Saturday, July 17, 2010

On Breathing

The last month of the school is always very hectic for me. I have mentioned before that I am not a teacher in the traditional sense of the word, so it always means extra paperwork and headaches for me. I’ve often compared it to a race, with the finish line being the final day of school and always approaching much too quickly. This year was no exception.

So why, you may ask, am I finally addressing this topic when the school year officially ended five weeks ago? And what could this possibly have to do with my title regarding “breathing” anyway?

Patience, my friend. I’ll get to that.

This year I began working at a new school, which was much closer to home and was just the environmental change I needed. Don’t get me wrong, I loved my old school, but my total drive (partly due to my daughter starting school this year) went from an hour one way to twenty minutes. Unfortunately, during the last month of school I spent the difference sitting at my desk, or in meetings, or running about the school building collecting information, or… well, you get the idea.

And on top of that, I broke my cardinal rule and brought work home with me. Almost every night that month and every night during the last week or two. I even spent the better part of the last weekend before summer at this very computer typing one piece of information after another into the necessary forms. In fact, I spent so much time here that weekend that my back really began to ache. A lot.

By Sunday afternoon my back was so tight that it was actually painful. And this is from someone who prides himself on having a very high pain tolerance.

By Monday morning I was wincing whenever I moved the wrong way at work and was worried that co-workers would start to notice.

By Monday afternoon, it was evident that I needed to go to the doctor/med center. In addition to the severe pain across my upper back, I was also having trouble breathing. And that lump in my throat that I forgot to mention earlier, but had until this point thought was indigestion, had refused to go away.

So I called a friend to watch my daughter and headed to the med center, as my doctor’s office had closed by this time. As I sat there my head also began to hurt, but only as long as I kept my eyes open. It did not turn out to be a migraine as I had originally feared, but it did cause me to spend the majority of my time waiting (several hours’ worth) with my eyes closed unless it was absolutely necessary to open them.

And during this time it also became increasingly difficult to breathe. At one point I worried that it might be some sort of panic attack brought on by the overwhelming amount of work I had yet to complete. But I’ve been with several people who have had panic attacks in the past, and none of the symptoms really seemed to match up. So I sat. And waited. And worried. And tried to catch my breath.

They finally called me back to a room, but I waited there so long that I thought they had forgotten about me. Just about the time I was ready to climb off of the table and open the door, the doctor came in, all apologies about having to suture someone’s finger.

I guess open wounds trump the inability to breathe at this establishment.

The doctor said I had bronchitis and that I was to go with the nurse for a breathing treatment. They checked my lung capacity before and after the treatment and said that I needed to come back in the morning to get an x-ray. It was too late to fill my prescriptions, so I picked up my daughter and went home to bed.

Throughout this time I was a bit troubled by the diagnosis of bronchitis. I had bronchitis once in college and I remember it being accompanied by other symptoms much like those that come with a severe chest cold. A family member had also had bronchitis recently and had the same chest-cold-like symptoms. I felt fine other than the lump in my throat, the pain in my back, and the extreme difficulty in breathing just one single, normal breath.

So the next morning I put my daughter on the bus and headed back to the med center for my x-ray and follow-up. They said that I had “something suspicious” in my right lung (though it was the left lung that hurt when I took a deep breath) and that I should take my medicine and have another x-ray done in August (keep in mind this was early June). So I stayed off work the rest of that day and part of the next day (but that was prearranged as my daughter’s kindergarten program was that morning). But the work wasn’t going to wait any longer and I could breathe well enough to function at that point, so I went in. As it turns out, I made those days up as it took me an extra day and a half to finish all of the work necessary to end the school year (I just ended up doing it on my own time).

I’m still not entirely convinced that I had bronchitis. I think it was more likely pneumonia, or walking pneumonia at the very least, but I’m not a doctor, so what do I know?

What I did find odd is that I take the ability to breathe so completely for granted. As a widower, you would think that I would cherish every life-giving breath. After all, it was the cessation of breathing that made me a widower in the first place. And many of you reading this are here because your spouse or another loved one also lost the ability to breathe. And yet, I take that ability for granted.

I did not, at any point during this ordeal, think that I was going to die. I felt reasonably certain that the doctors would know what to do and that I would feel better in a few days’ time. But I felt reasonably certain of that on the night of February 25 and during the day on February 26, 2007 too, so I guess one can never be too certain. I can say that I haven’t taken the ability to breathe quite so much for granted over the last month though…

So that explains my absence from the Mother’s Day post to about mid-June. There’s another explanation for my absence this last month, but it will have to wait for a future post. In the meantime, please check out my Facebook page and be sure to click that you “like” it. The more people who like it, the faster my blog posts will appear on the page. (A special thanks to the three of you who have checked “like” already!) And the more interest shown in the page, the more interactive it will likely become.

Stay tuned for future updates.

And cherish your ability to breathe.


  1. I often take my heart for granted... even though that is what failed my husband... I try to imagine it pumping and becoming healthy when I'm bike riding. I hope to heck that mine doesnt fail me like my husband's did despite his general fitness...

  2. Dan & others,I know this is likely NOT what you want to hear (or even 'process' right now) BUT it really will get better with time. I was widowed at the age of 40 (was not my idea of 'life begins at forty')left with 2 kids to raise only 8 and 11 years old. You will get past the intense numbing grief and believe it or not, you will grow from this experience. It forces you to look at yourself very differently. You suddenly (whether you want to or not)start taking 'inventory' and appreciate the things in life that we all take for granted. Hang in there and keep the faith, life as you knew it will not return but life as you want to make it will pervail. Good luck!