|Beat's hummingbirds. There's so many that we've been going through 1.5+ liters of sugar water per day.|
"I just get winded so easily. Sometimes while walking up my stairs at home, I have to slow because my breathing feels so constricted that I become dizzy. I do twenty-mile runs, feeling like I can barely breathe for most of the time, holding back so I don't have an attack. Yet I don't feel tired or sore after I stop moving, so there's no indication that I'm overdoing it. I use my emergency inhaler at least once for most of my workouts. I think it does help. It was never like this a year and a half ago. Not before I had pneumonia last summer."
"You do twenty-mile runs?" he asked.
"Well, yes," I said. "I just have a lot of trouble with more intense exercise. Even moderate intensity. I really start to feel bad."
I could only guess what the doctor was thinking. Clearly I'm still capable of doing things that 95 percent of the population doesn't do, and that no one really needs to do, so what's the problem? A lung function test showed my lungs are operating at 102 percent of the average for someone my age and weight. A chest X-Ray turned up normal. My resting heart rate is high (78! High 70s are what I've seen a few mornings in a row when I checked first thing. In California, my resting heart rate was always in the high 50s / low 60s.) But my blood pressure is good.
I got the sense that I might get shoed away with only a renewed emergency inhaler prescription, but I pressed for a skin test by expressing interest in starting allergy shots after I return from Europe in September. I had one done last October in California, which was informative but somewhat unremarkable. This Colorado-based test was impressive enough that the nurse demanded my phone so she could take a picture.
Anyway, the doctor agrees that I'm a likely candidate for allergic asthma that's mainly induced when I am exercising outdoors. He said it would be a good idea if I returned to using the maintenance inhaler I used from February to April, as well as a steroid nasal spray for my very bad nasal congestion. I'm glad to try these treatments as I believe they will help me feel better when exercising, although of course there are still many unknowns. I may not have asthma. For several reasons I hope I do, because although asthma can be a life-long disease, it is also treatable. What isn't necessarily treatable are birth defects like a patent foramen ovale (a hole in the heart, which one blog reader told me may effect as much as 20 percent of the American population, but who often experience no symptoms until they go to high altitudes, to which they'll never adapt), as well as lung scarring and other obstructions that can't be detected by an X-Ray (although my lung function is good.)
So ... there is hope! I recognize that I am quantifiably healthy and can't complain too much about this condition. Right now I am optimistic about medication, still looking into allergy shots, and also moving toward acceptance of working with whatever fitness I have if these treatments don't help. I also remain optimistic that mostly what I need is for summer to go away, and I'll quickly build strength the way I did last fall and winter (with relapses into asthma symptoms that I believe were directly related to respiratory illness.) There's still time to launch into "training season."
The plan is to get back on the bike tomorrow. Honestly I'm a bit scared of my bike right now — not only because of the weak arm/steering issue, but because you can't hide from more intense efforts on a bike. Running, you can always slow to a plodding walk if you need to, but keeping a bike upright on a steep hill requires a minimum of effort, even with a granny gear. It seems this minimum of effort puts me in the hypoxia cave. But yes, back on a bike tomorrow and most likely a long run into the high country this weekend.
I'm excited! Even if I am starting to think of summer the way other people view winter — an uncomfortable time to be endured until friendlier weather returns.