Like Father, Like Son

BY ON October 17, 2011

 Mark R. BurnsLast week my teenage son was complaining about a sore throat, stuffy nose, aches. I brought him to his doctor and she swabbed a throat culture. Negative. Nothing serious.

“There’s a lot of stuff going around.” It’s always reassuring to hear that it’s just the same-old same-old. At the supermarket, a friend tells me, “Everyone’s getting sick.” It’s good to have company.

The return to school, the new routine. Getting up way too early, long days, after-school athletics, late night homework. And all those organisms back in the classroom spending time together. You’ve seen those pictures of the spray that emanates from an uncovered cough. What is that stuff?

My kid took a break from soccer practice, then slept 15 hours straight this weekend and felt much better. Then his asthma started kicking in. I have asthma too, though mine is less acute than his.

“Dad, is that your inhaler or mine?”

“It’s mine. See, it has a Spongebob Squarepants sticker on it.”


We also have a nebulizer. It’s like the compressor that pumps air into the water of your fish tank. So your fish can breathe. Our nebulizer turns liquid albuterol sulfate into a mist for a more efficient and sustained delivery to our lungs. I plugged it in for him Sunday night. He sat in bed sucking on the mouthpiece at the end of the plastic tube. So he could breathe. We only have fish for dinner.

Ever since my son was five, the purr of the nebulizer, either at home or in the emergency room, has been soothing to both of us. The music that means air passages are opening up. The other night, as I’m watching the medicinal cloud rise from the electric hookah, I get to thinking.

“There’s a lot of stuff going around.” “Everyone’s getting sick.”

We know what we mean when we say that. But in another context? Scary. They don’t speak that casually at the CDC. Or forty minutes into the movie “Contagion.”

According to the CDC, nearly 10% of children in the U.S. have asthma. Asthma is the #1 cause of school absenteeism among children. Nearly 8% of all adults in the U.S. have asthma. Asthma kills. Asthma is very much on the rise.

“There’s a lot of asthma going around.” “Everyone’s getting asthma.”

I think about all the things we asthma sufferers, and parents of asthma sufferers, go through to “keep it under control.” The equipment, the prescriptions, the forgotten or lost inhaler, the steroids, the cost. The anxiety. And getting woken up at 3 a.m.

“Huh, wha—“

“Dad, I can’t breathe.”

Very scary.

My kid and I can work to manage our asthma. We can take our medication. We can keep the house clean – pretty much. We can avoid certain environments. But we can’t avoid “the environment.” We can’t control “the environment.” At least not by ourselves. That’s what the EPA is for. That’s what the Clean Air Act is for. Controlling the pollution coughed out from tailpipes and power plant smokestacks, and all the other sources that make breathing tougher for all us organisms.

Unfortunately a majority in Congress seems bent on postponing new rules, rolling back existing rules, and/or gutting many of the clean air safeguards that have been in place for the past 40 years.

Very scary.

So what’s a dad or mom to do?

The CDC advises asthma sufferers: “You must also remove the triggers in your environment that can make your asthma worse.”

Let’s do that. Let’s do some removal. If our representatives in Washington can’t recognize the importance of clean air, if they can’t hear the hum of the nebulizers or the wheezing and coughing of our kids, or the voices of moms and dads raised in protest, or if they just choose to ignore it all…then by all means let’s remove them – from office. Election day 2012 is closer than you think.

We’ve got our work cut out for us. But isn’t that what we all heard the day our kids were born?

Thank you so much, Mark for sharing your story with the Moms Clean Air Force!

Mark R. Burns is a playwright and screenwriter whose credits include the screenplays for Married to the Mob and She-Devil. His most recent play, The Club, is a dark comedy about a violent clash of American values at a 13-hole golf course in the rural Northeast. He is currently writing a screenplay about the evolution of the ecosystem on a Texas bison ranch and its fight for survival against hydrofrackers. The father of three sons, he has lived in the Hudson Valley of New York for 20 years.


