Around the Fourth of July, my nose closed up, fully, severely, extremely congested. Along with the lack of oxygen not going into my lungs through the usual, normal means, I began suffering from claustrophobia-induced panic attacks.
I envisioned the rest of my life, oh, about 20 more years if I’m lucky, bed-ridden, hooked up to life support, mouth a gaping maw, shriveled flesh gnarled in bruised, blood-clots... the last sight of my Emphysema-ridden, chain-smoking mess of a mother-in-law. Or, addicted to naturopathic (meaning, not regulated by the FDA) Zicam nasal decongestant spray, threatening to permanently remove my sense of smell and taste (yes, I’ve read about impending lawsuits).
As with every previous physical ailment, I felt as if a doctor issued me a death sentence with the proverbial two weeks left to live. I watched other people on TV, on the streets, in the Sun Mountain Lodge we overnighted shortly thereafter, with envy and more panic.
What did they do to be able to breathe without thinking about it through their nose?
Why did my nose close up all of a sudden?
I don’t have allergies, is this an allergy? To what, Seattle itself, or was it the fan Eddie moved from a standing position near the TV to the open window by my side of the bed spewing cold air along with a year’s worth of gray dust? How about the purple mold dotting the inside of our small defrosting fridge with the four-month-old grape juice inside when we returned from three weeks in the hot and humid state of Florida to bury my father-in-law?
Can I live on Zicam, Sudafed and Claritin?
What if they wear off, then what do I do?
I asked around. Sure enough, others suffered from similar symptoms. Yeah, there were other symptoms, sneezing, runny, often bloody (when I blew) nose, itchy, watery eyes—all new to me.
So, I went to the doctor, convinced it was because of my former-chain-smoking mother and my late chain-smoking father (who finally died of a heart attack), my mom probably smoked while pregnant with me... and now I, a non-smoking, non-drinking, flossing, clean-living goody-two-shoes will have to suffer for the weakness and the sins of my stupid, lazy, selfish addict parents.
At that point, the Zicam had worn off, it was July 8, I’d been on the stuff for longer than the recommended three days in a row (or else rebounding occurred, rebounding is bad), and I sounded like a perverted heavy-breather, through my mouth.
Luke, I am your father... Go get me a spritz.
I waited at the Walk-in Clinic for two hours. Actually, 15 minutes in the lobby, the rest in two different examining rooms, fighting another panic attack, thinking they forgot me (they did at my ob-gyn’s once) when an elderly Santa Claus walked in, checked my breathing, through my nose, with his stethoscope, looked up my nose, pronounced it bloody high up there (no duh), and did what doctors always do, wrote a prescription for drugs (they do that or set up an appointment for a battery of tests and surgery), Flonase and a backup until the Flonase kicked in in three days.
He had no idea what allergens provoked my congestion, didn’t even know if it was an allergy, and didn’t care. He had a pen, a pad and authority to give me drugs to relieve the inflammation, so he did.
I had no idea whether I had to return when the drugs wore off, get a lifetime supply of Flonase, or what (a lifetime?! it was over eighty bucks for one bottle without the requisite coverage). What if the interim pills didn’t take effect that night, can I go use Zicam as a quick-fix, just to sleep? (I did. It was another restless night.)
I did know that it sucks to be sick, no longer able to take even breathing for granted, I can’t already take holding my poop in for granted, God knows. After conferring with other allergy sufferers (if, indeed, my cause was an allergy), I felt a bit better. Some were making do with parsed-out doses of children’s allergy meds from Costco, others were suffering in silence. A friend’s younger brother has been on neosynephrine for 30 years, lots of rebounding there, with a heaping helping of Sudafed. His dentist has to check his blood pressure before a teeth cleaning every time; if it’s spiked from the Sudafed use, he has to reschedule.
My husband quietly told me that he’d always had some form of congestion in one of his nostrils, since he could remember, which then took me out of my self-centered panic for about the five minutes it took for a lightbulb to go over my head about why he didn’t like to make out for too long, he usually ended up choking when eating a meal and his snoring can be train wreck, the claustrophobia he made himself get used to in his usual Libra male stoicism..
