Catherine, age 39, has had asthma (diagnosed at age 5) and a number of other health conditions since birth. She is white British, single and works with young people who have learning disabilities. During her childhood she found that she was unable to take part in many things and felt quite isolated. As an adult, Catherine has found ways to make life work for her, and is able to live a full and active life.
Catherine has had a number of different health conditions from the time she was born including eczema and hay fever, and also problems with her lungs, but wasn’t diagnosed with asthma until she was around 5 years old. At the time she says asthma wasn’t that well recognised and less was known about the condition than today. Her parents struggled to find help for her, and felt at times as though they were seen as hypocodondriac parents. Catherine talks about the way in which her asthma impacted on her school days and remembers feeling left out because she was absent from school a lot, and when she was there she was unable to join in with a lot of things such as sport and outdoor activities. She says that she felt she was labeled as different’ and as a result experienced bullying during her early years.
When I was little I was the only one in the whole school [with asthma] so nobody understood‚’
The feelings of difference continued into her teenage years and she felt very conscious that she wasn’t able to fit in with the way other teenagers spent their time. She frequently felt unwell and was often wheezy and had numerous chest infections that made life very difficult for her. She wanted to be able to go out and socialise with friends but at the time pubs and places where her friends would go were impossible for her because of the smoky atmosphere which triggered her asthma. When she began living independently she began to find ways to cope and build confidence in herself.
Over the years she has been prescribed many different medications to control her asthma because although they have worked well at times, after a while they have become ineffective and so her doctors have tried newer or different combinations of drugs. In her interview Catherine describes how difficult it can be to have to get to grips with new treatments, not least because there are often contraindications between the different drugs she takes and so something that relieves her asthma may well have an adverse effect on another aspect of her health. She has found keeping a diary about how she feels has been a helpful and important way to help her to understand her own condition, as well as helping to explain things when she sees health professionals. Because of her complex health status Catherine finds that she frequently has to explain her medical history to the various consultants and health professionals with whom she comes into contact, and sometimes this can be frustrating. Over time she has found ways to make her consultations with health professionals more fruitful, but there have been occasions where she has felt that the treatment she has received has not been ideal. Sometimes it can feel as though she knows more about the condition than the experts. She has found that although many doctors know something about asthma, often they are not aware enough of how it interplays with the other conditions she has. Sometimes she has done her own research on the internet and found information that she has subsequently taken to her consultant, and this has been received with mixed reactions. Although she is articulate and well informed, Catherine can sometimes find it very difficult to get the treatment that she feels she deserves. She sometimes finds it helpful to take a friend with her to appointments for support, both practical and moral.
Catherine has many triggers for her asthma, including weather conditions, furry pets, house dust, pollen/grass, and household cleaning products. Stress and anxiety can also make her feel much worse. She has learned over the years to moderate her lifestyle to try to make things more manageable. One thing that she finds helps enormously has been to take regular exercise which helps to strengthen the lungs.
You just have to find an exercise that suits you‚‚ as a result my lungs are stronger and I think that’s one of the reasons why I don’t have as many attacks and I control it and I don’t have as many chest infections.’
Catherine works full time and lives a full life, but over the years has had difficulties with some employers who have made her feel that she is not pulling her weight at work because of having to sometimes take time off for hospital appointments and illness, although she has also found that some employers have been extremely helpful and understanding and have accommodated her needs. She finds that generally many people are ignorant about asthma and tend to see it as something that is not very serious, especially because when people look at someone with asthma there is nothing obvious to see that indicates that the person has an illness. Sometimes because of this she finds that people can be very insensitive. Having asthma has had an impact on relationships sometimes with friends.
Catherine has had to make many changes to her lifestyle over the years but thinks it’s important to have a positive attitude, because she feels that if you dwell too much on what you can’t do, life would become intolerable. She has adapted her home to ensure that it can be kept as dust free as possible which means having as few soft furnishings and carpets as possible, and keeping things scrupulously clean.
Currently Catherine takes her steroid inhaler (preventer) twice a day which helps to keep the inflammation in her airways to a minimum, and she can vary the dosage according to how she is feeling each day‚ so if she feels she is getting a cold or feeling more wheezy, she can take a higher dose. During the day she may use her reliever inhaler if she feels wheezy or her chest feels tight and this will work to relieve the symptoms. She also takes a tablet each day to help ease her asthma and aspergillus (another lung condition). Catherine feels it is important that if she needs to use her inhaler during the day when she is with people, that she does so in front of them rather than going somewhere private as some people may do, because it is an everyday aspect of her life and she feels that if people see asthmatics taking their inhalers that will help to change people’s attitudes about asthma. Another condition that Catherine has is anaphylaxis (an extreme allergic reaction to many things) so she is mindful to keep all her medications with her at all times.
Catherine describes an asthma attack as It’s like somebody’s sitting on your chest and they’ve got their hands round your throat and you can feel it. It’s like that there’s this huge weight sitting and no matter how hard you breathe in your chest wall feels like it’s not moving, at all.’