Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Childhood Illness

In fourth grade my body broke. Not on purpose and not through any fault of my own. My childhood asthma became much worse, probably aggravated by our cats and my parents smoking. On top of that in an effort to help me with my studies my father got me a desk lamp to help me do my homework.
Unfortunately the light bulb in the desk lamp was not a standard bulb but a UV bulb. Hours working under the UV bulb caused damage to my eyes. No one could figure out why my eyes were being damaged. We went to the doctor again and again until after several months one doctor listened to my stupid complaint that it was the light from the desk lamp. For weeks I'd been wearing sunglasses to deal with my eyes sensitity to light. The doctor said, what kind of bulb is in the lamp and when we told him we solved the problem.
That didn't solve the asthma dilemma. I spent most of fourth grade in a haze caused by the only drugs available for asthmatics at the time. Epineprine. It stopped the asthma but made me a zombie. Concentrating was difficult if not impossible. But I was a kid. You don't blame drugs when you're a kid. You just soldier on. So I went to class and floated in a numb state through the year. And as I've already said it was a hard year.
In retrospect I would have been better without my cats. In retrospect my father should have known what kind of bulb was in the desk lamp but in that place at that time there was really only me bumbling around with a terrible breathing disease wearing sunglasses and struggling to be a good kid.
You'd think this would prepare you for stuff. But it didn't. It only meant I had to lay in bed while my friends were playing and I was wheezing. I had trouble reading because of my eyes. It was a fourth grade disaster.
We changed the bulbs. In the next several years we found an allergist. I got allergy shots. My asthma vanished for the most part. But for two or three years the only place I felt safe was in my house reading. Not a bad place because I loved books. My parents taught me how wonderful they were and they were indeed life saving.
In books I could breath. In books I could see. In books I was smart and resourceful and brave. In real life I was a skinny kid who got picked last and barely made the baseball team.
On top of all this I wet the bed. This would become a major impediment when I joined Boy Scouts but for now it was just an embarrassment that meant I couldn't stay over at my friends house.
What do you do with this? As a grown up I'm comfortable talking about it. As a fourth grader I felt like a monster trapped in his room. A skinny troll unable to be like anyone else. Only in comics and in books was I alive.
Years later when I became truly ill this was a help. I think I'd prefer that I hadn't had the training. Just as I'd prefer I hadn't gotten ill with AIDS. Shit happens and it has it's benefits but all things considered you might wish you had a pick.
Theodore Roosevelt was my hero because he was an asthmatic as a young boy and he exercised and fought back. I used his example to try to get better. Now I think that just by dint of labor you can't fix anything. But then it served it's purpose. I had a goal. Not to be sick. Not to be limited. To be like everyone else.
What I never asked was what was everyone else like. What were the trials they faced.

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