I have a condition that doctor’s have coined, “respiratory distress.” It’s not exactly full blown asthma, but a response from my body caused by intense stress or panic. The first time I ever experienced it was my freshman year in college. I was at a play with my then boyfriend and his parents, and it was triggered when his father referred to me as “his daughter in law.” Halfway through the play I was wheezing and coughing and on the ride home I threw up out the car window like a true modern day damsel in distress.
When I was in middle school, all the cool kids at my school had inhalers and luckily that idea has stayed with me well into adulthood. When I’m re-asssessing my self worth to myself I always include, and I have an inhaler. One Thanksgiving my inhaler ran out and at dinner when my aunt asked me what my plans were after I graduated college in May, my air passages tightened up and I found myself in so much discomfort I couldn’t eat a second helping of Grammie’s turkey meatloaf, so I had to be driven to the hospital. I was at the reception desk explaining to the nurse why I needed to see the doctor, and making a scene, “It’s not gasp for gasp asthma gasp I have gasp respiratory gasp gasp distress gaaaassspppp” I told her, clutching the counter in front of me to emphasize distress.
I haven’t had to use my inhaler in a long time so I usually forget to bring it places, like to a Christmas party in San Francisco that I went to last year. I was standing in a strangers living room wearing a furry snow hat with my boyfriend, Taylor, and all his manpanions when I started to feel my distress coming on. Before the party, Taylor and I had spent all day driving around the city to different grocery stores to buy a keg and various different brands of alcohol. We returned lugging a half barrel sized keg and a bunch of grocery bags behind us to a house full of enthusiastic young gentlemen. The party began with Taylor and one of his friends attempting to light a fire in the fireplace and as the living room filled with smoke, someone ran in announcing they were “Releasing the Kraken!” Downstairs in the garage I could hear Justin Bieber’s “Beauty and the Beat” blasting and I could feel my air passages tightening up.
As I escaped outside, sitting on the stoop wheezing, Taylor found me, “Can you breathe?” I looked up at him and took my fuzzy hat off, “Gasssssp, Noooo.” “One of my friends has an inhaler let me go find him.” Taylor returned with the only manpanion not donning an ugly Christmas sweater. He sat next to me and handed me his inhaler. “I’ve never met you before, I’m Jenn, I have respiratory distress,” I introduced myself. “I haven’t really partied with these guys since college,” he told me. “And college was gasp six years ago,” I pointed out. We looked at each other in a way only two people who experience chronic inflammatory disease of the airways could. In my heart I knew that this lone manpanion wearing all black to a Christmas party would have an inhaler, and I remembered the cool kids at my middle school who had inhalers. We are cool, I thought.
When I went back inside to the party, some of the manpanions had taken their shirts off and I knew the Kraken had successfully been released. As I lay down on the spot of the floor in the dining room I had claimed as my bed for the night, I could hear “Beauty and the Beat” still thumping downstairs. Later that night I was woken up to the sounds of two full grown men wrestling each other in a slightly sexual way, and later to the sounds of someone vomiting out the front door. The lone manpanion had given me his inhaler for the night and as I sat in the dark puffing medicine into my lungs I wondered why I wasn’t born a stronger woman. What would I do if I was forced to fight in combat, or ever found myself in real peril. I couldn’t hide in a trench on a battlefield puffing away on an inhaler, I would have to kill without being able to breathe. I’m not above admitting weakness, and this I knew for certain, in the morning I would be marching my wheezy ass straight to the doctors to get my perscription filled.
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