I Had an Asthma Attack
Fear covered my back
Left still but in consciousness
Couldn’t breathe anymore
It all started with bouts of coughs.
Coughing lasted for weeks and became unbearable.
I saw a local doctor.
“Sounds like a typical case of whooping cough,” the doctor said.
“It’s spreading now. I have to take your blood sample for a test.
“It would take five days to know the result. Come back then.
“In the meantime, I’ll give you something for the cough.
Two days later, it first happened.
Constriction of my windpipe
No pain, but it was only a fear that covered my back.
I was extremely frightened.
Breathing slowly came back.
I ran to the doctor in the morning
without waiting for the five days.
“It’s very likely an asthma attack,” the doctor said.
“Could be triggered by the whooping cough.
“Maybe something else.
“I better see your lung X-rays.”
He put me into his X-ray room.
He examined my lung X-rays on the screen on his desk, and said,
“Normal. No sign of pneumonia.”
He then gave me a small sprayer and some other medication.
“Use this when you have an attack again.
“Read the instruction inside the box.
“It ought to be easy enough to use and effective.
“The attack should stop occurring when the whooping cough is gone.”
The attack came on the following night.
After that it happened once or twice a day.
Each time the spray was so effective,
I was sure the attacks would eventually go away.
But they didn’t. They rather seem to become severer.
Then after midnight on December 7,
It started seemingly just as another one of them.
I tried to use the spray but found it impossible to inhale.
I felt I was being suffocated.
I was frightened.
It was like a load of fear on my back that I might die.
I tried to use all the muscles in the body to breathe in and out.
But I couldn’t move, and the feeling of suffocation mixed with fear increased.
Suddenly the fear began to fade away.
Not that I was recovering, but it was more like I was losing the energy to feel it.
Then a feeling of pleasantness was taking over inside me.
Was it an ecstasy or bliss? I cannot tell.
I was perfectly conscious.
I was seeing a color.
What color it was I cannot describe.
But it was a mist of color floating like an island far away.
Yet I was in it, too.
It was in a pure and bright consciousness.
There was also some warmth.
I felt the warmth not in my body but far down in the island.
It was like a different world.
Was it the world where my mother-in-law went when she died a month ago?
On a hospital bed she stopped her last weak gasping for air.
The doctor completed his professional procedure and said, “6:56p.m.” to pronounce her death. He took a deep bow to her and to us standing by.
She was a single mother who lived through the tumultuous wartime years of militarism and male chauvinism and food shortages.
I know she had often had to go starving, but she did everything she could to raise her only child who was to become my wife.
Her hand was still warm.
She started whitening from the forehead area
Her eyes and mouth were wide open.
Yet she was beautiful.
Would I also look beautiful like that?
Reflecting lying and stealing and anger and hatred and all that I must confess I was guilty of in my lifetime, would I look like a goblin?
What would happen to me?
Go to Heaven or to Hell or simply to disappear into darkness?
Just then, what I must now say was a miracle happened.
I had the sensation of going back into my own body.
And there was a sharp pricking itchiness in the throat.
(I don’t want to died, I want to live.)
My own words also came back to sound inside me.
(If only I could breathe, I’d live.)
I intuitively knew inhalation would follow if I coughed.
I mustered all the might in my body to cough and groped for the sprayer.
A cough came out and I felt strange flow of warmth through my throat.
I sprayed into the throat like crazy and was soon breathing again.
Strength came back and I could move.
I hurriedly called up my wife who was sleeping in her mother’s house.
“I just had another attack. A big one this time. I think I’d better run to the hospital,” I said.
“Yes, you’d better… I’ll come over,” my wife answered.
“No, please don’t try to come.”
With her back ach it would take minutes just to get off the bed, and waiting would be excruciating for me.
“Stay in the bed. Keep your cellphone by you. I’ll keep in touch. And don’t worry.”
I decided not to call for an ambulance. I felt I had to make a move by myself.
I threw the sprayer in my shoulder bag just in case I’d need it on the way.
It was close to 2a.m. and chances were slim I could catch a taxi at that hour. But I had only to try.
It’s about 50 meters from my house to a main street.
A flow of all sorts of cars were passing on the road but no taxicab in sight. I haled for one anyway, and one of the cars running toward me began flashing a red light on its windshield indicating it was a taxicab. It stopped by me.
“You never know how glad I am you are still working,” I said to the driver.
“”I just decided to call it a day, but saw you standing there. Where to?”
“Kokusai Iryo Center”
“On the Okubo street?”