TOPICS: Asthma, Dads, Politics, Pollution

  • Ted

    Great story Mark that goes right to the heart of the matter. I’ve been fortunate not to have any lung issues and as a Dad, am happy that neither of my children do either. But, I grew up with a grandmother who had asthma. We lived in the same house and I can vividly recall her desperate attempts to “catch her breath” – long before inhalers were around to help. We lived in Buffalo. She in turn grew up near the steel mills in Lackawanna where the smoke stacks would blow right in the direction of her childhood home. Were they the cause of her asthma? We’ll never know for sure but I certainly suspect it. I’m with you, if those in Washington want to remove the protections we fought for years ago, let’s remove them – from office.

  • Judith Ross

    Yes, great story Mark. And I’m all for cleaning up the environment by the kind of removal that you suggest. If representatives in Congress can’t support clean air regulations and the EPA, then they have got to go.

  • Juliet

    Well said, Mark. Need to do some House cleaning…and some Senate cleaning too.

  • Heather

    Hey there,
    Nothing scarier than not being able to breathe clearly. I don’t what your diet is like, at all. However, I have done extensive reading on books written by T. Colin Campbell & the like. Many doctors & nutritionist’s in the vegan world, suggest & have studied asthma & cow’s milk & cow’s products. It’s worth taking the time to look into it, plus now here are tons & tons of alternative milks to try from thai coconut water–awesome for Iron, cleaning the blood right on through to hemp milk, coconut milk, organic soy, and other nutmilks. You can even make these milks yourself add a dollop of maple syrup to it & you will not miss cows milk. I just mention it for the health reasons–nothing else. My blog is linked as I do make nutmilk myself upon occasion and took the time to write a quick synopsis. All the best to you & your son.

  • fiona3399

    My sister and I had asthma when we were in grade school in the 1950′s – we were the ONLY kids with breathing problems. As the air quality grew worse over the decades many of us became activists to get the EPA in place and the Clean Air Act went a long way towards helping us all breath easier. I was in El Paso in early September, and having lived most of my life in California, was stunned when I tried to go exercise my first morning by a brisk walk near the hotel, and had an asthma attack almost immediately – I could almost “taste” the air: it felt “thick”. The air pollution was incredible; an excellent example in that state of politics coming before the health of the people who live there. As far as we are concerned in our extended family, any politician that does not put our health and that of our children before their damn politics should be voted out of office. If they are not running in the next election – recall them.

  • catherine mirabella

    October 21, 2011

    Great story Mark. I am lucky enough not to have any lung issues. But my mother, aunt & uncle all died of pulmonary fibrosis which is a devasting lung disease. All 3 of them did not smoke but neither could we get an answer from the doctors as to why they got the disease in the first place. My mom lived here in New York (staten island to be exact) my aunt lived here also (long island to be exact) and my uncle lived at least the last 15 years of his life in Wilmington, Delaware. You wonder if the environment and air quality didn’t have something to do with. And this is with the protections still in tact. Imagine if they are removed. I am also with you, if those in Washington want to remove the protections we fought for years ago, let’s remove them – from office.

  • http://N/A Ronald Barnes

    It is amazing that it is blamed on the lack of clean air laws, but no one questions the long wide chemtrails from aircraft that those interested have found contain aluminum, mercury, and a whole host of other stuff. Mostly from UN aircraft as has been discovered but most people seem to not be aware of this spraying us like bugs problem, throat doctors out in the west have noticed everytime they are doing this their office fills up with people with throat problems. Just like earthquakes, floods, tornadoes, and droughts, does no one know about the HAARP that is controlled by the CIA and the , military. Located on 13 acres up in Alaska capable of heating the ionisphere and creating all kinds of problems. You can get info on it on any search engine. Could this be what is melting the ice caps to get every one to believe in global warming.
    Ron Barnes

  • Mike C

    In order to identify the representatives that are opponents of Clean Air and Environment, a ranking of congressional Clean Air opponents/supporters needs to be published. This would be based on how they have co-authored, voted on or fillibustered such bills in the past. Would please take this task on?!?

