It is a week since the cold began. Various tablets have been taken, numerous puffs of the inhaler have been required, and it still lingers on. Settling into the lungs, it aggravates my asthma.
“Asthma” was hard to spell when I was a child. It was easy to miss out the “th” at the middle of the word. In less polluted times, it was much less common than it is now. Much less common, but, sometimes much more serious.
There would be stories of people dying from asthma attacks. The stories did nothing to reassure a sickly child for whom even breathing in an ordinary way was sometimes a challenge.
By teenage years came the realisation that whilst very unpleasant, the asthma from which I suffered did not pose a fatal threat. In the summer of 1974, it claimed the lives of two of the boys from the special school to which I was sent. My asthma was never severe enough to require a spell in hospital, rather it nagged away, attacking unexpectedly, undermining confidence, creating a persistent state of uncertainty.
In days at the school on Dartmoor, available medications were not as plentiful as now and were administered sparingly. A teacher called Mr Light taught us deep breathing exercises. Each morning we gathered on the tennis court, or in the gym, standing in lines as he called out the instructions for the inhalation and exhalation of air and the swinging of arms and flexing of the body. His philosophy was that the first response to everything should be deep breathing.
In addition to the daily exercises, Mr Light supervised the cross country runs over Hameldown on Dartmoor, watching boys in white tee shirts and blue shorts crossing the hillside from the comfort of his Datsun car. (One Saturday morning, a group of soldiers in combat fatigues passed us on the open moor; we thought that men who were allowed to run in full army kit had an easy time compared to us in light cotton tops and shorts).
Last time I saw the respiratory nurse, she was very pleased with the peak flow of my breathing. It is hard to imagine that she would be impressed with the current wheezing and puffing. I am attributing it to the lingering winter weather, the chill and the damp that are the last flick of the monster’s tail. Were Mr Light advising me, he would say that I should have remembered the breathing exercises.