Thursday, September 2, 2010


I have known for some time that I have some lung issues.  When I get a chest cold it lasts and lasts and my coughs are really harsh compared to average people.  It is common that everyone else beats their cold in four days and I get stuck coughing for two weeks and I simply dismissed it as bad lungs since my father had similar issues throughout his life.  I considered myself to be in nearly perfect health less the lung issues and low physical fitness due to too much playing and blogging and too little running!  This week I went to the doctor as I have had a cough for over two weeks and we were worried it might be strep throat.  Instead she diagnosed me with asthma.  It is a very strange thing to go from a undiagnosed 'my body just doesn't work' situation to a named, known disease.  Somehow I can't consider myself to be in prime health anymore because I have this big disease psychically imprinted on me for now and forever.

Naming something has tremendous power.  It used to be that many kids were simply considered bad kids or poor learners but now they are labeled with ADHD or dyslexia and that change of label completely alters their lives and learning.  The change in label is so powerful I think because it changes the source of the issues and their potential resolution.  A bad kid is one with a moral fault - they could be different but they choose not to.  A kid with dyslexia is suffering from a negative influence from outside their sphere of control which can be dealt with and accounted for.  My circumstance is obviously somewhat different but it has similarities in that naming the problem changes it.  Instead of something inexplicable and unsolvable I suffer from something with defined parameters and known solutions.

Now I can approach the problem from an entirely new perspective.  I can get the doctor to prescribe me a puffer to help deal with coughing jags and I can read online to learn about the triggers for problems and other solutions people have come up with.  I do have the new situation of describing my condition as asthma and having all the baggage that goes with it though, which is challenging because my version of it is very mild and many people assume the worst when they hear the name of a disease.  I suppose I can call it 'mild asthma' generally speaking and people will understand fairly well, but that is one distinct downside to naming things specifically like this; communication is made much faster but unless the batch of things the listener associates with the word happen to match the characteristics the speaker wants to convey things may be simply made muddier instead of clearer.

One wonderful thing is that my doctor told me it was possible to go get tested for asthma but that she recommended against it.  Given the mildness of my symptoms she felt that there would be no useful treatment that would require an official test so she recommended not being tested.  I am extremely happy that my physician thinks about things that way - if we can't treat it, don't test for it.

I am away at the cottage for four days this weekend so only 4 posts this week.  Next post will go up on Sunday night.


  1. Doesn't it make sense to test for it to make sure it's actually the problem? A positive result may not give you any extra useful information but a negative one could... I guess if the puffer works out it won't?

  2. If there were some other explanation for my symptoms that had a treatment, then yes, it would make sense to test. However, if the only thing we could usefully find out with the testing is that I officially have asthma and our response would be to do nothing then testing is useless. According to the doctor there is nothing useful to be gained by testing so I presume there isn't any other thing we can usefully treat that causes these symptoms.

  3. Also, asthma isn't really very well defined, and a bunch of similar issues would benefit from the same treatment anyways.

    Presumably Sky would get a pretty low-dose reliever inhaler, which is just a bronchodilator. No matter what his problem, that's going to make breathing easier.

    The potential downside of being tested for asthma and getting a negative result is that it might be harder to get a prescription for an inhaler in the future, because there may not be an immediate proven medical need. Boo to that I say.

    The really interest thing about this post is that it's about the power of getting a label, but not the power of getting a diagnosis. There's a huge difference, because essentially Sky could say yesterday that "he has lung issues", and today he has a medical term which means "has lung issues", probably diagnosed by the doctor just having a quick listen while he breathes.

    It's curious that we consider a name given by a doctor to carry more authority than a first-hand account, when both are based on the same understanding of the facts.

    (Really, the label the doctor provided here is much less significant than the names she didn't assign. That's the service provided here, the reassurance that it's *not* emphysema/cancer/tuberculosis/sarcoidosis/fibrosis/etc.)

  4. I agree that knowing it is asthma doesn't really change anything, but knowing that it isn't something more serious could. In my case I have had this affliction since I was quite young and it has not particularly changed or gotten worse so I was completely confident that nothing was going on that required immediate attention. That confidence may have been coming from a youthful sense of invulnerability instead of rational appraisal of the facts, to be sure.