Restricted Lungs

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Restricted Lungs

At nearly 15 years old I was released from the crooked cast after wearing it for eight months, and I assume my breathing function was around 32 percent. When the cast was removed, my breathing function was not tested. I was simply dismissed, with instructions to return for follow-up only.

Like the cast that I wore for eight months, so was my body. My rib cage was pressed in on the left side and pushed out and back on the right side. The spine went forward as well as sideways. My lungs may as well have been encased in steel.

Respiratory distress became a way of life.

Respiratory distress became a frequent, normal part of life. If I got a virus it settled in my chest and I would end up in the hospital with pneumonia. I had to leave my home environment in order to get well. Even when the pneumonia was gone, bronchitis stayed around for weeks at a time.

Home: war zone for my immune system.

What I know now, which none of us in our home knew then, is that the severe scoliosis compromised my immune system. And that there were elements in our home that my body could not handle when my immune system was further stretched.

Both of my parents were smokers, and did not believe their cigarette smoke really bothered me. I reckon they thought I was just being hard to get along with... my version of teenage rebellion. Dad would come to the doorway of my bedroom, where I went to get away from smoke, with his Camel cigarette “hid” behind his back, like if I didn’t see the cigarette, I would not know it was there and therefore it would not bother me.

When cigarettes became longer.

In the 1960s cigarettes became longer. I remember sitting on the living room floor watching TV during my smoke-free time, the ten minutes between light-ups, when a cigarette commercial advertised a longer cigarette for women. I vocalized the frustration and dread that rose up inside of me because that meant the cigarettes would burn that much longer. And the space of time between the cigarettes would remain the same. How fair was that?

It was not until my dad got emphysema that he understood and believed cigarette smoke and other air contaminants affected my breathing ability as I contended. My parents had only my word that their cigarettes and other contaminants caused me harm. The medical profession had not yet come around on that matter. Eventually both of my parents stopped smoking.

Killing me with kindness.

Other irritants to my respiratory system were foam rubber, wool, acrylics and mold. The first three items on that list made the living room a hazardous place for me to be, aside from the smoke. Not knowing these items were an issue with my body, my mother was killing me with kindness when I got sick... bringing in pillows, made with all three elements, from the living room to help prop me up in bed. It is no wonder I had to leave home to get well.

The bottom line is that home, my safe haven, was not safe because of cigarette smoke and home furnishings. It took me a while to understand I needed to stay away from normal elements that caused me problems.

No longer clueless.

Joan in wicker chair, 54 years oldToday, I do not wear clothes made with acrylic. I do not have stuffed furniture, but rather wicker with poly-fill pillows covered in cotton blends. When I go into a group meeting with chairs all around, I sit on leather or straight chairs or the floor, preferably near a door in case I need fresh air.

It was not until recently that I realized I was also allergic to Charis, our Chesapeake Bay Retriever, whom my uncle had given to my twin brother when I was in the orthopedic hospital. Charis was an inside dog. When sick, if Charis was around me I would begin coughing violently, so she would stay away and not even come into my room. It was as if she knew even though we did not. Please note that I have had Yorkshire Terriers for over twenty years with no problems, probably because they have hair, not fur.

Cluelessly making myself sick.

And so went my teen years, all during junior and senior high and a year of business college. Although I became ever conscious of elements that affected my breathing, I had not yet come to understand I needed to pay attention and do something to keep from ending up in the hospital with pneumonia. The last bout of pneumonia at 21 years old, a few months before I left my parents’ home, was a result of wearing a popular styled wig made of acrylic. It was crazy. I remember sitting in my car with that wig on my head, my chest starting to rumble from wheezing. I had to leave work after lunch because of the problems with my breathing. But hey... my natural curly-frizzy hair was covered up in a nice smooth dutch boy wig!

I was clueless of what I was doing to myself. Near the end of my several month recuperation period from the double pneumonia, I put my foot on a path that would change my life forever. Although I had been accepted into a university in northern Mississippi, I opted instead for another kind of education which, unbeknown to me, would both work me over and lay a solid foundation for my life.

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