Pushing Forward

Pushing Forward

A spoken word piece on the struggles of the asthmatic.
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The following is a spoken word piece I wrote regarding my struggle with severe asthma. I am sharing it today partly as a means to express a part of my life I have kept to myself for far too long, but also because I want my experience to enlighten those who know or might even be suffering from severe asthma. The one thing I wanted more than anything while growing up was for others to understand what I was going through, and this is as close as I can get to reaching that goal.


Take a moment and clear your mind. Think back to this morning, as you were just waking up. You may have woken to that damned alarm of yours, or you might have overheard your children doing something mischievous in the other room. Now, try to recall that initial burst of life as you opened your eyes and the light bombarded you in all its infinite majesty. You, being the fatigued, hard-working individual that you are, attempt to shield your eyes until suddenly, something seems wrong. Your mind must be playing tricks on you. What is this odd sensation in your throat? Why are you unable to call out for help? When did you forget how to breathe?

Reality sets in, but so too does panic. You feel like a diver whose oxygen tank hit empty hours ago, thrusting every bone in your body to fight for a simple, small breath. As you attempt to suck in air, you realize you are fighting a losing battle. You look around for something, anything to keep the clock from striking midnight. Your phone is on the corner of your desk, it takes all the strength you have to reach for it and send an emergency 911 text to someone you can count on. Minutes later, you’re skating on the brink, seizing up as help finally arrives. You point to the closet across the room. They pull out a small blue machine and stick the mask on your face, it’s a good thing you keep the chamber filled and ready for emergencies. As the machine hisses away, life is restored to your lungs. The color emerges in your skin once more, your entire body shivering despite the warmth of your blanket and significant other. Your nightmare has surfaced once again, further paralyzing your sense of comfort and safety. Why must this always happen to you?

This is what it’s like to live with severe asthma. Everything you do in life is paralyzed by the fear of a condition the doctors have fought valiantly to control. You live through each day feeling imprisoned and afraid that tomorrow you may not be able to reach the phone or make it to your breathing machine. When asked what causes your condition, you feel guilty because the lifestyle choices of those closest to you are what impact your health the most. Strong odors, cigarette smoke, anything beyond two minutes of exposure to cold, dry air and plenty more are the things you have to take into mind with every decision you make. To account for these worries at times feels nothing short of maddening. The medications you’re placed on to help control your illness are extremely expensive and, without proper care, can lead to worsening the conditions they are prescribed to treat. The worst part is that you can’t maintain a job because breathing turns out to be incredibly important in all lines of work.

“So what do you do?” You may ask. You fight. You push forward against all odds, seizing all options on that fateful road to oblivion. You came into this life for a reason, and only you have what it takes to rise above what holds you back. There will be days that you want to give up, but you will persevere because that is the only way to beat what afflicts you. You will push for opportunities to better yourself, from college to speaking out and eventually to confiding in someone you trust, sharing your burdens and alleviating the strain they have on your life. Are you doubtful? Do you need proof? Well this is your proof. I'm living through this and am sharing it with you, someone I trust. I've assembled my secrets for all to see and have never felt better.

Cover Image Credit: NC State University

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Yes, I Had A Stroke And I'm Only 20

Sometimes bad things happen to good people.
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Recently, I read an article on Cosmo that was written by a woman that had a stroke at the ripe old age of 23. For those of you who don't know, that really doesn't happen. Young people don't have strokes. Some do, but it's so incredibly uncommon that it rarely crosses most people's minds. Her piece was really moving, and I related a lot -- because I had a stroke at 20.

It started as a simple headache. I didn't think much of it because I get headaches pretty often. At the time, I worked for my parents, and I texted my mom to tell her that I'd be late to work because of the pain. I had never experienced a headache like that, but I figured it still wasn't something to worry about. I went about my normal routine, and it steadily got worse. It got to the point that I literally threw up from the pain. My mom told me to take some Tylenol, but I couldn't get to our kitchen. I figured that since I was already in the bathroom, I would just take a shower and hope that the hot steam would relax my muscles, and get rid of my headache. So I turned the water on in the shower, and I waited for it to get hot.

At this point, I was sweating. I've never been that warm in my life. My head was still killing me. I was sitting on the floor of the bathroom, trying to at least cope with the pain. Finally, I decided that I needed to go to the hospital. I picked up my phone to call 911, but I couldn't see the screen. I couldn't read anything. I laid down on the floor and tried to swipe from the lock screen to the emergency call screen, but I couldn't even manage that. My fine motor skills were completely gone. My fingers wouldn't cooperate, even though I knew what buttons needed to be pressed. Instead of swiping to the emergency call screen, I threw my phone across the room. "Okay," I thought, "Large muscle groups are working. Small ones are not".

