A story I wrote based on a recent admission into hospital. Hopefully it will educate and destroy ignorance that still surrounds asthma today

When you say things you don’t think. None of you ever think. You don’t think about the impact you have on my confidence or the way you make me feel. You make me feel worthless, like a faker, a drama queen, a liar. If only you’d taken the time to divert your eyes away from the book entitled ‘Asthma’ and instead looked at me and understood. Look at me, at my rapid breathing, my shoulders pumping away, my body shaking under the strain. Look into my eyes and you’ll see the fear, the absolute fear of drowning in my own body. I want you to help. Please. I’m going to die.

Why won’t you help me? The blood test says I’m fine. Well that’s alright then. Take me off the nebuliser and the oxygen and I’ll just get back to what I was doing before this all started. I’ll get two steps out from the bed and I’ll collapse, I’ll go into respiratory arrest, but it’s okay, the blood test says I’m okay right?

I wish you knew how it felt to be treated like a liar.

Perhaps we should swap places. I’ll be you and you be me.

I’ll go ahead and play doctor, and you can play the faking asthmatic. So just do what I do. Breathe rapidly, make a wheeze noise and I’ll just watch and observe you for a few moments. I’ll walk around in my green uniform like the big man, play with the stethoscope a little and then I’ll take blood from your wrist in the most unsympathetic way possible and then I’ll tell you you’re fine because the blood says you are.

A few moments have passed.

What do you mean you can’t breathe? I told you we were swapping places. I am you and you are me. You can breathe fine, remember? The blood says so. So stop faking it. I’ll walk around the bed for a while, have a few secret chats with my colleagues and I’ll pretend that you can’t hear what I’m saying. We will call you a faker and refer to the blood again. I’ll judge you and think what a waste of time treating you was, maybe take time to mention that you’re a bloody good actress. Should have been on the west end instead of practicing law.

Help you? Why would I do that? We have swapped places and this is how it will be for the next few minutes as we agreed. Let me just talk to my colleague again. I’ll ask him why he thinks you’re putting yourself through this and he will reply ‘god knows’. You’ll overhear no doubt, but we won’t care, because you’re a faker.

Why are you looking at me like that? There’s still four minutes left until we can swap back. Come on, be fair, play the game. How about I’ll take some more blood from your wrist and we can decide then?

Come on now, don’t be going to sleep, I’m not that boring. Open your eyes. I know you can hear me. Open them. I’ll shine a light in them if you don’t open them. I know you’re fine. The blood test says so. Wake up. We still have a minute left. You can stay awake for another minute can’t you? Come on, let’s see this thing out. Just you and me.

Don’t fall that way. I’ll have to put the bed barriers up now. You’ve just made my job a whole lot harder. Why are you being such an inconvenience? Ten seconds left until we can swap back so you can wake up now. And you can quit the struggling look in your eyes because I know you’re fine. The blood test says so.

Right time up. We can swap back now.

You’re looking at me differently now. A sense of panic appears across your face as my limp body gives up the fight. I can’t do this anymore. It hurts. Let me just go to sleep. I long for sleep. It’s no good reaching for your stethoscope now, the wheeze has gone. You’ll only hear silence. Go ahead and stick another needle in my wrist. I won’t feel it now. I’m too sleepy. It doesn’t matter that the machines are beeping and everything is flashing red. It’s all fake remember. I must be causing this as well. I can do that you see – I can control machines and make them lie for me too. I’m good at that. I’m an actress remember. Why are you reaching for the intubation kit? That isn’t necessary. I’m fine, I’m just hyperventilating, I’m panicking that’s all. There’s plenty of oxygen going in, so I’ll be alright. Please don’t let me inconvenience you any more than I already have done. I know you have a long day and I’d hate to ruin the first few hours of your shift.

Why are you stroking my hair and holding my hand? I don’t understand. I’ve ruined your day. I’m a faker remember, a prospective lawyer that should have been on the west end. Who are all these people around me? Why are they putting that mask on my face? Get away from me! My oxygen levels are fine. This isn’t asthma. This is just anxiety like you said. Leave me alone.

Where are you going doctor? Why are you holding your head in your hands? Is that a… are you crying doctor? I can’t be that bad surely? Why is that nurse hugging you? Why are you looking at me like that? I’m fine doctor, honestly I’m fine. Just give me a second and I’ll snap out of it and I’ll walk out of here just like you said I could. You can go on and have your day at work without any more inconvenience from me and I can go on and start rehearsals for the west end. Just like you said. I’ll even get you a free ticket if you’d like. Why are you leaving now doctor? It’s almost over. We can laugh about it all in a moment or two.

You’re out in the corridor, head in your hands. Your colleague comes out and says it’s not your fault. He helps you up and you enter the room again.

You’ll look at me differently now than you did before. You’ll come over and reach for my hand instead of reaching for the phone to order the porter to wheel me out into the corridor because I am no longer a priority. You’ll treat me with compassion instead of judgement. You’ll speak with gentleness instead of harshness. You’ll put your stethoscope down and discard the book on asthma that you were reading earlier. It said check the bloods. You did that. The bloods were fine. You were just doing your job. You’re not to blame.

I begged you to help me. I told you I couldn’t breathe. But the book said I'd be okay and I’m an actress remember. A bloody good one as well.

But now I’m lying here with a tube down my throat. I can’t move. I can’t reach out and tell you it’s all a fantasy I had planned out in my head. I would if I could. But I can’t because your colleague there has put me on a ventilator.

Lord knows why. The bloods were fine.

