Breathe

 

 

For a few minutes, I was dying.

 

It felt a lot longer than a few minutes. Time slows down, when you can’t breathe.

And I most definitely was not breathing.

 

I’d told everyone, at one point or another, that this was how it would be. A friend of mine, knowing how clumsy I was, would get nervous whenever he’d see me chopping vegetables carelessly. My concerned family would hold their collective breath anytime I’d venture up on a stool or chair to change an overhead light bulb. 

 

I would reassure them: if ever it looks like I’m doing something dangerous, trust and believe that I’ll be fine. I’d learned, after half a lifetime, that it was never the risky business that got me into trouble. It was the everyday, mundane and seemingly harmless activities that were my downfall. 

 

I’m not going to die while skydiving. I’m going to be taken out in some freak accident, killed by an exploding microwave while making a cup of tea, or zapped to death by a defective remote control while channel surfing.

 

It's always the little things I have to worry about.

 

So when I stopped breathing in the shower, one of the first thoughts that entered my brain was: of course this is how it ends.

 

Maybe I’d inhaled an errant drop of water. I wondered, briefly, if I was suffocating on the steam. It is possible that my lungs just decided to quit working. I’d increased my cigarette consumption over the last few weeks; maybe they’d had it with my bullshit. 

All I knew, all that mattered, was that I couldn’t 

 

Breathe.

 

I tried to cough, to sniff air through my nose, but it was like a wall had gone up at the back of my throat. Nothing was getting in, and nothing was getting out. Frustrated, I stomped my foot, hoping to kick-start this whole respiration thing that my lungs had been doing for most of my life.

 

This is not the first time my lungs and I have not seen eye to eye. I had a few bouts of asthma when I was younger. I didn’t always have access to inhalers, either. There were times I would lay down for hours or days, air whistling in and out of my brachial tubes, fighting my body for every

breath.

 

But those were slow, arduous struggles. It was like arm wrestling, teetering back and forth, lasting as long as I could until finally my body would tap out. 

 

This was a sneak attack. This was a punch to the throat.

 

When it was clear that I might very well pass out, I got out of the shower. I wasn’t going to let myself drop and crack my head on the faucet or break my neck on the fiberglass tub. If my body wanted me dead, it was going to have to fight me the hard way.

 

I could hear myself trying to breathe. It was the same sound dying rabbits make, the sound of a woman screaming in the distance. In the mirror, my eyes looked frightening. I didn’t spend a lot of time trying to pin point exactly what it was that made them seem so scary, for obvious reasons, but I looked away and focused on trying to 

 

Breathe. 

 

My husband came into the bathroom. Later, he said he’d heard the thud and thought I’d dropped something, then he heard me screaming.

“Mom, I’ll call you back,” he said, hanging up the phone. 

I could tell he was scared. I wasn’t yet, but I would be later.

 

I tried to think my way out of it.

 

Slow down

 

I stopped pushing against the wall in my throat, backed off the frantic panting, and focused on long, sustained efforts. I must have sucked in a little bit of air, because I was able to croak at my husband the words, “Can’t Breathe.”

 

I pushed past him, completely naked, and ran to my bedroom. I knelt on the floor, listening to my daughters in the doorway. They were asking if I was ok. I couldn’t answer them.

 

Finally, I was able to cough. My nose was running onto the carpet, and even in that moment I was able to think, Ew. Gross. I was croaking like a bullfrog, dry heaving and slobbering on the floor, but 

 

I was winning. 

 

My husband ran off to find an inhaler. He came back empty handed and a bit panicked, but by then I was able to speak.

“I’ll be ok,” I think I said. The fear was creeping in, along with the sneaking suspicion that I very well could have died. 

“What happened?” he asked.

“I really don’t know.”

 

My youngest came into the room and set a piece of paper down next to me. She’d drawn a little stick version of me inside of a heart, the letter ‘T’ floating above my head. She’d been scared and had done the only thing she could think of to make me feel better: she’d drawn me a picture.

 

It took me awhile to recover. My sides ached from the coughing and my throat felt bruised. Exhausted, I kept trying to nap, but my mind wouldn’t rest. Too many web browsing adventures had introduced to me the horrifying concept of ‘dry drowning.’ Most of my brain knew I was being ridiculous, but the small corner of my mind where nightmares and superstitions live was convinced that if I fell asleep, I wouldn’t wake up.

 

I found some measure of comfort, as morbid as it may be, in the fact that while I was fighting for air, I was not scared. I wished that my condition wasn’t so terrifying for my kids and my husband, but my life was not flashing before my eyes. I was not worried about hellfire and brimstone or judgy angels, or the infinite emptiness that may or may not be lurking ahead. 

 

I just was. It wasn’t the most comfortable moment in my life, but it was just that; a moment in my life. I did the best I could under the circumstances. That’s all we can do, in any given moment. 

 

The rest of the day’s moments were good. I got onto the girls when they refused to pick up their room. That wasn’t great, but it was. We had tacos and the little one made a mess, but we were able to laugh about it, watching her wrestle with the floppy tortilla. We put the kids to bed that night, the same as every night. I rubbed their little feet while my oldest read a story. We tucked them in and wished them sweet dreams. My husband and I watched a show on Netflix, some trippy futuristic drama set in an alternate universe. When that was over, we brushed our teeth and went to bed.

 

And I slept like a baby.

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St. Paul, MN
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