Last 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.
“Dad, I can’t breathe.”
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.
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.