"For an occurrence to become an adventure, it is necessary and sufficient for one to recount it." ~ Jean-Paul Sartre

Monday, August 22, 2011


Why indeed?  If you have read some of the other entries I have posted recently then you are already privy to the Reader's Digest version of my story.  Prepare yourself for the story in detail.
The year was 1997 and my family was living in North Carolina near Fort Bragg where I was stationed in the army.  My current enlistment was coming to an end and I decided that I would not re-enlist.  We decided that Beth and the girls would move back home so she could look for work.  We didn't have enough money to maintain the apartment in NC as well as a place for the family to stay back home so we arranged for me to rent a room from John a guy I met during training.  It was a sweet deal and I couldn't believe my luck.
We got everything packed up and Beth and the girls moved back home and I moved in with John and his family.  However, in the time between making arrangements to move in with them, and actually moving in there was an addition to the family.  They now had a cat!  I knew that I was allergic, but never thought to mention it when we made the arrangement.  I thought it was not an ideal situation that would make my stay less comfortable but decided to roll with it.  My allergy symptoms were only sneezing, dry eyes, runny nose, a nuisance but not something that couldn't be managed, right?  Wrong!  This time things were different.  The nuisance symptoms seemed to be less of a nuisance as I found myself struggling to breathe.  I had never really thought much about asthma and thought it was a condition that children suffered from.  My ignorance left me wondering why I was having such a hard time.  I was sure it had something to do with the cat and my allergy.  Growing up I took care of stray cats and eventually had an inside cat as a pet with no allergic reaction so after developing the allergy in the first place the idea that it could evolve into some other form made sense to me, even if I didn't know the exact nature of what I was going through.
I decided that since it was an allergy and the military "sick call" system basically assumes you are faking your illness/injury I would treat this myself.  Keep in mind that in the late 90's the internet wasn't as awesome as it is now.  If I had the resources then that I do now I would have went right to the doctor.  I was popping antihistamines like they were skittles.  I tried inhaling steam, both in the shower and with my head over a pot of boiling water.  Nothing worked.  Those of you that know anything at all about asthma are probably thinking "WOW, this guy really had no idea!".  The only bright part of my day was going to work (sad I know).  When I left the house I would start to feel better so that by the end of the day when it was time to go back I almost felt normal.  Almost.  It really sucked but after all it was only a temporary living arrangement, all I had to do was suffer through it until the end and everything would be better.
Eventually the cumulative effect took its toll on me and leaving the house for work did not bring much relief.  It was at this point I stopped sleeping.  Not because I wanted to, I couldn't sleep.  I would lay down and try but it was taking such a conscious effort to breathe that when I would fall asleep I would stop breathing and (thankfully) wake up.  John had a couch outside on the back porch (classy) so I ran an extension cord for my alarm clock and started sleeping outside.  I couldn't breathe or sleep, I was trying to sleep outside on a couch, and none of my home treatments were helping, maybe it was time to get some help (Duh!).
I went to sick call when I got to work in the morning, fully expecting them to send me back to work for being a faker like they did pretty much every time in the past.  This time they believed me, maybe they were convinced by my constant wheezing.  They administered a breathing treatment that I felt wasn't helping at all, probably because I withheld from them that I was suffering from prolonged exposure to a cat.  After all I was going through I still needed a place to stay and had few options.  Despite the fact that the breathing treatment wasn't helping I was glad to finally be getting some help.  They gave me a prescription for an inhaler and sent me on my way.  Now I could treat myself with prescription medication this was going to be awesome.  I could use the inhaler to get me through the night, and through the day.  There was only one problem a rescue inhaler doesn't really do its job when you continually place yourself in danger.  Back to sick call I went.  They gave me another breathing treatment and made an appointment for me to see the pulmonologist.  But first I had to get a pulmonary function test.  This was the hardest medical thing I have ever done.  The technician put nose clips on my nose and I had to blow out into a machine that measured the output.  Over and over.  I almost passed out.  When it was time for my appointment I decided it was time to come clean about everything, and that's when the pulmonologist looked at me like I had brain damage, and said "You know you can die from this don't you?"  Say what?  I could die, from being stupid?  I absolutely no idea the danger I was putting myself into.  Job one was getting away from the cat.
