The clock’s second-hand kept ticking with a steady, unaltering rhythm. Heart rates increased with each tinge of panic infiltrating the bloodstream. All the while, time marched on with no interest in current events.
Well after midnight, our household was awakened. Each of us grabbed by the collar and yanked out the door of tranquility by the forceful hand of a loved one in distress. Exiting the blissful realm of dreams, we landed in a moment of crisis.
It was the early 1970’s. I was only about 6 years old and had not yet experienced an asthma attack firsthand. My calmness was not brave or commendable. I was blinded by the ignorance of inexperience. My older brother had fallen prey to the tiny viral demons marching through the community. Nothing out of the ordinary until he awoke gasping for life-sustaining air.
By the time I was aware of the situation unfolding in our living room, Dad was waking up our doctor’s entire family with an urgent phone call.
In the early ’70s, only a small percentage of the U.S. population was covered under the 911 emergency reporting system. Kansas was not on that shortlist.
Mom was calmly terrified, helpless to do anything except pray her son would not stop breathing. Even a small stream of oxygen into his lungs was better than nothing. Having witnessed his own father struggle through asthma attacks, Dad knew this beast. Holding a protective arm around the 9-year-old boy sitting in his lap, he held the phone with his free hand.
“My son can’t breathe. He’s gasping for air.” Dad quickly explained to the groggy doctor on the other end of the line. One man’s crisis is another man’s average day in the life. I wonder how many times the doctor must have talked panic-stricken parents off the ledge in the middle of the night. “Bring him to my office in the morning and I’ll take a look at him.” Dr. Price had strong opinions and little patience for noncompliance.
Dr. Price assumed panic was flowing through Dad’s veins fueling irrational reactionism. An assumption based on the status quo, not applicable to this night’s diversion from the everyday state of normalcy. Dad understood the urgency of the situation and would not be so easily dismissed by the doctor’s misguided assumptions. Unapologetic stubbornness is genetic in my bloodline.
“Listen to this,” Dad commanded without pause. Holding the telephone next to my brother’s face, the young boy’s struggle to pull oxygen into his lungs did all the talking. The audible state of severity traveled via phone lines across miles of space to the doctor’s listening ears.
The doctor woke up. “I’ll meet you in the emergency room.”
Mom smiles without laughter as she recounts how Dad may have broken the speed limit laws a bit that night as our family traveled to the closest hospital in a nearby town. Priorities shift in a time of crisis. Cool heads quashed fear’s feverish construction of mental roadblocks meant to divert the progress of what needed to be done.
Misguided dismissal morphed into acceptance. Acceptance grew into resolution. Resolution became a guidebook.
Survival instinct guided the adults gathered in the emergency room that night. This was not the time to wear rose-colored glasses. Asthma was not a once in a lifetime event. With certainty, the beast would raise its ugly head again. And it did. The knowledge gained by acceptance and problem resolution became strategic intelligence, the building blocks of a plan for fighting future attacks. We were armed and ready for the next battle.
Panic lives a random, unfocused life in the shallow end of the character pool. Real depth of character grasps crisis with a firm hand and stares the beast down with rational eyes and resolute action. Real depth of character sees beyond selfishness and holds a protective arm around those gasping for air. Preparedness keeps fear at bay while perseverance does what needs to be done.
Disciplined follow-through of a sensible plan is the tortoise racing against the hare. We were all in this together then, and we are all in this together now. Just breathe.