'Journey from Asthma to Emphysema'
1st of the Four-Part Series

Vijai P. Sharma, Ph.D., psychologist

There are hundreds of different types of "asthmas" and "COPDs" and equally numerous are the causes and contributory factors to the progression of the disease. All of us as we embark on our life journey have a unique combination of circumstances and history of confusions, misconceptions and missed opportunities contributing to the progression of the disease. My "Journey from Asthma to Emphysema" is a chapter from the "Travelogue" of my life journey.

In retrospection, it appears that my tiny lungs began the asthma journey when I was a toddler growing up in Northern India in the early 1940s. But in terms of the living conditions in this remote little town was like living in the 20s in the U.S.A. For cooking we used a variety of resources such as cow chips, wood, saw dust, hard coal, soft coal or kerosene oil. Electricity was yet to be introduced in our area, therefore, at night we used kerosene or mustard oil lamps up until my early teen years.

Summers were beautiful! On our beds out on the open terrace, we went to sleep counting the stars each night. But in the winters, doors and windows were shut and we were all cooped up in one room. Even as a 5-6 year old child, the smoke rising from the oil lamp made my chest feel tight and uncomfortable. But what scared me stiff at nights were the big cockroaches crawling on the floor of our dark and stuffy pantry where the grains and lentils were stored. I just didn't want to enter there at nights because it did something to my breathing. Whether it was the allergic-asthmatic response to the cockroaches or the sheer fear of those crawling creatures, I just could not breathe!

The elders in my family have occasionally referenced to the times when as a toddler I had scared everyone by my wheezing and "fighting for breath." Those episodes might have stopped in early childhood. I remember most things from age 5-6 and I don't remember ever having a full blown asthma attack. But some effects of asthma persisted. Through out the grade school, I did not participate in any sports or activities which required running or exertion. Some times I could run and exert just fine, but other times I would experience shortness of breath, chest tightness, nausea and dizziness or just the feeling of discomfort. Since it was unpredictable when I might experience those symptoms, I avoided sports all together.

After "connecting the dots" I realize that some form of sub-clinical asthma and hyper sensitivity to a lot of environmental factors persisted throughout my life. As a child I had colds, cough and low-grade fever throughout the winter and frequently through out the year. I was treated by doctors trained in indigenous medicine (Ayurveda) as well as western medicine but I was never diagnosed as having "asthma" "bronchitis" or "chronic bronchitis." However, the "theory" offered both by the Ayurvedic and western medicine doctors was that my tonsils were severely infected and filled with pus which caused upper respiratory infections and thus year-round bouts of colds, cough and fever. After many years of unsuccessful treatment of tonsils with indigenous and western medicines, my tonsils were taken out at age 12. We all had high hopes from tonsil operation hoping that would be the end of seemingly never-ending coughs, colds and fever.

Unfortunately, those hopes were belied in the following couple months as the post-surgical antibiotics and other medications were discontinued.

Continue to 'Journey from Asthma to Emphysema' Part 2 
Return to Adult Asthma 
Return to COPD 

Copyright 2009, Mind Publications 
Posted April 2009


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