That said, I spent the last few years writing a novel (which will be out in 2010 from Algonquin) and one of the characters is a boy who has asthma. I spent my childhood battling asthma. We had to give away our beloved cat, Elvis, which upset me so much I wound up in the hospital! I was in and out of hospitals and ERs through my childhood and my teens, and so fiercely ashamed of having the disease that I hid it as best I could. I told people I had a "lung infection", which had more of a je ne sais quoi sound to it than asthma, which actually means pretty in Japanese, I am told. I hid my inhalers, once even elaborately tying it around my waist under my dress so no one would see. Asthma was an old man's disease, a joke where you were the punch line. I almost suffocated rather than let my first boyfriend see me wheeze. I refused to admit the disease to myself.
Then I got pregnant. My asthma got better! I began to think more about it and to write about it and to create this peripheral character I just fell in love with, this sturdy, edgy little boy who has asthma. And the more I wrote about him, the better I felt. It was magic thinking--I know that. Surely writing about a boy suffering asthma attacks is not going to make mine go away. But, the thing is. It did. It really did. The more I wrote, the more my lungs seemed to widen.
I got a new pulmonologist who told me that my lung function tests were so good, I was nearly normal. He even suggested that I could go off all my meds! Slowly, I got rid of the pills that made my heart jump. Then I stopped using the rescue medicine which opens your lungs the way a crazy person flings open a closet door, hard, so the wood cracks. Down to one medicine! Imagine! Being able to run outside without an inhaler, without pills, without worry. Sleeping through the night and waking up, bounding out of bed. This went on for two years, making me wonder if I should write about another problem I might have to heal it.
And then I got sick this week and the asthma came back. I'm sad. And disheartened. And sick. I know this is the path of asthma. It comes, it goes, you can grow out of it and into it and no one really knows how to cure it.
But for two blissful years, I thought I had.