  • Deborah Gillion

    I couldn’t have described the deploring environmental issue harming us, our lovedones and society any better. You are also right on the money regarding non-caring polititians….Citizens Unite and get them out ASAP!!!!!!!!

  • VL

    Here’s an idea for a political campaign: show hundreds of people with masks or carrying nebulizers walking along city streets. In the background are huge billboards advertising the latest in portable nebulizers, masks, steroid patches, what have you. (Or Gap and J Crew models in masks.) Such a world will be a real boon for capitalism — think how many people make money off illness.

    It’s the near future if we don’t act now.

  • Avery Leinova

    Thanks for your story. I am lucky enough not to have any chronic lung problems, although I have been plagued with acute problems throughout my life: 3 cases of pneumonia, 10 cases of bronchitis. However, over the past twenty years, I’ve not had a case of either, although I’ve had deep coughs with colds. My mother has COPD, and often is trapped in the house on bad air days – she lives in St. Louis, MO. My partner has asthma; I’ve often watched him gasping for breath, using his inhaler multiple times within a matter of a few hours. He can’t afford a nebulizer, and uses his inhalers long past their completion date because he doesn’t have the money to buy new ones. He is a Viet Nam vet; the VA doesn’t treat his asthma, because it is unrelated to his war time experience. I agree with you: if our legislators want to dismantle the clean air laws, it’s time to remove them from office.

  • Michael Condon

    A large precentage of illnesses would disappear if polluters were stopped.
    The health care crisis is pollution driven.
    Our legislators in WV are enamored with extractive industries, historically coal and now fracked gas. I have been solar powered since 1988, with no apparent ill effects.
    Some of my neighbors are concerned their right to drill for gas and ruin my water might be at risk. The choice seems to be to make us refugees in our own communities.
    Ground level smog associated with fracked gas wells will reak havoc with challeged breathers.

  • Lynda

    I have asthma – aggravated by 32 years of smoking, I’ve been tobacco free for 12 years now. My mother died due to choking, because she had emphazema (how ever that is spelled) because she smoked since she was 16. I started at 17 just to tick her off. I was addicted from the womb to the dinner table and all evening while in front of the tv. It was in the car, it was in my clothes, my hair. I didn’t know it stunk so bad until after I quit smoking. I have severe allergies to grassed weeds trees, dust mites, and they contribute to my asthma. I take medications, use an inhaler, and luckily enough, no nebulizer – yet. I am careful when I get sick or my allergies kick in. We, the members of GTLO (Get the Lead Out) fought against ASARCO, a copper smelter, that wanted to start up after being dormant for 10 years because the copper prices were rising. ASARCO is now Bankrupt. We were all glad the day they shut down the smelter, because copper prices were so low. The air used to taste so bad, how anyone could live around that mess was beyond description. But the City and GTLO won, and the ASARCO smelter is being dismantled as I write this. But I must tell you, I don’t trust any food grown anywhere near the smelter. It will collect all the contaminants in the soil for miles around through the stems of the plants into the food product. I continue to work to control my asthma, and sometimes my asthma controls me. But I will not stop living or fighting to keep our air clean.

  • http://Yahoo MS. L. CARMEL

    We Need To Clean The Air Inside And Outside, But Especially Clean The Senate Out. They Are Our Biggest Problem!

  • Michael Sheely

    Thank you for the post. Most of my family suffers from asthma as well. Keep up the good fight, God bless.

  • Darlene

    I am in total agreement with all the statements above. This country needs to be cleaned up and I am not just talking about the air, our government is lower than the belly of a snake when it comes to working for the people. We need to go back to the old ways, yeah, it was harder but it was a lot healthier than it is today. They talk about the cars and smokestacks, but they also need to check jet fuels, how the shuttle affects the atmosphere, all of those things. Politicians need to wake up, unfortunately money is more important to all of them, corporations, etc.
    THE EARTH IS OUR MOTHER, CARE FOR HER. Who do you think keeps us alive? If not for Mother Earth we would not be here at all.