I tried getting up. That also wasn't happening. I was so unstable that I couldn't stay standing. I tried turning off the running water of the shower, but couldn't move the faucet. Eventually, I gave up on trying to move anywhere. "At what point do I just give up and lie on the floor until someone finds me?" That was the point. I ended up lying on the floor for two hours until my dad came home and found me.

During that two hours, I couldn't hear. My ears were roaring, not even ringing. I tried to yell, but I couldn't form a sentence. I was simply stuck, and couldn't do anything about it. I still had no idea what was going on.

When the ambulance finally got there, they put me on a stretcher and loaded me into the back. "Are you afraid of needles or anything?" asked one EMT. "Terrified," I responded, and she started an IV without hesitation. To this day, I don't know if that word actually came out of my mouth, but I'm so glad she started the IV. She started pumping pain medicine, but it didn't seem to be doing anything.

We got to the hospital, and the doctors there were going to treat me for a migraine and send me on my merry way. This was obviously not a migraine. When I could finally speak again, they kept asking if I was prone to migraines. "I've never had a migraine in my whole life," I would say. "Do you do any drugs?" they would ask. "No," I repeated over and over. At this point, I was fading in and out of consciousness, probably from the pain or the pain medicine.

At one point, I heard the doctors say that they couldn't handle whatever was wrong with me at our local hospital and that I would need to be flown somewhere. They decided on University of Maryland in Baltimore. My parents asked if I wanted them to wait with me or start driving, so I had them leave.

The helicopter arrived soon after, and I was loaded into it. 45 minutes later, I was in Baltimore. That was the last thing I remember. The next thing I remember was being in the hospital two weeks later. I had a drain in my head, a central port, and an IV. I honestly didn't know what had happened to me.

As it turns out, I was born with a blood vessel malformation called an AVM. Blood vessels and arteries are supposed to pass blood to one another smoothly, and mine simply weren't. I basically had a knot of blood vessels in my brain that had swelled and almost burst. There was fluid in my brain that wouldn't drain, which was why my head still hurt so bad. The doctors couldn't see through the blood and fluid to operate, so they were simply monitoring me at that point.

When they could finally see, they went in to embolize my aneurysm and try to kill the AVM. After a successful procedure, my headache was finally starting to subside. It had gone from a 10 on the pain scale (which I don't remember), to a 6 (which was when I had started to be conscious), and then down to a 2.

I went to rehab after I was discharged from the hospital, I went to rehab. There, I learned simple things like how to walk and balance, and we tested my fine motor skills to make sure that I could still play the flute. Rehab was both physically and emotionally difficult. I was constantly exhausted.

I still have a few lingering issues from the whole ordeal. I have a tremor in one hand, and I'm mostly deaf in one ear. I still get headaches sometimes, but that's just my brain getting used to regular blood flow. I sleep a lot and slur my words as I get tired. While I still have a few deficits, I'm lucky to even be alive.

Cover Image Credit: Neve McClymont

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I'll Always Be An Organ Donor

I mean, outside of the cute little heart I get to have on my state ID.

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Check yes, nod at the clerk, give them a big thumbs up... It's really not hard to sign up as an organ donor. For me, it looks less than five seconds when buying a state ID to tell my clerk that yes, I did want to donate my organs to anyone in need after I died.

Organ donors like myself are always in high demand, especially because only 3 in 1,000 people die in ways that allow for an organ transplant. That wouldn't be too bad if the vast majority of people were organ donors, but only 54% of Americans are signed up to be donors.

Unsplash- Thoracic cavity

But why aren't people donors?

One word: religion.

While most all major religions are not in opposition of organ donation, studies have found that people will cite their religious beliefs are why they're opposed to donating their organs. Many people believe that they may not have access to the afterlife if their bodies aren't fully intact, but I have a problem with this logic.

"God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them." Hebrews 6:10.

"None of you truly believes until he loves for his brother what he loves for himself." Saheeh Al-Bukarhi.

Most large religions have this reoccurring theme of altruism, and that's what organ donation is all about: sharing something you have with someone less fortunate. Giving them a body part that I'll no longer be using won't harm me, it will help them, and it will hopefully look good if there's a Big Guy Upstairs.

Unsplash- heart made from neon lights

So go watch an episode of "The Bachelor." In those 60 minutes, 6 people have been added to the organ transplant list.

Go spend a relaxing weekend at the beach. In those two days, 40 people died waiting for an organ transplant.

Go to the DMV. Check that box. Save a life. Save eight lives, even. Be that person's shot at a second life.

It's not like anything is stopping you.

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