VADER BABIES: CHILDREN WHO CAN'T BREATHE



Last week's Tennessean newspaper announced that Nashville is 10th largest city in the nation's lineup of cities with asthmatic children. Perhaps, the most annoying sound I have ever heard from any of my children (besides screaming at the top of their lungs or the incessant whining about what they do or do not like) is the asthmatic wheezing of my fifth-born. In addition to being generally annoying, it is unnerving because it is the sound of someone struggling to breathe. 


I can actually empathize with him. I developed asthma myself when I was about 11 years old. Living in England at the time, our groceries mostly consisted of whatever the milk lady had on her truck: cheese, bottles of chilled milk with an inch or two of thick cream stoppering the top, butter (and lard for a while), bread, and an assortment of sodas like Lemonade, Limeade, Grapeade, Rasberryade, Strawberryade, Orangeade, Appleade, Cherryade, Blackcurrantade, and Gooseberryade (I could never chug the Blackcurrantade or Gooseberry and never developed a taste for either though blackcurrants always looked tantalizing and gooseberries grew in our backyard along the fence line the little village of Aston, England). I learned twenty years later that I was lactose intolerant. I am actually glad I did not know that back then otherwise I would have been lactose intolerant and starving.


It was in the little city of Freshbrook, Swindon (Swindon being the setting for England's famous comedy series THE OFFICE) that I began having bouts of breathlessness. My parents' solution for me was to stay in bed on those days which meant that instead of being breathless while mobile, I was breathless while lying down. I was unable to perform simple chores like taking out the trash without having to take half a dozen breaks in between (I learned that if I hunched my shoulders, the asthma was more bearable). 


I finally went to the hospital after a particularly bad attack around my 17th birthday. The doctors at Landstuhl Hospital in Germany were surprised I had even made it (my dad sped down the autobahn, making it to Landstuhl in record time). They pumped me full of oxygen, and I sat there on the table stupidly dizzy and comfortable, not wanting to get up at all. That was when I received my first inhaler. I have been through dozens since.


Asthma is mostly described as symptomatic which is why it concerns me that the medical antidote for most children with asthma is breathing treatments of different sorts from inhalers to pills. Instead of effectively searching for a cause like an allergy or another inconspicuously physical problem, parents like myself spend way too much money suppressing the symptom with placebos when it rears its head.


I would not describe asthma as painful as much as I would describe it as inhibiting. It is a huge inhibitor. Besides hating everyone else for breathing normally, asthmatics suffer from the fear and anxiety asthma breeds. Oftentimes when in the middle of an asthmatic bout, I would slow down, calm my mind, and realize to my surprise that my mind was already several steps ahead of me. It was already escalating my heartbeat, exaggerating my need for several puffs of inhaler. Or my mind would ready itself for the suffocating sensation of little oxygen in which case I spent those generous minutes looking for my inhaler. Or my mind would project in movie-picture clarity that this could be the "last time", the only solution being to find my inhaler. 


Carl Louis' quote explains it well: "If you don't have confidence, you'll always find a way not to win." Every part of my mind, soul, and body was scripted for failure, and so every part of my being funneled me towards one solution: the inhaler. What is rather discouraging is that I had always believed I wanted to conquer asthma, but that belief was only a thought so totally separate from reality that it is better described as I had an illusion that I wanted to conquer asthma when I really did not.


Of course, Vader Babies need inhalers and antihistamines and all of the other medical relief at their disposal. However, what they also need (as much as medical attention) is the belief that they can actually determine the cause of their problem, be it psychological or merely physiological. Where Vader Babies (or any child who grows up taking medication as if it is as natural as eating) are done an injustice is when they are never told the "story" of their disease. Come on, their is a beginning as well as an end.


I recently went to a acupuncturist after the May 1, 2010 Nashville Flood. My asthma was particularly bad due to the saturation of bacteria in the air (which probably started the afternoon off the 1st when I was slogging in waist-high sewage water, trying to help friends retrieve belongings of importance in their basement). At the bequest of a friend, I finally went to visit Gil Ben Ami, an Israeli who practiced Chinese acupuncture. He felt my pulse while we chatted. After a few minutes, he sat back a little concerned and said "Your body is telling me a story..." 


He proceeded to ask me questions about events surrounding my birth. Of course, I knew none of them, save that my father was abroad on the Vietnam front when I was cooking in 1971 and 1972. Gil finally told me "Robbie, your body is telling me that your asthma is a symptom. Your main problem is with your kidneys. Your body is telling me that you have always operated on about 60% of your lung capacity. What happened to you in your mother's womb? Was there any trauma?" I was not certain how to answer. All I remember is that it was dark, haha. You can imagine my surprise later when I asked my mother and she responded that I was distressed and had to be pulled out with forceps. That sounds rather... extreme. 


He had me lie on my back on a table. After a few minutes he put a mineral heating lamp over me, out on some airy mood music, turned the light off, and told me he would be back in 45 minutes. When he left, I looked down and noticed at least thirty needles sticking in all parts of my body.


When I awoke, this is no lie, I felt drunk. Gil woke me up.


"Your lower diaphragm is moving!" He said elated. All I can say is that for the next two weeks, I felt happily drunk. I learned later that it was because for once in my life I was finally able to take in normal breaths of air. It proved too much for my system and resulted in an enjoyably dizzy sensation. Gil is my new best friend.


All Vader Babies are not mutants. I mean that no Vader Babies are mutants. The pharmaceutical world makes it seem that the POMO morphed a need for copious amounts of pharmaceuticals through some punctuated equilibrium that happened around thirty years ago. I'm for the alternative medical doctors like Gil who wrap the context in the narrative of stories. 


The next time your child has you up at night because of his wheezing, change tactics. While you are rummaging through the laundry, under his bed, or through her school backpack for the elusive inhaler, don't lecture him on how irresponsible he is or if she would just eat the right foods she might get better. Instead, start off with "Once upon a time...."



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