Some people never identify the cause of their symptoms, what is cleverly referred to in medical circles as asymptomatic, not quite allergies, but something’s in the air.
I suspect—and I hope I’m wrong—my problem comes from:
1. Post-pregnancy’s thinning of the nasal membranes. When pregnant, I had nose bleeds sometimes, that never truly subsided.
2. An irritation in the nasal canals, leaving them unprotected from outside influences.
3. Aging leaving the body more defenseless.
4. A severe seasonal pollen count.
5. Switch from Seattle’s dry spring air to Florida’s humid summer, and back.
6. That fan moved to the window, releasing dust and god knows what else straight at me.
7. A full-blown garden I started in the backyard.
8. Weeding in the backyard, which I rarely if ever did.
9. A reduction in my daily walks with James in the stroller, because he no longer requires a stroller, but does require constant supervision which prevents leisurely walks.
10. Terrorists releasing bio-chemicals into the air.
Of course, I can’t discount the disastrous effect of my chain-smoking parents, coughing, hacking, my mom can’t smell certain things, like fire or baby poop, snoring, congestion, constant annoying throat clearing...
In the middle of my congestive fit, in the relaxing, cowboy atmosphere of Winthrop, WA, the day after that wonderful overnighter at the Sun Mountain Lodge, before contemplating a hit of Zicam (before my Walk-in Clinic wait the following day) so I could enjoy a plate of burger and crinkly fries like everybody else with normal breathing, I wondered if perhaps smokers caused allergies in the first place.
Maybe they could all be rounded up and put on an island all their own, maybe thrown to one side of the continent of the United States, better yet, blown up altogether.
Okay, on second thought, maybe the government could spend our taxes better by focusing on forcing smokers to quit, instead of peeking in our bedrooms and at our wedding altars. Smoking is the worst habit in the world, and it’s silently killing millions of people, regardless of the actual diagnosis. It contributes to latent cancers, heart attacks, doesn’t help that Diabetes any.
My mother-in-law was diagnosed with Emphysema seven years before she died from its effects. Had she quit then and there, her quality and quantity of life would’ve been longer and better. I sure wouldn’t have seen her lying like a skeletal horror story, the size of an eight-year-old child, withered, and rotting in the most ugly sense.
I should’ve taken her picture, blown up and laminated for posterity, to whip out every time I run into a smug smoker tossing her butts out of the car window, a constant reminder to knock off this disgusting habit before it’s too late and secondhand smokers like me wind up paying the cost. Or it catches up with smokers who quit too late.
On a high note, still benefiting from the effect of a Zicam hit (irony calling) seven hours earlier, at said wonderful Sun Mountain Lodge overlooking Methow Valley, set amidst the tall pines and cedars, deer and elk, it was an hour past sunset, and I followed the rustle of the wind through the leaves over to the highest deck, and gazed over the cliff before me. Grays of varying shades far away hinted at a brand new day. The tops of those glorious trees swayed gently, giving their own musical hint away that there was more here than this sniffling, barely alive human form.
At that moment in time, standing there searching for signs of life, I finally found what soothsayers and New Age followers were yammering about with their talk of spirit guides and angels, and heaven. I waited, listened, watched, and saw with the squinted third eye of my soul (that’s the best I could do to describe this feeling, kind of like being in the zone when hitting a three-pointer) the spirits of the people and the lives they’d lived pass by me, high above, amongst those whistling, rustling, singing tree tops, before heading toward the gray shadows up ahead. I saw their lives, in particles, thoughts, through my life, my filter of thoughts, felt them in the wind, and later, only minutes later in my hotel room, no TV, but an FM cable stereo radio, the Blackbyrds’ “Walking in Rhythm” came on, a fitting soundtrack.
These spirits are there, whenever you look for them, miss them, and the only way they can reach you, is if you wait, watch, listen, and have the often-overlooked arts – music, painting, poetry, acting – on hand to help as translators to a multi-dimensional language not found in cocktail chatter or weather banter. The only reference point, memory.
Their lives, so structured, linear, distinct, a microcosm, disintegrates and is reborn through a vast explosion defying light, sound and organism.
Through air. With or without Zicam.
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