Breathing a sigh of relief

As I waded through what I had written in the past, I came across this piece I wrote four years ago to mark World Asthma Day. I remember sitting at my computer, tears streaming down my cheeks as I tried to see what was on the screen. It was the first time I had shared some of the trauma of watching my little daughter fighting for her life. 

Once I was done, though, I switched of my computer, dried my eyes and got into bed with a huge sense of relief. Sometimes one doesn’t need a therapist. Words are powerful. Sharing them can be an immensely therapeutic and empowering experience.

So, today, I’m sharing that story with you.


Swimming has taught Saskiya to control her breathing.

 I’d always worried about passing on my allergies and longstanding battle with asthma to my children. In fact, I was downright neurotic about it throughout my two pregnancies. I did everything I could to ensure their lungs would be the picture of perfection when my little ones made their way into the world.

When my son, Viaan, was born, I was relieved when he did not display too many “chest” issues.

But two-and-a-half years later my daughter, Saskiya, was born pre-term and very small.

When she was 11 weeks old, we made our first frantic visit to the doctor and were admitted immediately to hospital because of Saskiya’s respiratory problems.

Paediatricians are not keen on labelling respiratory problems in such young children, but all the usual interventions for asthma were performed.

A week later, we were discharged and happily made our way home with our daughter.

We took home a bag full of drugs for her – from asthma pumps to cortisone to nose sprays to nebulising meds. And we religiously followed our doctor’s instructions every day.

A week later, we were back in hospital for another five-day stint.

Saskiya was not responding to the medication and she was steadily losing weight.

After changing her medication slightly and increasing the cortisone dosage, she recovered enough for us to take her home – for a week.

At 2am on an icy Tuesday Saskiya had a major asthma attack at home and my husband had to rush her back to the emergency room just three days after she had come home.

She was admitted to hospital again.

And so the cycle recurred – until six hospital stays later.

Saskiya’s paediatrician was concerned enough to call in a professor specialising in paediatric respiratory diseases to consult on her case.

A man with little time for new drugs on the market and fancy pumps and chambers, he examined our daughter and suggested we “go back to basics”.

This particular professor did not work at a private hospital – he dealt with asthma in children from less privileged backgrounds, children, whose parents struggled to put three meals on the table.

Treatment at this level is often “rudimentary”. He suggested we try it since everything else had failed.

So into the bin went about R1 500 worth of medication and contraptions. We kept the nebuliser and measuring spoon.

After three days in hospital on an over-the-counter decongestant and an oral bronchodilator as well as regular nebs, Saskiya was well enough to go home.

She didn’t go back into hospital again.

We learnt that what’s really important is remembering the basics. Keep treatment of children simple and half the battle is won.

We also quickly learnt to recognise foods that trigger an asthmatic episode and Saskiya, at five years old, has learnt to say no to any of those foods offered her.

I suppose watching me take my preventative pump every day has also taught her that medicating is not a chore, but is just a way of life.

When Saskiya was about two, we had her tested and it was confirmed that she was asthmatic.

But by this time, she was healthy and dealing with her “condition”.

We’ve been lucky that as Saskiya has grown into a strong little girl, her asthma is not as debilitating as it was in the first few months of her life. She appears to be growing out of it, but we still keep a pump and air chamber close at hand.

She does get frustrated because she can’t run as fast as her brother and is often out of breath after over-exerting herself, but she compensates by choosing activities that she is comfortable with.

Swimming has been absolutely wonderful for her because she’s learnt how to control her breathing without hyperventilating.

It’s been a long and sometimes difficult journey with Saskiya. Nothing is more painful than watching a child fighting for every breath.

But as her name denotes, she is a warrior who bears her “condition” with all of the feisty grace of a five-year-old. Nothing is impossible – it shouldn’t be after the battles she fought in the first four months of her life.

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About Meneesha

Online and books editor by day, mum even while I sleep, individual all the time. I live in the beautiful city of Durban - the unpolished gem in South Africa. If I didn't have a family, I'd be that crazy cat lady your mum probably warned you not to feed! Blogging is where I share, vent, rant, laugh and generally be myself. Join the ride!


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