College, Asthma And Zombies

BY ON September 5, 2013

cartoon of an inhaler on its first day of school, carrying lunch box

Summer is Big Movie time. I finally caught up to World War Z. Brad Pitt striving to save humanity from swarms of speedy, agile, voracious zombies. Suspending most of my disbelief, I thoroughly enjoyed the scary roller-coaster ride. But the scariest, most believable scene for me was one that was all too real — and it triggered my anxiety about my son as he heads off to college for the first time. Why? My son has asthma.

Zombies as Asthma Trigger

In the movie, Gerry Lane (Dad-Brad) has an asthmatic daughter, Rachel. A zombie attack triggers her asthma. The family escapes, but Mom Lane forgets her purse, which holds her daughter’s rescue inhaler. (My son and I have forgotten our inhalers at times while coping with much lesser distractions.) As Rachel’s labored breathing turns to gasping, my chest tightened — I’d been there myself. So Dad steps in to talk Rachel through it and calm her down until they can get help. I’ve been there too, with my son. At those times, we head to the emergency room. Not an option for the Lane family as hospitals are now infested with zombies (and they are not seeking treatment). They do find a besieged CVS pharmacy outside of Newark, New Jersey, but Dad-Brad is confronted by a…well, let’s just say (minor spoiler alert) he is able to fill Rachel’s prescription and there is no co-pay. Whew!

Hovering Over Is Now Over

I’ve never considered myself a “helicopter parent,” but during ozone and pollen alerts, and when my son is experiencing an asthmatic episode, I would rate myself a “Medevac parent” — ready to land and whisk him away to help. Now my son is going off to college. Who’s going to be there to ask him if he’s taken his daily prescriptions? Who’s going to prevent dust balls under his bed from growing into tumbleweeds? Who’s going to notice that his breathing is a little shallow? Or that he’s going outside in the cold winter air without a scarf — and without his inhaler?  Not me. The chopper is grounded.

Time For A Talk

Any parent of a college-bound kid wants to have a talk about responsibilities regarding academics, finances, behavior, keeping in touch, and staying safe and healthy. For parents of asthmatics, that last piece is particularly important. How do you help your college asthmatic take responsibility for his own asthma — without constantly phoning or text-nagging?

Definitely Pass This Along

Just in time for off-to-school-away-from-home, Moms Clean Air Force has published a helpful free eBook, Asthma Goes To College. It’s chock full of all the reminders you’d like to pass on to your kid, without the nagging or anxious voice he or she probably isn’t going to miss. Sections include “Staying Out of the ER,” “Know Your Triggers,” “The Great Outdoors” and more, all with drawings by New Yorker (and MCAF) cartoonist, Danny Shanahan. You can email it, text it, tweet it or print it for your kid. (Don’t do all four.) It’s a really good read. Pass it along.

How To Cope?

I’m not sure how I’m going to cope. I’ll remind myself that of the 22 million college students in the US, nearly 9% report being diagnosed with asthma. So my son is not alone, and as a parent, neither am I. And I’ll remind myself that his college’s Health Center is just a stroll across campus. And zombies aren’t real. Most of all, I will remind myself of something my son started saying to me a few years ago when I would express concern about the possible pitfalls in the life of an increasingly independent teenager: “Dad…trust the kid you raised.” Right. Yes. But I’m still going to check up on him.

Mark R. Burns is a screenwriter and playwright. He is currently working on a theatrical musical-comedy adaptation of the film “Married to the Mob,” which he co-wrote. The father of three sons, he blogs from New York’s Hudson Valley where he has lived for the past 20 years.

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TOPICS: Asthma, Schools