My first encounter with asthma

CNS image Library/2014
Diana Wangari, CNS Correspondent, Kenya
(First published in The Star, Kenya)
Do you remember when you were young and had discovered one day to your delight that feigning illness could be used as a get out of jail free card or so to speak? Or is it a phenomenon more prevalent with the Millennials? Nevertheless, it is amazing the number of illnesses our imagination can conjure up just to get out of a tight situation or simply to serve as an excuse. And it starts right from childhood-- it does not matter how much fun school was, or how many friends you had, there must have been at least a few Mondays that you woke up and thought ‘today is a perfect day not to go to school’.

Initially, I would claim to have a fever but soon discovered to my dismay that having a fever actually meant that my body temperature had to go up and thus could easily be detected, I switched tactics. I quickly learnt that if I claimed to have a stomach ache, tightly clutched my stomach and once in a while rushed to the bathroom, my mother would let me stay at home. Of course, it was a skill whose execution was slowly perfected by me with time. I am quick to add that my 'sick days' often corresponded with rainy days when the warmth of my blankets proved too great a temptation to resist.

Naturally, on my reappearance in school, my friends, more out of curiosity than concern, would seek to find out where I had been. At our still young age, having a stomach upset was considered one of those embarrassing conditions that you never spoke about, pretending you did not know it existed. Therefore, I had to come up with a different excuse for my friends.

Now right around that time one of my classmates had suffered an attack of sorts and he was then diagnosed with asthma. Interestingly, he would have the attacks in the mornings...specifically chilly mornings. And that is how I too came to have asthma. It was a perfect ploy. On cold mornings, I could sleep in bed at home without having to answer my pesky friends’ questions the next morning because I had asthma!

It goes without saying that my mother soon caught up with me and eventually passed the law that if you are strong enough to run to the bathroom and flush away the evidence thereafter, you are strong enough to go school.

It was for the best, all the same, as my friends had been asking to see my inhaler, if only to compare it with that of my classmate who actually did have asthma. My lie was bound to catch up with me even in school. And just like that, I no longer had asthma.

I was reminded of my childhood experiences as we celebrated World Asthma Day because for a better part, not many people know a lot about asthma, other than that most attacks come in the morning and that usually you get an inhaler. Yet Asthma is beyond just these two elements.

Many are naive enough to be unaware of the fact that asthma related deaths do exist. Did you know that globally, it is estimated that more than 300 million are living with asthma and nearly 250,000 are said to die prematurely every year from the condition? Though this public health issue affects high and low-income countries equally, the burden of mortality falls more heavily on the developing world, where 80% of asthma-related deaths occur.

The next time, you are about to shrug off asthma as simply a non life threatening condition, think twice. And yes, I too must confess that it is no good messing up with it--not even for using it as an excuse to get a holiday from school.

(First published in The Star, Kenya)

Diana Wangari, Citizen News Service - CNS 
28 May 2015