This senior lady looks back on her lively and colorful life with new perspective, and consciousness.
Over breakfast one morning, my youngest daughter mentioned that for the first time in 4 years, her good friend will be joining them for activities in Physical Education class. She had always suffered from asthma which prevented her from participating in the more strenuous games.
I couldn't help but reminisce my own experience with asthma in my youth. For 12 years in grade school and high school, I would usually have to sit out the last 15 minutes or so of P.E. class when my lungs strained for air. Resting on the side bench often made me feel so miserable, as if I was being punished and deprived of everything I wanted to do.
I've always loved climbing trees and rooftops with my brothers, playing patintero in the street, piko or hopscotch, soccer, softball, and yes, dancing ballet on toes. So you'll understand why resting in the sidelines is not fun at all.
Some folk remedies
Elderly ladies who we referred to as manangs, and the folk doctors or albularios, would give Momi and me some unsolicited advice to drink a witch's brew of various squeamy things--a lizard's tail, turtle, balls of a goat, frog's liver. I'm just glad neither of my parents believed in these remedies.
One manang urged my parents to lift my legs and let me hang upside down for 10 minutes, every day for 30 days. They never tried it on me then, because if they did I would surely remember. Years later, I did a similar activity, the yoga headstand, which actually helped me feel stronger and healthier.
I continued to endure many sleepless and tiring nights, almost upright propped up on pillows, to allow more space for air in my struggling lungs. Our family doctor gave a prescription for the thick yellow bitter liquid called Tedral. It didn't seem to help, because I would often deposit the spoonful in my left cheek, and promptly spit out on the bathroom sink.
Twice a week after dinner, Momi would also call me for what my brothers dubbed a 'smoking session'. From a tin can, Momi would take a spoonful of dried leaves, place them on the depressed tin cover, and lit them up. Once the small fire had died down, Momi would use a rolled up cardboard to funnel the smoke onto the other end for me to breath in.
Once a week for several sessions, I would lie face down on a doctor's table as she "drew lines on my back". Eventually I learned that she was testing for my allergies. The verdict: pollen and animal fur.
I guess this discovery didn't sit well with my parents. We continued to live for many more years right beside an open field where tall grass, cogon, grew. And we kept our 2 dogs who I so loved and hugged often. At some point, we lived with 5 dogs, 12 cats, 2 rabbits, in our home compound. Instead, Momi and Daddy allowed me to enjoy more fun with physical outdoor games, open fields and trees, lots of walking and biking in our village.
Practical lung-strengthening solutions
They both agreed with my allergy doctor who suggested that I take up physical activities to strengthen my lungs, and to develop habits that will allow my body to naturally counter my asthma. So at age seven, I learned to swim with the country's top swim coach. I usually stayed longer in the pool after classes to make up for the 15-minute sit-out, dipping and practising the strokes, after which I gorged on 3-4 servings of my favorite biko (sticky rice cake).
The next year, Momi signed me up in beginner ballet class with one of most famous ballet teachers in town. Everyone looked at me as I entered the studio because Momi had bought me the wrong oufit colors. My classmates were quiet, while I endured their silent jeers. I stayed on for only 3 months (whew), and eventually enroled in another ballet school, where I stayed for 12 years, became a Ballet student teacher and danced as backup for the adult folkdance troupe mainstays.
Our grade school coach appointed me captain ball of our all-girl soccer team, fro which we practiced an hour-and-a-half after school. That position tremendously boosted my lung strength, as well as my self-confidence. We subsequently won 3 out of the 4 competitions with other girls' schools that year.
Asthma willed away
In the meantime, I continued to pursue ballet dancing, initially on weekends only. But when I entered the intermediate and advanced levels, I was practically living in the dance studio 4 times a week, after school and soccer practice. Friday nights, the folk dance troupe had regular hotel performances, which I was encouraged to join in a propsman, and backup dancer. Weekend ballet lessons, classes that I assisted in, and practice for the performances normally lasted 3-4 hours, more than can be expected for a grade schooler.
My grandpa could not fathom how I could be a "dainty" ballerina and a brusque soccer player at the same time. I guess very few people understand the extreme physical discipline, bruises, wounds, and pain that ballet dancers have to contend with to exhibit our graceful pirouettes and grand jetes.