I spoke to John and his wife and they agreed to find a home for the cat.  To be honest I think they were glad to get rid of it.  Things got better and once all of the dander from the cat was taken care of with a good cleaning I started to feel normal again.  Things were going great I was fully recovered, and had a place to stay that didn't cost much.  A couple of months passed.  I came home from work on a Friday evening and spotted a litter box in the corner.  John saw me notice it and said "Sorry man I didn't know she was going to do it."  That night I stayed in my room with a towel against the gap at the bottom of the door.  There was no way I was going through this again.  I was so pissed, that John's wife would do that.  Everyone was aware of what I went through.  I woke up early the next day packed up my things and was gone before anyone woke up.  I was away from the cat but now I was homeless.  Eventually I found a place to stay but not after some strange living arrangements like hiding out in the barracks sleeping on a couch, and crashing with different people for a couple days at a time.
Since then I have avoided cats when I can, but it hasn't always been easy.  I had a job as a kennel manager, which required me to work in the cattery occasionally.  I was upfront with the owner and said that occasionally was about as often as I was willing to do that, and it wasn't a problem.  There were a few times that my asthma flared up while at the kennel but as often as we cleaned and with all the hard surfaces that didn't hold onto the dander I was okay most of the time.  After I left the kennel (for non-cat related reasons) I landed a job doing maintenance at a local apartment complex.  Once again I was upfront and told them that I was allergic to cats and that it could conceivably interfere with my work.  I encountered more than a few cats during the time I worked there and for most jobs I could be in and out before I was affected.  Although I learned that some cats affected me more than others.  I installed a deadbolt on one woman's door so I was there for a while but I was only inside long enough to plug in my extension cord, the rest of the time I spent standing in the doorway, and I couldn't finish soon enough and get away because I could feel my airways cinching shut.  Another time I had to replace a water heater in an apartment with cats and they hardly even bothered me.  It would be interesting to find out more about this phenomenon just not from first hand experience.
Now I work at a hospital so no cats for me.  I avoid going to people's houses if I know they have a cat and if I am already there and notice a cat I try to find a way to leave without seeming impolite.  My oldest daughter who lives in Kentucky has two cats.  So I don't visit.  It was easier when she first got them because she thought I was the devil and I thought she was the spawn of satan, now we get along much better, as we have both grown a little wiser, but even so the cats remain.
Cats are my kryptonite, their mere existence could cause my death.  That is weird to think about, but at the same time it's true, and as bad as it is I am lucky.  According to the AAFA St Louis Chapter's website asthma and allergies strike one out of four Americans.  Many of these people suffer severe reactions from things that are not as easy to spot or avoid as cats are for me.
When I was looking for a charity to support with my 100+Project I knew it would have to be something to which I had a connection.  Without a connection I worried that I would lose momentum.  I also knew I wanted it to be at least somewhat local so that maybe I could also connect with the people I was trying to help.  When I found the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America St Louis Chapter I knew that I had found the organization.  They have programs that help children, and educate the community as well as healthcare providers.  Asthma is serious business, and not something to be taken lightly.  I didn't show any symptoms until I was 27 years old.  So even if you have never been affected by it you could be at any time.  I especially like that the AAFA StL helps children, it was hard enough for me to go through as an adult, I can't imagine how frightening it would be for a child, or the parent of a child powerless to help.
The AAFA StL is a great organization and I hope that you are inspired to donate whatever you can to help them continue to do the great work that they do.
If you are inspired to donate it really is very simple you can click on the "CrowdRise" button on the top right of this page to go to my fundraising page on CrowdRise.com and follow the directions or you can clickon the "How to Donate to the 100+Project" tab at the top of the page.  If you don't plan to donate or are not moved by my story or enjoy when people take on crazy challenges for charity, I get it, but what you could do is tell people spread the word and maybe the people you tell will donate.  I would like to thank everyone in advance for their donation, and help spreading the word.

Next I will be announcing the date and the route for Skate 100+!

Until then stay safe and breathe easy.

1 comment:

  1. Asthma and especially food allergies are a huge issue in schools. Definitely a great organization to support!