Saturday, 20 December 2014

Every Breath You Take

At last I have an explanation for the breathing problems I’ve had for the past couple of months. I’d been coughing and wheezing with a sore chest, especially in cold air and during exercise. The problem began after a bad cold, but didn’t go away as the cold got better. The GP gave me one course of antibiotics and then another, but neither had any effect. After this I was sent for a chest X Ray, which identified inflammation in my lungs but didn’t explain why.

I read up on inflammation and respiratory problems and found a series of lung diseases, most of which were related to smoking or industrial chemicals, and all of which were progressive and incurable. I recalled my twenty a day habit as a younger man and the different factory jobs I had tried when seeking my way in the world and became very anxious.

This week I spent several hours in the Regional Respiratory Centre at the City Hospital being given a series of strange tests. I was connected up to a machine via a breathing tube with a clip across my nose. I was told to breathe in deeply then breathe out as hard as I could until I had no breath left, a needle tracing the volume and speed of my breath. I had to do this three times. Then I was led to another room and connected to a different machine that had a bellows which moved as I breathed and a computer screen that registered different aspects of my breathing. I was taken through a programme of tests: my regular breathing, my steady breathing out after a deep breath in, my hard breathing out after a deep breath in, my holding my breath, and so on.

The upshot of all of this is that I have a mild impairment to my airways and have been diagnosed with asthma. I greeted this news with a sigh of relief, so afraid was I of the other lung diseases I had read about. Asthma most often affects children, but adults can develop it too. Late-onset asthma is often associated with allergies, but I’m not aware of having any of the most common of these: pollen, dogs, cats, etc. The last thing they did was take a blood sample from which my allergic reactions to common irritants will be investigated.

Now I have an inhaler and twice a day I breathe deeply in some fine powder that makes me splutter. Already the wheezing, tightness in my chest and coughing has diminished. I don’t like the idea of having to do this every day for the rest of my life, but being able to breathe clearly is such a fundamental need. You don't realise how precious your breathing is until it becomes compromised.

Thursday, 4 December 2014

The Wilderness

At the edge of our known world another begins. A dense and dark forest where you could easily become lost, never to return home. A boundless place where wild and dangerous animals roam. A realm of menace and mystery that unfolds beyond the apparently safe boundaries of what we know. This primitive wilderness is lodged deep in our memories: a place not to venture, a frontier not to cross.

At times we stray near to that edge. Drawn by the allure of the unknown, we sniff the air and sense the threat.  Perhaps we even tread at the margins, then return to safer ground with a thrill, feeling revitalised.

At times the edge comes near to us. An unexpected danger comes shrieking in to startle and disturb our relative calm. Threatened and vulnerable, we hear the wild animals baying for blood at our door.

I think of them as wolves. But I have never heard the howl of a wolf in the wild. Only virtual ones, like the wolves that call in the night when I’m waiting for test results at my six-monthly cancer reviews. Or when I have some strange symptoms, like the unexplained cough and breathing problems without a cold at the same time that I’ve had for the past few weeks. A chest X-ray was done yesterday and now I’m waiting for the report.

I have heard the guttural roar of a lion in the wild. I was camping in a game reserve in Botswana and woke in the small hours with my skin prickling. The guttural roar resounded. I knew it was a big, dangerous animal. I quickly clambered out of my tent. I was twitching, ready to run. But I couldn’t work out where the roar was coming from. It reverberated, sounding both faraway and near. My two companions got out of their tent as well. We listened intently, no-one spoke. The roaring stopped. My companions went back inside their tent. For ages I kept listening to the many sounds of the African night. Then I went back to my bed but found it hard to sleep.

Over breakfast at the campfire the guide asked us had we heard the lion last night. Yes, we smiled. He said he had been listening inside his tent, rifle at the ready. As we drove out in the morning he found the lion's tracks about 500 metres from the edge of our camp. Later we encountered the pride sleeping in the shade of a tree.