Cough, snf, hack…
One of the most troubling aspects of my return to Sheffield has been a very sudden deterioration in my respiratory health. I am, and always have been, an asthmatic. The last few years have seen a continued improvement in my health, with only distant childhood memories of noisy nebulisers and steroid treatments to remind me of how bad the condition can be. In fact, I survived an entire year in Canada without a regular supply of medication or even a doctor to monitor my condition. That was partly because of my grey status as a legal alien, but also because of a handy piece of provincial legislation in Québec that is designed to encourage general practitioners to work in the regions rather than the big cities. As a result of the latter, Montréal has no spare licenses for general practitioners, and therefore a severe shortage of family doctors.
Not that it was a problem, however. Despite living in an old building with four cats, and despite my high tolerance levels of dust, I breathed clearly for most of the year, often going several weeks without a dose of the Fixotide that effectively keeps my airwaves open. I just didn’t need it, and led a moderately active life without any problems.
Two weeks into term in Sheffield and things aren’t as rosy. More or less every morning, I have been waking early with an extremely tight chest. A quick dose of Ventolin rapidly relieves the pressure on my lungs, but it’s an unpleasant way to wake up. By the end of the day, the steep climb up the hill from the university to Crookes leaves me breathless and in trouble. Once again, Ventolin helps, but it’s not a great idea to become dependent on it.
On the list of things to do upon my return to the city was to re-register with the University Health Service, and to schedule an asthma review. I saw a nurse on Thursday morning, and got quite a shock. For the first time in ages, I blew into a peak flow meter. These little plastic tube like machines with disposable mouthpieces measure the capacity of your lungs. You take the best measure of three blows into the device to take a reading. My results were very poor; my lungs were barely pumping out half what a man my age and build should be capable of.
The nurse and I discussed options. It was strangely familiar to me, having read dozens of health advice leaflets in my life. But suddenly it’s relevant to me again. I need to change my pillows and purchase dust protectors for the mattress and pillows. More worryingly, I may also need to change the carpet in the house. I would not be sad to see the vile orange carpet go from our bedroom, but it’s a matter for the landlord and will require some co-ordination (not least because I’ve only just finished unpacking and filling the room with my stuff).
So, all is not great. And all of the above is exacerbated by the routine onset of the fresher’s flu (a mild cold bug that is exchanged amongst returning students at the start of each term) and my body’s reaction to the flu vaccine. I can’t really complain about the latter, but I have no doubt that I am feeling poorly in no small part because of the jab. I will dose up on Lemsip, Ventolin and Fixotide, and go to bed thankful for our National Health Service. They seem to know that to make me better they need to make me ill first.