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Just Breathe

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.

Tammy Hader
Tammy Haderhttps://medium.com/@tammyhader
Tammy Hader has no writer’s pedigree. With a BBA in accounting from Wichita State University, numbers are her history. The CPA exam was passed, because that’s what accountants are supposed to do, and thirty years later her accounting life ended with the desire to journey down a different career path. The compass turned toward words to create a new legacy beyond spreadsheets. Her nostalgic writing reflects on the past to explain the present and shine into the future the light of lessons learned. Growing up in a small Midwestern town, influenced by relationships, choices, consequences, and situations, her life is not unique. In her stories, you will recognize reflections of your own past, understand how you arrived at today’s version of you and gaze with her across the bridge into the future.

10 COMMENTS

  1. Tammy – Your story really resonated with me. I was out of the DNA waiting room for some reason when they handed out the healthy respiratory gene. Asthma. Bronchitis. Pneumonia. Ah, I know them well. COVID-19 stands garbed in black, sickle in hand outside my apartment door.

    “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.” What a great lesson your dad gave you that day.

    “Panic lives a random, unfocused life in the shallow end of the character pool.” > Brilliant writing.

  2. Tammy, as asthma sufferer, there is a ton of resonance here. Mine is well controlled, but every so often that dry bark that I emit in the form of a sudden cough suggests to people that I have lived a lot more of a colorful life than my memory tells me that I have. It’s just a cough, and from time to time, bronchitis or pneumonia come to visit, and I have to make sure that I get my flu shot and get plenty of rest and try to do all the things that we get sick of hearing our mothers tell us. I remember a good friend of my parents who died at a fairly young age because there wasn’t the understanding of asthma back in the 1960’s as there is now. There weren’t inhalers then, and there just weren’t all the ways of coping with chronic illnesses then as we are blessed with now. Thank you for some stunning word pictures, and a story that reminds us all of the fragile and special nature of each life. You are a talented and very agile writer, and I always enjoy your writing. Thank you for sharing this tale.

    • Glad to hear your asthma is well controlled. My brother doesn’t have much trouble with it anymore but I do have some cousins who have to use an inhaler from time to time. Thank goodness for modern medicine and the wisdom of mothers.

      Thanks for reading and commenting. Your time us much appreciated.

  3. I really appreciate this story about your brother, your dad’s clear actions on his behalf. Your story reminded me of the time I was up all night with my son when he was a boy. He kept coughing and coughing. In the early morning hours, he looked at me. “I can’t breathe, Mom.” That cued me immediately to drive him to the ER. He received the support he needed. Bad case of croup. Your insight that “Cool heads quashed fear’s feverish construction of mental roadblocks meant to divert the progress of what needed to be done.” A deeper commitment comes on board as the driver in times of crisis. I’ve discovered this time and time again. When a loved one’s life is on the line, you will do what needs to be done. I learned this about myself over and over again. Thanks for sharing this “keep breathing” story to illustrate the importance of shifting priorities in times of crisis, of knowing your deepest values/commitments, and taking actions from that place. Stay vibrantly well and safe, Tammy!

    • Hi Joel. I am safe and well in spite of the weirdness of the world these days. My Mom and I had lunch inside one of our favorite little small town diners today. It was fun to do something so normal again.

      Thanks for reading and commenting on my story!

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