The Day I Couldn’t Breathe

Almost two years ago, on March 7, 2019, I had only another minute to live. I was gasping for air, tying to inhale, and couldn’t.

My bronchial tube wouldn’t open.

A cold had become acute bronchitis. It was the second time in two years where I was coughing so hard, my sinuses were being pushed out through my eyes, so said the doctor.

I was taking expectorant, drinking lots of broth, chicken soup, water, and Gatorade. I had two humidifiers running, that were going through two gallons of water each day. Plus, I was taking Mucinex D, which was supposed to be drying my sinuses up, but it wasn’t working enough this time.

The problem was that my sinuses were draining during the night and the next morning I’d wake up and have a ten-minute coughing fit. This morning, though, there was no coughing.

That 7th day of March, I woke up and immediately couldn’t breathe. At all. And, I didn’t know why. My gaze went to the clock, watching the minute hand. I kept gasping for intake air but couldn’t make it happen.

Nothing.

I started panicking. Thirty seconds has already passed. I lifted my arms straight up into the air, a trick my ex-mother-in-law used whenever she was coughing. It always worked for her.

Didn’t work. Now, sixty seconds had passed.

I had thirty seconds left, sixty at the most, if I was really lucky, but I’ve never been able to hold my breath longer than ninety seconds. Thirty. That’s all I had.

I start pounding my chest. I tried to cough hard. Bent-over, coughing harder than I ever had before.

Nothing.

I’m trying anything and everything I can think of, anything from all my first-aid training. Mind scrambling through the actions of TV doctors and EMT techniques.

Nothing.

This is it. You’re going to pass out, and they’re going to find flies. Right here in the middle of your bedroom.

And then, I heard a voice. Relax. Just relax.

I dropped to my knees beside the bed, my torso and head on the bed. I let go, relaxing everything. I’ve done it in the dentist chair when I’ve felt myself tensing up. I’ve done it before when falling, which has kept me from severely injuring myself, so I do it again. Drop the shoulders, relax the muscles, blow out the air…

In only a second or two, I’m relaxed. My airway opened up, just enough for me to finally breathe in. In another minute, I’m up and breathing normally again.

Scariest moment of my life.

While I’ve always believed that I’ll probably die alone, I never thought it would be because I couldn’t breathe. Though, I have had moments of choking on a grape, laughing, and inhaling air wrong, and now there’s the horror of COVID-19.

Obviously, someone on the other side wasn’t wanting me to join them, yet.

Listening to those voices from the other side and following directions without question does have its advantages.

Dad’s Visit

For the past several days and evenings, the strong smell of a pipe has filled my entire apartment. I know that Dad, who died in 2008, often visits, but in the past, I would smell his morning toast. It’s been a while since I smelled his pipe. Most of the time, he’s here for just a short time. A few hours, and then the smell disappears.

Not this time.

Dad loved to play games, as do I. He worked in electronics, repairing TVs in his first career. Later in life, I got him involved with computers where he ended up writing his own programs in DOS and then repairing computers. (Anyone still wondering where I get it from?)

Soon after his death, he communicated with me by playing with my VCR. I’d turn it off. He’d turned it on. Repeatedly. That’s when I smelled the pipe the first time. I could hear him chuckling, and then, he’d be gone. He’d come back from time to time with his toast smell the giveaway. Just checking in, never staying long.

He was a night-owl, too, as am I. Often, it’s three in the morning, sometimes five o’clock before I finally go to sleep.

Because I’m no longer eating gluten or allergen foods, the nerves in my feet that first started going numb back in 2000 are coming back to life. I can tell by the shooting pain that occurs in a new area from time to time. For the past year, the pain has been predominantly along the top of my left foot. Recently, I’ve had the addition of extreme curse-screaming pain in the sole of the same foot.

While I welcome the pain most of the time because I’m discovering where the nerves are firing up and where feeling is coming back, the pain can also hinder my ability to sleep unless I’m mindfully exhausted. It’s in that pre-sleep, restful, down-time when I’m more cognizant of my feet and the pain that occurs. The pain doesn’t occur every night, and I rarely notice it during the day because I’m busier, concentrating on other things.

Typically, at night, I’ll shut down the writing, move away from the computer anywhere from seven to ten, depending what I’m working on. At that point, I transistion to watching taped shows while I play games or color on my iPad. Often, I realize that I’ve nodded off, sitting up, for a few minutes to maybe twenty. It’s just enough of a cat nap to carry me through until the wee hours.

Last night was one of those nights where I was playing and watching, cursing the constant shooting pain where even ice and Biofreeze wasn’t touching it, cursing it to stop.

Suddenly, the game app shut down. The pipe smell got stronger.

I’d opened the app back up, only to have it shut down again a minute later…just as I got the game started again.

It shut down again.

I cleared out all the cookies and reopened the app.

A minute later, it shut down.

I closed all the programs that were open and reopened the app.

A minute later, it shut down.

I rebooted he entire iPad and reopened the app.

A minute later, it shut down.

With each shut down, the pipe smell got stronger and stronger. It was now midnight. The air was thick with the smell.

Finally, I said, “Okay, I know you’re here. Obviously, you’re trying to get my attention. What are you trying to tell me?”

Instantly, I got the sense that I needed to go out into the living room—my office—and work on my novella. To forget the iPad games. Forget TV.

So, I did. Two hours passed quickly. I made great progress toward conquering the hump I’d been trying to get over with the novella’s timeline and consistency problems I’d been finding.

I noticed that the pains had stopped.

I went back into the bedroom, opened the app, and for an hour, colored and played games, watching a program to help wind my brain down from the writing.

No shut downs.

Thanks, Dad.