At it’s worst, having Asthma is like having a heavy person sit on your chest constantly. One is also plagued with a bone rattling smokers cough, despite never having smoked. Coughing is an art form to asthmatics, something we’re quite good at. Fits of coughing can get out of control and lead to vomiting but an asthmatic knows just how and when to stop them.
With a wheeze, like a rattlesnake, constantly deflating your lungs holding on to oxygen is difficult. An asthma attack is like the heavy person has been joined by some friends and they have decided to dance on your chest. It’s impossible to draw a breath. Each long and wheezy inhalation is like salvaging a wreckage from the deep: the weight of the ocean makes it a huge effort to salvage any bounty.
The weather plays a big part. Cold weather is bearable but in this country the moisture makes cold air damp and lethal. One breath of cold damp air will knock the wind from an asthmatic’s sails and leave them in fits of coughing. All these thoughts of getting older. Most Asthmatics will grow out of the illness, learning to adapt to their limited lung capacity but colds and other viruses as well as prolonged bouts of cold damp weather will bring the symptoms right back.
Asthma is caused by restricted airways. The small tubes become over-sensitive and react to triggers such as cold air or dust. This reaction causes the muscles around the wall of the airway tighten up, making it narrow and difficult for the air to flow in and out of the lungs. The lining of the airways then gets swollen and clogged cutting off oxygen, human fuel.
As a child I remember sitting in the waiting room of one of the top asthma experts in the country. I spent a lot of time with a lot of doctors in my childhood. I even spent a week in hospital once after an ill-advised pillow fight lead to an asthma attack that I couldn’t get back under control. We’d been out visiting relatives and in the car on the way home my mother sat in the back with me trying to calm me down. It didn’t work and I had to be brought in to hospital and put under an oxygen tent. In the asthma specialist’s office I was called in ahead of time. The Doctor had just seen my x-ray. As I walked in he looked relieved, as though he had just solved a puzzle. He’d been amazed at the size of my lungs for my age. When he saw that I was extremely tall the mystery was solved and he was delighted with himself.
In the months that followed I was given new and shiny inhalers. I was also given an apparatus to measure the strength and duration of my breath. I was supposed to use it regularly and plot the results on some graph paper I’d been given. I could barely take my medication on time so very often the blow tube for measuring my breath was often forgotten about until right before the next appointment. Usually I’d plot a made up chart on the way in to the doctors office. I’m not sure what the measurements actually told him, perhaps that I was asthmatic. The new drugs didn’t work either.
When I was young my parents much have spent a fortune on drugs and doctors bills. Those specialists are not cheap. In fairness to them they were tireless in their pursuit of a cure. They would try anything, always on the lookout for newspaper articles or journals that might contain some new answer. My mother devoted a huge amount of time to these endeavours, taking me to doctors and what not. She would not have been able to keep down a job and manager my illness. However a cure was never forthcoming which lead me to the belief that most doctors are quacks.
If doctors are quacks, pharmacists must be quack dealers. I’ve had an inhaler all of my life, almost 35 years. For the past ten or more, I haven’t had a valid prescription. Why would I go back to another doctor? Usually pharmacists will use their common sense and replace inhalers without prescription. I only need inhalers on rare occasions, usually after a cold or virus when I’m more vulnerable to the old wheeze. I was refused an inhaler for the first time this week in Carpenterstown. I was advised to go see my doctor. Now I know I’m on a losing streak.
Too tired to wheeze any further argument, I left the store disgusted at the pharmacist and pharmacies in Ireland generally. That cosy relationship with the GPs is all too convenient. One feeding the other. I holiday in Spain regularly and Pharmacists there are highly trained individuals who talk to their clients about their symptoms and recommend the best course of action. In Ireland the actual pharmacists remains in the background like an overlord, always inputting imaginary data on some computer system. The sales assistants will ask some nominal, scripted questions but that’s all you’ll get. The drugs in Spain are a quarter of the price and you can get virtually anything without prescription.
I wasn’t that disappointed though. The drugs don’t work, they just make it worse. In my opinion Lloyd’s drugs would never have worked for me anyway. Like a cat in a bag waiting to drown I had never expected to find my cure but when I was about 15 my mothers tireless search for a solution brought us to Sean Boylan, the local medicine man in Dunboyne. His name was whispered amongst past patients and word of mouth spread rapidly. This man had cured. He’d cured back aches, arthritis, kidney infections, eczema and asthma.
Sean Boylan managed the Meath football team from 1982 to 2005. He’s also a herbalist, a Boylan Family tradition. His home and clinic (Dunboyne Herbs) are on the outskirts of Dunboyne Co. Meath. It was there that I first met him, all those years ago. He was full of life, energy was just exploding out of him. One of the first things he said to me was,”we’ll get you back playing football”. I’d never run more than two steps in my life without coughing, sport was a foreign language to me back then.
One word of warning, the herbs do not taste good. I dubbed it ‘guk’ to trying and combine the words God awful, yucky and disgusting. I had to take the guk before and after meals but before long the mucus and bile that I had lived with for years, blocking my lungs was lifted and removed. Before long I could breath without wheezing and run without coughing. Sean Boylan was given the freedom of County Meath for his exploits on the field. His statue stands proudly outside Dunboyne Castle. I think he deserves more credit for his off-field heroics though. I still take guk to this day.