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Asthma Helped Me Land a Career I Love

Reading time | 3 mins

I’ve lived with asthma my entire life, which spans half a century. Asthma has posed serious challenges for me over the years but it has also introduced me to many wonderful people and led me to a career I love.

A lifetime with asthma

My asthma got really bad between 1980 and 1985 when I was 10 to 15 years old. Mom and Dad took me to the ER many times and I was even admitted to the hospital. My average length of stay was six to seven days, which was plenty of time to get to know the hospital folks.

Dad had a business and Mom had my four siblings to care for. So that meant I was alone for most of the day and relied on nurses and respiratory therapists to keep me company.

Many of them came into my room to do a task. Then they were gone in a heartbeat.

My doctor made short-but-sweet visits to my room every morning. He was there and then he wasn’t. A busy nurse would do something with my IV or give me a pill. I might not see her again for several hours. One respiratory therapist (RT) started my breathing treatment. He did his charting and left the room.

However, there was one person who stood out above all the others. She was an RT and I really liked her because she actually paid attention to me.

One day she sat on the bed next to me and watched TV. Sometimes we talked. She once spent an entire evening in my room playing a card game called War. It was so nice to have company.

Finding an unconventional path

By 1985, my asthma had only gotten worse – so much so that I spent six months in the hospital. Regional doctors hadn’t been able to treat my severe asthma, and so I was admitted to the National Asthma Center (now called National Jewish Health) to help get my symptoms under control.

This was a turning point in my care, and also helped to shape who I was becoming as a person. Those long hours in my hospital room meant I had lots of time to read and write. This is where I discovered my love of words.

A few years went by before it was time to think about a career.

My dad and I discussed potential jobs quite a lot. He owned a car lot but figured car fumes would bother my asthma. He also discouraged me from working in factories due to fumes and dust, and carpentry or construction were definitely not going to work with my asthma symptoms.

Instead he encouraged me to go to college. He really wanted me to go into respiratory therapy because he thought I would have empathy for my patients because of my experience with asthma. I seriously considered his advice but I wanted to be a writer.

In the end I decided to go to journalism school and I learned how to write. I earned a degree in journalism and it felt great! I was the first person in my family to graduate from college, making this accomplishment even more meaningful.

I soon realized that journalism wasn’t for me. I would have stuck with it if I could have just written columns but real journalism requires you to snoop around for information. I didn’t care for that part.

Reinventing myself

I got a second try at college and this time I chose respiratory therapy. I remembered how much I loved my respiratory therapists as a kid and I thought it would be awesome to take care of kids with asthma. I knew I would be good at that given my own experience with the condition.

I earned my (second) degree and was hired as an RT at the hospital of my choice. It has a down-home atmosphere and is a great place to work. The therapists who once took care of me became my coworkers.

It’s neat what I get to do. I get to help people who have trouble breathing, just like I do.

The best part is getting to know my patients. I’ve had many great conversations and sometimes have developed friendships.

The takeaway

Few people would wish for an asthma diagnosis and it certainly made my life difficult at times.

That doesn't mean that asthma only impacts life in negative ways. It gave something back to me in the form of a career that I love. And it’s a gift to write articles like this.

For more information on how to manage asthma, reach out to your doctor or healthcare team. 

NPS-US-NP-00508 OCTOBER 2019