The driver nodded and immediately started speeding.
It’s the National Center for Global Health and Medicine, a big emergency hospital with 1,000 beds, good two miles away.
The driver somehow must have sensed my problem.
He slowed down a little at a crossing but ignored the stoplight.
I saw a determination on his countenance even to fight the police singlehanded if he had to.
Some traffic cops around here are notorious for skillfully making up offences against themselves from private drivers, all to satisfy their questionable quota of work.
After a while, I felt a bump under my bottom. The car stopped only a few meters away from the door on the side of the main hospital building that said: “Emergency Entrance”.
The car must have run over the curb and across the sidewalk to get this close to the door.
“Here you are, sir,” he said.
Good thing no cops were around.
He could have lost his entire day’s earnings to pay the ticket
(If I died here now with some of my life is still left but chopped off, please you take it over for me.) The words floated on my mind.
Down the road, which of the tail lamps were of his car, I could not tell.
I pressed on the emergency button and heard “Come in” and the click to unlock the door.
“What seems to be the problem,” the receptionist behind the dimly lit counter said.
I explained about my situation and the use of the sprayer that worked and I could come.
He fast turned look serious. He slid a sheet of paper on the counter to me saying,
“You just give me your name and address here.” He simultaneously picked up the phone and started talking.
I was shaky and couldn’t write well.
“That’s fine,” he said. “I can see it as your signature. Been to this hospital before? Got a card issued to you by this hospital?”
“Yes,” I said and I produced the card to him. “It’s very old. Hope it’s still good.”
“Good, good. If it’s one hundred years old, still good.”
His little joke encouraged me so greatly
“There. Can you walk?” He pointed at a door across the hall
Before I could reach the door, it was flung open from inside.
A tall white-coated man appeared.
“Are you the one who just registered at the counter?” he asked me.
He introduced himself as a doctor, but I failed to get his name.
“Come in here and sit on that chair there.
“You told him you had used a sprayer. Do you have it with you? Good, in here?”
He took my shoulder bag and hurriedly opened it.
“Is this the one?”
“”Yes, and I already used many times today,” I said remembering the instruction not to use it more than four times a day.
“Okay, okay. It worked for you, huh?” he said.
The doctor asked me questions, and I found myself answering them by reflex.
He gave a sign with his eyes to another man in the room who must be his assistant doctor. He flung away and back with plastic tubes and pushed them into my nostrils.
“Oxygen,” he said. He pinched my forefinger with a clip with a red beam on.
“Seventy-one and not moving,” he said to the tall doctor.
“I don’t like it,” the doctor said. He is typing something into a computer on his desk and talking simultaneously on the phone with someone apparently about me.
The assistant doctor dragged closer a drip stand and said, “I’ll put you on a drip. Right now, we have to fight the inflammation of your lungs.”
He randomly stuck a needle into my vein and said, “Now, I have to take your blood sample from your artery. That’s the way to check your oxygen intake rate more accurately.”
I felt a dull but very strong pain on my wrist.
The tall doctor came close to me from his desk and said, “Now, you’ll have a moku moku steamy. We have to get your lungs back open to work.”
A nurse came in pushing a nebulizer. She covered my face with a plastic mask.
She poured some liquid into the machine, and thick steam started coming to my face.
“You just breathe in and out as you can. You’ll be alright,” she said glancing up at me. She started tapping on the machine. I thought she was trying to send as much steam as possible to my face.
“How is it going?” the doctor asked the assistant doctor.
“Everything is coming out okay now,” the assistant said.
“I think you are okay enough now,” the doctor said to me.
“I’ll put you to the CT scan. It’s very rare people of your age to have an asthma attack for the first time. I have to see your lungs.
The nurse put me on a wheelchair and pushed me out of the room, dragging an oxygen tank behind her, to the CT scan room.
When we came back, the doctor was examining the pictures of my sliced lungs on the PC screen.
“No sign of pneumonia. Your lungs are perfectly normal,” he said.
“At any rate, our senior doctor says it would be too dangerous to let you go home with the data we have so far collected of you.
“You must be under our observation for a while, but we have a problem. We have no bed available for you just now.
“There is a room available, but it would cost you 35,000 yen per day. You don’t want to pay that kind of money. “
The doctor smiled, and I managed to smile back.
“Anyway, we have to put you up in the emergency lifesaving room for now,” the doctor said.
“This is a big hospital. People are going in and out all the time. There ought to be a full-coverage open for you soon enough.”
The nurse started pushing my wheelchair again.