My asthma attacks were still persistent, but I pretended they didn't even exist. I was enjoying all my ballet and sports activities to even be bothered by it. My parents and teachers thought the asthma had gone. The truth though is that I had learned to live with it.
I had simply refused to recognize my asthma, and its control over me. Fun and excitement with the alternative, my happy exciting life, took over. The attacks seemed to be less frequent, and surely much less debilitating.
My belief was my reality. Thus, in high school, I barely had any attacks, as my friends and I enjoyed our weekend all-night dance parties, and vacations with family in the province, beach or mountains.
The final blow
Through the years, I met other friends who also suffered from asthma. Most of them had been prescribed the hand-held spray ventilator, which I somehow never had been made to use. Apparently, many of them are still hooked on it. Why? Some say it is just be a placebo, which the users believe can relieve them off the strenuous breathing difficulty. Seems to be the easiest solution.
Yet, I am never content with relief. I've made my asthma almost disappear, until my 2nd year of university. Then it reappeared in one massive attack while my friends and I were discussing a strategy near an open field in the city. The experience seemed almost new, not a mere come-back. I could feel only a whiff of air entering my straining lungs, as I heard my own loud whizzing. Friends wanted me to lie down and relax. How can I when I was losing air? My arms flayed to get them away from me. I needed oxygen, not their carbon dioxide in my face. I prayed as I struggled, for the Holy Spirit to please get me out of this misery forever, and go on with a good healthy life.
A week later, I got the answer. A friend brought over a medical doctor who also practised the Chinese medical system of acupuncture. I had heard of acupuncture before, somewhere, but never realized a medical doctor was practising it in the country. The doctor had agreed to treat my friend for his back pains. As we watched in amazement, holding our breaths, he raised his hand. "Silence please, I need concentration. I will answer all your questions later."
He stuck about 50-70 needles down the length of my friend's back, then approached us to talk. I asked the first questions. Can acupuncture cure asthma? If so, will it be permanent? When can we start? Everyone laughed. I really sounded desperate.
Acupuncture is highly effective versus many Western solutions. No illness can ever be cured if we continue to debase ourselves with the food, activity, thought, attitude and emotions that caused the illness in the first place. I had actually cured my own asthma, he said, by really believing it is does not exist. But somehow it did come back, and could be sent off again if I anted to. After a lengthy discussion, doctor agreed to schedule a treatment every week.
Each of the three sessions lasted for 30 minutes, with a needle stuck in the elbow fold, another at a point between my thumb and index fingers. He then applied low voltage as much as I could bear, to stimulate the points. He repeated the procedure with the other other arm.
It's all in the mind
That was some 50 years ago. I've never encountered any asthma attack since. Acupuncture was definitely effective for my asthma. Yet, as I write this story, an insight comes to mind.
Doctor acupuncturist did say, and I heard it several times before, that asthma is a psyhosomatic disorder. A quick Google search says "Psychosomatic means mind (psyche) and body (soma). A psychosomatic disorder is a disease which involves both mind and body. Some physical diseases are thought to be particularly prone to being made worse by mental factors such as stress and anxiety."
Could my asthma have been activated by my disturbed emotions back when I was a child, the eldest, a girl, barred from doing things that my four brothers were freely allowed to do? No running, no climbing of trees, no playing in the streets. It's the only reason I can see now. But I'm almost sure there were other reasons, possibly selectively relegated to the farthest corners of my mind, for later access.
I have to admit that the physical activities I was able to eventually engage in, such as swimming, ballet, soccer, then later basketball, judo, dancesport all had profoundly boosted my confidence and self-esteem, which eventually relegated my asthma to the background, unconsciously.
But the surprise asthma attack at 18-years-old could have been triggered by a fearful and dangerous situation that I now can recognize and look back too (am sorry I cannot talk about that here). The fear of not being able to control the situation, and possibly endangering myself and my friends, had brought on the attack. I recognize it now.
I am quite happy that I consciously know what can trigger my asthma, or maybe bring on other psychosomatic disorders (such as hypertension, respiratory ailments, gastrointestinal disturbances, migraine and tension headaches, pelvic pain, impotence, frigidity, dermatitis, and ulcers, says Google). It gives me a great feeling of relief, and a confidence, that I can actually decide to manage my mind and body. After all, this is what life is all about--being able to live contentedly happy, knowing that to stay healthy, I should be able to control my own thoughts, words, actions.
© 2021 Vikky Bondoc Cabrera