize my lungs don’t have much room to get worse before other measures need to be taken. How can this be me when my body feels so young and good? Coronavirus is something I will need to avoid at all costs, an added stress to my taxed lungs and mind, wondering where it could be lurking. But I have today and I can learn to breath anew.



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