Sunday, April 27, 2008

On Asthma

Well it’s a really windy day here. I’ve been laying paving slabs and covering over the cess pit which I had to open and empty because it had got blocked up with all the washing machine crud. I think everybody should have a cesspit for a while, and open it every now and again just to see how much shit is actually going into the environment. Two buckets of detergent scum solidified on the top of several hundred liters of super toxic waste. The smell I won’t even begin to describe save to say that I was probably better off not breathing. Talking about breathing, perhaps I would like to talk about asthma. Perhaps not. Let’s see how it goes. When my sister was born and I was five and she was 0, I suddenly developed asthma. Very bad asthma. Nearly died I think. ‘Psychological’ asthma methinks. When I started smoking at 16 (fun thing for an asthmatic to do) miraculously the asthma went. Totally. I didn’t take anything except the very, very occasional puff of ventolin for 20 years. I stopped smoking, the asthma came back. Started again, It went. (not that I’m recommending smoking for asthmatics here). So I carried on smoking until about 5 years ago. I have been playing various bellows blown bagpipe for years but my heart has always been with the highland bagpipes, you know, the noisy ones. A friend of mine bought a set and because I was used to the fingering, having started to play a similar bellows-blown pipe I though I’d have a go. Well I though my lungs were going to burst. Most embarrassing. Couldn’t even get the things blown up. I resolved then and there to stop smoking which I did. A few months later, I had another go on the pipes and even managed to play a tune. The next stop was to get a set myself, which I did. The asthma had come back in the meantime. Now I don’t know if anybody knows but one of the theories on asthma is that asthmatics are not generous (grabbing, grasping, not very nice people that we are!!). They want it all for themselves. They want to hog all the air themselves. Doh!! not surprising really I feel. However, they say that we are thus. The more you grab and grasp the worse your asthma gets. You have to be generous and give away the air you have and you will be given more, cleaner air in return. Ball cocks to that say I. BUT, then I noticed that, puffing into the pipes in the morning, set me up, asthma free, for the whole day. The more I played the better I felt. I used to go on for an hour or more on the pipes. Very therapeutic. I think that blowing out all the stale air empties your lungs allowing more space for oxygen rich air. However, when I was taking down a ceiling a while back a whole lot of crud fell on top of me, hundreds of years worth of crud. I carried on working but slowly and surely, my lungs started to shut down to the point that I couldn’t even walk up 2 steps. I began to get a little worried. I ended up of course in casualty where I got massive and I mean massive doses of ventolin, intravenous cortisone, oxygen, the works. I left with a bag full of instructions and medicines to take. I went to my GP and he prescribed various things, sprays and pills and cortisone for weeks which knocked me out no end. Then once off the cortisone and feeling a little better I got put on various sprays to keep the ‘new’, allergic style of asthma in check. And so my life progressed, with a little more difficulty than normal because the asthma was more or less permanent. And living on a hill farm everything is either down and then up or up and then down. There is very little horizontal on a hill (one of the things they don’t tell you at school). I went for lung function tests and CAT scan and the works. Result, permanent probably traumatic, damage to lungs. Emphysema. Stop playing the pipes. WHAT??!So I did. I didn’t want my lungs to pop as they more or less said they would. I know they were in a bad way cos I could feel it. I bought a new set of border pipes, with bellows and got really sad. All my life I’d wanted to play the pipes and now I had a set, I couldn’t. The Gods were messing me about again. I enquired as to what I could do to maintain my lungs in good condition. I was told exercise. “Walking?” I asked. “Walking” they replied. “Up mountains and hills?” I asked, “up mountains and hills” they replied. Well at least something in my life would be the same. So as we had just opened the B&B and there being hundreds of square miles of walkable land here, I bought a GPS and started to map out walks around the valley avoiding civilization, so mostly up high and taking in all the best places. My wife was a cartographer so we did the maps and photos and descriptions and put them in a folder ready for the guests. This did me good, did the B&B good, something special to offer the guests and did the dog good. We have a bump on the side of the mountain here, the mountain is called Vandalino (little, really, ‘tis true!) and Casteluzzo is the bump. It’s a high bump and more or less vertical in places. Anyway, as I was getting near to the top of this bump I had to stop because my heart was pounding so much and my lungs seemed to be near bursting. I had a though. What is the difference between doing this and blowing into a bagpipe? Apart from the head of air that you have to produce to overcome the pressure in the bag I would have said that there was no difference. Anyway, after a year of not playing the highland pipes I had had enough of life. No purpose. It’s about the only time I’d actually cried with tears in …God, years. So I though what the hell, you have to die somehow (didn’t have the baby then of course) so with wife’s consent, I started again… and the asthma got better, and better and better. But then again I was still taking the drugs. I had noticed though that over the year I had been spending many nights sitting upright, wide awake in a chair with terrific irregularity in my heart beat. I put it down to stress (me? Ha!) and chocolate as every time I had something rich it seemed to start. Then, one day, bending down to put a tile in place in the kitchen, my heart started pounding in a very irregular fashion. I have always suffered from a bit of an irregular heart beat but having as everyone says, the heart of an ox, I was not worried and neither