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18 Replies

  • Wow that is so powerful - you must get it out to the public and hospitals though I don't know how. What a way to be treated when you are so poorly. You are right -you must be the best actor/actress in the world as well as be able to manipulate machines by thought. Must be telepathy. I hope your rotten doctors/hospitals will think next time before they are so quick to judge. Wonderful piece of writing. x

  • So well written...

    Lawyer...you should be an author.

    You have written down the worst nightmare of all asthmatics. I'm so sorry you had to go through that!

    It needs sending to the hospital that you were at...

    I hope you are well now.


  • I don't post much, but wow, rings so true x

  • Fantastic! So true xxx

  • Can I suggest that you send this piece of work to Asthma UK. If you want the medical profession to sit up and take notice of it they may have an idea how to do that.

  • Would second that. I wrote a piece on my experience with Prostatitis and that was published in Prostate Action magazine (now part of Prostate Cancer UK). Many of these organisations don't seem to mind "no holds barred" articles; it helps keep the medical profession alert. Perhaps Asthma UK will have the same approach

  • Well that just made me cry - with understanding. Excellently and powerfully described

  • Mayy I suggest post this on Facebook. Then all who read this site with a Facebook account post it on. If enough people post to friends then friends podt to friends it will go viral. It may then be read by the people we want to educate.

    Just a thought. Good luck

  • Hope it goes viral in in order for people to understand asthma.

  • Wow what an accurate and eloquent portrayal of exactly how I feel. They listen but don't, they tell me I'm breathing better when I can barely walk upstairs without being breathless.

    I wish we could publish how we feel to NICE despite their pathways etc your treated as a commodity, rather than a person who is so breathless it creates anxiety so they put it all down to being in your head.

    I hope / wish your post could be seen by the specialist respiratory nurses and Dr's and consultants who like you say never walk a day in our shoes.

    Sad thing is I'm a nurse too with the same attitude you have received, me too. I can't work at the moment but have listened and tried to walk in people shoes my whole life.

    Thankyou for this and best wishes xx

  • Wow. Powerful stuff. I'm so sorry you had to go through that.

    It appalls me how little general doctors seem to know about asthma. Like you said, it's like they have a secret handbook (one probably written 30 odd years ago) which involves wheeze, low oxygen levels, and a step by step plan of how to treat typical asthma. Anything that does not quite fit their parameters is questioned.

    This story certainly needs to be shared with Asthma UK or on Facebook. Somehow if the message gets out there it may prevent other people going through this, their worst asthma nightmare.

    You have my ultimate admiration for a moving, powerful and brutally honest account of your experience.

  • Thank you for a good piece of writing. Describing the experience from both sides is valuable, it gives us a perspective. Sometimes we think we are not mind-readers and we don't expect miracles but just care. The idea of the doctor reading the book is so NHS, they have their clinical steps to follow and well if you are not a classical case study, well they should refer to the registrar if she/he is available..Anyway not a very nice experience, poor you, hope you have recovered physically and emotionally. Take care xx

  • Amazing piece of writing. I fully understand. When i cant breath they say oxygen sars are fine im screaming inside look at me i am short of breath. No sterotyping.

  • Brilliant I've felt like this so many times and I feel one day when I die because of doctors and nurses being like this then they will be like dam we should of listened. It's scary when u can't breath and doctors behaving like this make u worse it's horrible if only we could make it all go away and no longer need to take so much drugs would be amaizing. Thanks u for posting this as I've felt so alone in similar situations and I just can't believe others get the the same treatment it's a discrase and it's so scary for us sufferers as it is our family's so thank u for letting me know it's not just me xxx

  • Thank you for that, so true!

    Had that happen a few times in the past...

  • Wow! This is a fantastic piece of writing and how emotional. Unfortunately, a very true picture of what some people think Asthma is all about. I have often heard it said particularly by Long time suffering Asthmatics that one would never wish Asthma on their worst enemy. Its very disappointing and down heartening to think that the medical profession still have members who think and feel like this. Nobody knows what the Asthmatic suffers with in an Asthma Attack. Its the scariest & most frightening experience that anyone could go through. It makes me sick to think that people still treat Asthmatics in this way. It's a reflection of the lack of education about Asthma.

    Please Asthma UK print this experience to promote what an Asthma attack is like and what this person experienced. This should not be going on in this modern age. These medics should have empathy with patients - this sounds like contempt & total misunderstanding of the symptoms of Asthma. How can they be in a caring profession? If most people did not do there job properly they would be sacked. Why are these people so protected??????

    Hope the patient is feeling better. Please send an email/letter to the PALS Dept at the Hospital - this should be logged & acted upon to ensure that no further episodes occur.

  • Just to let everyone know that Asthma uk are publishing my story as a part of their 2017 media campaign! Also been invited for a media interview to discuss my experiences with Asthma and how I think my story can help others. Very touched at the incredible response I've had off everyone so thank you all! I'm in law school at the moment so would love to eventually be an ambassador for Asthma uk and fight for our cause on more than one level - also the legal level too! Thanks everyone :)

  • What a brilliant piece of writing which has hit many of us hard.... I thankfully haven't ended up as poorly as this but each admission I'm getting closer but of course the machines say otherwise ! You can't describe the exhaustion and tiredness, the wish to let something else breath for you despite the knowledge of what that actually entails ! Thankfully my A&E Drs are finally looking at my history when I'm admitted and it helps I have colleagues in the department who know me well ( it's my local hospital I attend as a paramedic) so I generally have someone who can be my voice if my husband hasn't arrived.. when I was training we were taught ... machines are a Nice to know NOT a need to know .... LOOK at the patient ! Wish more medics would follow this simple mantra .

    So glad this is going public... if it can save one person in this position .............. well done .... hopefully we can put it on social media one day....... as a voice behind the condition !

    Thank you ... x

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