  • Shoshana Katz

    In 2008 I took an extended trip to visit family and friends in the United States. I was there for almost 10 months. Regardless of locale, I found that the food products, even roasted peanuts were inundated with milk additives. I am allergic to milk. Not lactose, milk protein: casein. You can believe I searched the ingredients section on every label of every product I purchased. I also queried those responsible of every eatery I stopped in. Many times I simply forgo eating in a public place if there was no one who could tell me definitely that there was no milk, butter, cheese, yogurt, whey, etc. in given foods. Health care providers should demand the removal of milk products from prepared foods. Bet it would save millions of dollars in costs to say nothing of reducing asthma. Same with air pollution. Wouldn’t cost so much for universal health care if we stopped making out public sick.

    • http://TheInternationalCoalitionAgainstWoodBurningPollution Ernest Grolimund

      Remove Polluters from Office and Money Causing Pollution Legislation

      The playwright has a good idea. I try to do this. But I am a voice crying in the wilderness. But when joined with others in a group, we can have power. That is the essential part of EDF and other groups. But the leaders bothering to be active in EDF, like the playwright (not just Sam Perry), are just the tip mof the iceberg. In Maine, they did a poll showing 90% dislike smoke in their living environment. It was done for tobacco smoke but seems to apply for all smoke. In Fort Collins, Colorado, 80% were polled as wanting their wood smoke air pollution problem cleared up. Wood smoke, coal smoke, steel plant smoke, power plant smoke, car smoke: It all ads up. We have to go after it all. We have to stop covering it up with a monitoring system that avoids the hotspot pollution. The ave city pm is 50 mcg/m3 pm2.5. 150 mcg/m3 perhaps in Salt Lake City to 25 mcg/m3 in Ticonderoga , New York. But the hotspot pollution from other sources is 75 mcg/m3 and up from just wood smoke. The std is 35 mcg/m3. But the real problem is hidden and not reported. And the hourly pm from an ave wood stove with burn wise operation is 6 times the 24 hour ave or 150 mcg/m3. But that never gets reported. The top of the range for the ave stove is 4 times the average, or 450 mcg/m3 pm2.5 for burn it wise operation and the worsat pm from extreme choking per ALA is 100 times the ave. 2,500 mcg/m3 24 hr ave and about 12,000 mcg/m3 peak hourly. The pm std expressed as a dose is 840 mcg/m3,hr, so just a few minutes of exposure to a lot of the wood smoke can violate the pm std within minutes to an hour or 2. And then the CDC wildfire website says the safe dose is really 180 mcg/m3,hr for wood smoke, 4 times more toxic than ambiant mixed air. See how it is all hidden, hushed up, a dirty little secret as calls it.

      Yes, remove all the pollution and the causes, and the bad practices. If BACT does not meet stds, it is dangerous and illegal. An illegal law? That is what the political bums are doing. Throw the bums out. It’s beginning. Clean house, absolutely.

  • Phyllis

    I agree, a list of our sleezy politicians who vote against clean air, water, clothing or any products that touch our lives needs to go. So does corporate money for electing them. Canada does not allow it and they limit campaigning to 3 months. Campaigns here have become a business unto themselves and a negative , mind numbing business at that, filled with lies and religion that does not belong in government. I never thought I would ever be so ashamed and disappointed in the lack of integrity of our government and big businesses. I am a business owner and now my retirement is shot because of the real estate scams. People in banking and investment companies need to be jailed for fraud. I am totally fed up.

  • kidcat24

    Has anyone else noticed what seems like a cold coming on and never turns into a full blown cold? What is that? It is almost like there is an irritant in the air off and on.

  • Dorothea

    Very touching article, Mark. It will be remembered.
    The Bush/Cheney administration removed environmental restraints for oil and natural gas companies. They now monitor themselves and assure us all is well. Who are they kidding?
    Thanks to our New York State governor and legislature, fracking is imminent in the Hudson Valley – more air and water pollution. More asthma. More untold health problems.
    Now really is the time to remove politicians who allow corporations to put their profits above the health and well-being of the nation.
    Let’s follow China’s example – yes China – and pour significant money into developing solar and wind power.

  • Mark R Burns

    Thanks so much for all you comments. Clean the House 2012!