were the medical profession. But this was a little bit too weird. No rhythm at all. Weirder than all the episodes of the last year. So after 10 minutes I decided that perhaps I would live longer if I were in a hospital, So because we live out in the stix I got bundled in the car and rushed down towards the hospital (which after health service cuts is in the nearest big town, 20 minutes away instead of 3 minutes away as it used to be – but that is another story). After only five minutes I got the wife to stop the car and call for an ambulance because I didn’t think I was gong to make it to hospital. She called and waited by the car to show the ambulance where to stop and within minutes the ambulance came. I got in and off we went .. in the wrong direction!! I gestured to the wife to ask where the hell we were going and she was told to the casualty department at Torre Pellice which is where we live and where we had just come from. “But there isn’t a casualty department at Torre Pellice” Laura said. So we turned round and headed in the right direction. Just then another ambulance, a serious ambulance shows up lights flashing and sirens wailing on the other side of the road obviously looking for someone. My driver radioed in to base and was instantly patched through to the other ambulance, they agreed a meeting place and I was transferred to a real ambulance with cardiac unit and bottles and pipes and hoses and syringes and stuff. I wasn’t even allowed to move from one ambulance to the other on my own. I had to sit there in full view whilst they hooked me up to monitors and asked millions of questions. Meantime, hundreds of sightseers (I really hate italy for that) were crowding round the ambulance and leaning off balconies to see who it was and see the blood. I tried to raise my finger to give them all the salute they deserved but was a little too concentrated on staying alive to be able to pull this off with dignity. So off to hospital we went. I spent the next 15 minutes, (the wife took the car and she was following in it) trying to think up famous last words to get the nurse to say to her after my demise. Something poignant, witty and hopefully desperately funny to show her that death was not really so bad when you got to the inevitable part of it. When I got to hospital eventually I discovered that I had atrial fibrillation (still don’t know what It means but I don’t want it again whatever it is). They kept me monitored, the bastards, for over an hour to see if it would stop of its own accord. It didn’t. When the consultant came in he got me to sign a consent form for some drug or other. At this point I was beyond caring (bastards). I woke up with a start as it were when the consultant asked the nurse how to inject the drug. “Wait a minute” says “I is much butter now dank you”. The nurse winked at me and gave me a knowing look as if to say don’t worry I at least know what I’m doing, took the syringe off the consultant, tapped the air out of it (Woozle relaxes at this point) and miracle of miracles, the best rush I have ever had in my LIFE!!! Forget acid and stuff. This is the best. Bom, bombom, bombombom silence bom, bombom, silence silence bom silence bombom then bom, bom, bom, bom, bom 60 per minute as normal.So, they sent me home with an appointment to see the cardiac specialist or whatever you call them. She, obnoxious cow she was too, enquired what medicines I was taking, I told her. She tossed her head and pouted and said “ha! (obnoxious cow she was) well if you're taking that drug, what do you expect?” (obnoxious cow she was). Apparently this medicine that I had been taking for asthma is well known in cardiac circles for producing atrial fibrillation in debilitated patients after long term use. To her knowledge several had died in the local area already. “Stop taking them” she said. Which obviously I did. I looked up on the net and spoke to the doctor and found out that it was perfectly true and that the manufacturers did not include this pretty vital piece of information on the blurb that comes with the inhaler (though I have since had this contested but can't be bothered to check it out). Needless to say, I have never had any problems since. I’m coming to the conclusion now, be patient. But the asthma was still there if I stopped puffing the pipes and I was still taking medicines for the asthma. Then on the last trip to blighty, wife had measles, the daughter had flue, I had flue and we were all in bed together for three days, immobile and exchanging germs and bacteria, in the cold and I was so ill with other things that I clean forgot to take my medicines. If you are an asthmatic like me, you don’t usually notice it anyway till you move.When I got back to italy I didn’t feel too bad but as I had only got one or two capsules left and had to go to the doctor to get my repeat prescription (stupid bloody idea that is) I really couldn’t be bothered. So I kept putting it off because I didn’t feel that bad. So, in conclusion, it’s now been well over 2 months without any form of medicine, and no bagpiping for the moment either except for a couple of gigs a couple of weeks ago. I feel fine. I get out of breath but then I smoked for 30 years what can I bloody expect (oooh, I can feel a rant on smoking and tobacco companies coming on – no stop Woozle, stop!) but other than that I feel fine. Probably better than I have for years. So there it is. I don’t know what is happening I do know though that you should always question the medicines you are taking. I blasted an asthma relieving medicine in to my lungs for years when I was a kid and just recently found out that it had been taken off the market years ago because it was “highly cancerogenous”. Oh thank you very much. Thank you so much. Well that’s another blog entry done. I do like this way of doing things. I like writing as you’ve probably gathered but it’s different writing to someone, rather than just writing, even if you don’t know who you are writing to and even if they care or not. It gives you focus and purpose which seemed to be missing in the past. I might even try some poetry on you next (cries of No! Woozle, spare us! Drift across the ether). I hate poetry though so perhaps not.

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