Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Why we asthmatics need you to listen

I'm utterly incensed! I've just read a story about a young boy who died of asthma after his school left him waiting in a corridor and did not seek help. As a lifelong asthmatic, I can't say I'm surprised. Despite the fact that asthma is far more common than when I was a child, understanding of it among non-medical people doesn't seem to have improved an iota. Countless times I've been instructed to breathe into a brown paper bag (not a good idea at all), calm down (not at all helpful) or sit next to an open window (again not very helpful)

While a school child I always had bad attacks around September and was constantly being told it was because I was a nervous type and worried about going back to school. My sensible mother was unconvinced and she was proved right as I still have bad attacks at the same time of year, probably as a result of tree pollens. And anyway you'd be feckin' nervous if you were taking Ventolin and having asthma attacks!!!

Perhaps my worst experience was an A level French revision trip I attended aged seventeen . The location was a large, dusty Victorian mansion where we were provided with woolen blankets (lethal for me). In loco parentis were a bunch of inexperienced French assistants, probably barely out of their own teens.

Every night I had bad asthma attacks and one night had probably the worst asthma attack of my life, coming close, I believe, to dying. While I don't believe in religious near death experiences I did experience the 'going down a tunnel towards a light' phenomenon as my breathing became more and more laboured and I assume my body more and more depleted of oxygen. At one point I decided, with a strange acceptance, that I was going to die and basically gave in. I was very lucky that a friend intervened and I will be forever grateful to her as our French teachers were too busy flirting with one another in the staff room to be remotely interested (a few years later I did the Heimlich manoeuvre on my friend when she was choking, so we're quits I feel)

When my friend informed our temporary carers, nobody took me to hospital or did anything except coo 'doucement' (sounds nice but pretty crap really). The only thing that saved me was said friend sitting up with me all night while I overdosed on Ventolin and black tea. I arrived home in a hell of a state and my parents were furious.

I had hoped that nearly thirty years later, things would have improved, that understanding of asthma would be more widespread. But sadly I fear people still don't understand asthma at all including the lady who decided she could 'cure' me of my 'panic attacks' on the train back from Edinburgh a couple of year ago when I had a sudden and scary asthma attack. I had quite a job getting away from her, which added no end to the stress of the situation. I ended up hiding from her ‘kindness’ in the corridor next to the toilets where a thoughtful guard offered to stop the train and get help. Fortunately,I managed to control my attack with the use of drugs while my sister took the flaky lady, who was remonstrating with her about not understanding my 'panic attacks' , to task.

We asthmatics have to take some responsibility and I'm forever boring newbies to my life about which inhalers are preventers and which is the one for emergencies. I just wish a few more people would listen though, take us seriously, put on hold some of their prejudices (we don't do it to get attention or because we don't like your cat or your blankets) and dispense with homely remedies and old wives' tales (put your brown paper bags away). Maybe then we could avoid unnecessary deaths like the loss of that young boy. We're not highly strung, we're not hyperventilating and we're not in need of shoving towards the nearest open window. We're asthmatic.

The problem with the word 'boyfriend'

If there's one word that I find problematic it's 'boyfriend'. It's alright calling someone your boyfriend when you're 16 (if slightly embarrassing) but when ladies of a certain age are calling their equally elderly lovers their boyfriend, I can't help feeling slightly squeamish about it. A big bloke with no hair on his head but quite a bit in his nose and ears can't be your boyfriend. He's your man, your fella, your whatever but no, not your boyfriend.

It seems to be socially acceptable to call women 'girls' at whatever age, however much we may resist the idea, but men aren't boys. It makes me think of Private Pike; 'stupid boys' in tank tops who still live with their mums.

Also 'boyfriend' seems to have become an indicator of a woman's girlishness. This is evidenced by the trend for calling any women's clothes that are basically baggy 'boyfriend'. So we have 'boyfriend jeans' and 'boyfriend jackets'. The inference is that they are soooo big that the wearer looks all teeny-weeny and sweet in it, like she's wearing her big boyfriend's big manly jacket/jeans/insert other garment (but not Y fronts).

But what to call one's beloved once one is over 35? There are a number of alternatives all of which are equally squirm-worthy or rather too business like and lacking in requisite tenderness (e.g: partner - sounds like you work for a firm of accountants . It's also a bit right on. People who call their significant other their partner often come out with my least favourite expression 'we're pregnant'. as if the male half of the 'partnership' has suddenly sprouted a womb.

So you end up plumping for the bf word because basically there isn't anything better. The only solution is to marry your bf and make him your husband but that's a whole other issue! You know what I mean girlfriend?

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Too much information

There was an item on Woman's Hour yesterday about people who 'overshare' on social networking media such as Twitter and Facebook. I squirmed for a couple of seconds - was I guilty of this I wondered as one who posts regularly on Facebook and has a blog (albeit one read by one man and his dog).

As the item went on I felt my discomfort dwindle. I definitely am not the sort of person who would Twitter about the progress of my abortion in a blow by blow, no holds barred account. Nor am I like the man who Twitters about his haemorrhoids. No compared to these people I really am the soul of discretion.

Despite this, J (who because I am so discreet I never mention by name or relationship to me - actually) reckons that I have revealed an awful lot more than I realise about myself on the web. My view is that I don't reveal anything deeply personal and I certainly don't go in for spilling my love life all over Facebook with regular updates and changes to my relationship status. In fact I don't even have a relationship status, that's how discreet I am. Nor have I mentioned my religion, political stance or even my favourite film.

However, today I did post that I'd accidentally put on a pair of child's tights and had spent the whole day hoiking them up and walking round with the crutch around my knees. My view is that while I'm spilling all this silly stuff, nobody will be interested in the real stuff and actually the real stuff is pretty dull anyway.

How about a blog on my menstrual cycle called Monthly Martyr? Too much information?