The emergency room was on the seventh floor.
It was more like a school gymnasium.
Almost all the beds in there were filled by wailing and shouting people.
It was like a scene I was familiar with only in TV dramas.
But it was happening in reality here and now, and I am one of them.
I was still on a drip.
I felt oxygen flowing through the tubes into my nostrils.
A mask was put back on my face to continue the nebulization.
The medical staff frequently came to my bedside.
They checked the screen beside me and punched in the data they saw into the computer.
I heard the sound of the blinds of the large windows of the room being rolled up.
It was getting light outside.
(Am I the same person who rushed to this hospital a few hours ago?)
I thought of the taxi driver, the receptionist and the medical staff.
(If I had failed to meet any one of them at a right time in the past few hours, or if any of them hadn’t done what he or she actually did for me, would I have still lived?)
(What made all those people do what they did for me?)
I couldn’t think of any other word but “compassion”.
(How come they happened to have the compassion for me simultaneously?
(Or did it come from some one source, and it seeped through those people and converged on me?
(What did I do to deserve such a compassion?
(Was it given to me without my deserving it?)
The strange island of misty light that I saw when I felt the suffocation came to mind.
The island soon disappeared. It was replaced by a tiny light like the one that often lingers on the filament when an electric bulb is turned off.
The tiny light, too, disappeared but the warmth and the pleasantness remained.
I noticed two women standing by my bed.
“I’m Dr…, and this is Dr…,” one of them introduced herself and the other one, but I missed the names again.
“Three of us form a team to look after you here,” the introduced one said.
“There is another doctor who is the chief of this team. He could not come here just now.
“We treat you through consultation among us three.”
The first one is intently looking into my eye. She must be trying not to miss any slight reaction from me.
“I went through the report from the emergency staff and everything you said to them,” she said.
“I’ve also gone through your old medical file kept here. You came here for a different illness quite a while ago. Any address change since then?
“I’ll call your family. I’ll also talk to the doctor you saw before coming here today. We’ll compare notes.”
“We don’t think we were mistaken in treating you for an asthma attack,” she continued to speak.
“But we still need some more tests to see if you are really asthmatic or something else.
“You need to stay here for a week or for 10 days at most. You may need that rest, too.”
“Suppose it’s confirmed your case is really asthmatic, of course there are treatments when you have attacks like the sprayer you used,” she went on.
“But we don’t recommend that.
“Rather than that, there are ways to prevent the attacks from occurring again beforehand, and these are much better.
“We have a team in this hospital who can find you the best way for you.
“After you are discharged, you’ll come back to this hospital as an outpatient from time to time.
“The chief doctor sees outpatients on certain weekdays on the first floor and you will see him.
“Once the attack preventive medication is established for you, you have to continue it for the rest of your life.
“Some patients mistakenly believe they are completely cured after using the method for a while and stop it without consulting a doctor.
“And they suffer from attacks again. Often fatal.
“About 2,000 people die from asthmatic attacks each year in this country.
“So far, our tests show you are physically much younger than your actual age. You can have many more years to live, if you want to.”
She smiled again.
“Could I have been one of the 2,000?” I asked.
“The chief doctor said yours was one of the most serious cases. Yes, you could have been,” she said.
“From what you said to the emergency staff, you must have been near suffocation at home.
“You coughed and had the sprayer handy. You could catch a taxi at that hour to come here.
“I suppose a series of coincidences saved your life.”
Her cellphone in her breast pocket lit up.
“We’ll get back to you soon,” she said and the two doctors walked away.
The wailing of other patients, the footsteps of the medical staff running around, clinking sound of medical instruments filled the room. But I felt complete calmness.
My own words and voice without my control began mingling on my mind.
(I don’t want anything anymore if I can only keep breathing and live. What else is there to want anyway?)
“Take it, take it, take it,” the voice was heard.
(What is it that I must take?) I wondered.
“Take it. Let’s call it love for now. Just take it,” the voice went on.
“You don’t have to be grateful for it because it’s love. Just take it.
“The more you take it, the more it’ll be given to you, because it’s love.
“It’s the source of your life – your new life. Just take it more and more.
“It’s the only thing you are allowed to be greedy for.”
The morning sunlight began spilling over the top of a building across the hospital compound and came in through the windows.
The pleasantness lingered on inside me and became stronger.
(All are beautiful. There is nothing that‘s not beautiful.)
I covered my face with my sleeve. I didn’t want the medical staff running around to notice my tears.
(AshiAkira, Dec. 2012)