Monday, January 31, 2011

Being a Curmudgeon About Chemical Change

A couple of months ago I realized I'd run out of my stockpile of asthma inhalers and had to get a new prescription from my provider. The little tubey things arrived in the mail with their red caps and I attempted to use them in the usual way: spray, suck, hold breath, repeat. And got nowhere. And frustrated. And wheezy.

I tried this again and again, until the canister was empty. My more sensible spouse said to call the pharmacy and complain about these useless inhalers and get them replaced. Smart woman.

Which is when I discovered that my life as an asthmatic has been altered. Turns out, these mini-red-capped inhalers are a new form of albuterol inhaler without any ozone-depleting propellants, the kind that gave all us wheezy people a headache when our inhalers were running out, but made it obvious that medicine was rushing into our lungs.

Apparently, those old stand-bys have gone the way of refrigerators with Freon (in fact, the propellant used in those old inhalers was a form of Freon), no longer allowed in America and probably banned years ago in Europe and Asia. And it sucks, literally.

Not that I want to destroy the ozone or inhale dangerous chemicals (though there was a time when I was using twice the recommended amount of Albuterol every month and was flirting with sudden death when I wasn't drowning in my own lungs from asthma--stupid me, living with cats). I just want my meds to work when I need them. And to know they're working.

You could taste the chemicals in the old inhalers, and the Freon shot that albuterol swiftly into the bronchial tubes; instant gratification is key when you're unable to breathe, as far as I'm concerned. It took me a bit to learn how to handle the new, spray powder inhalers that seem so insignificant, so weak against the overwhelming waves of asthma that overtake a person in the middle of an attack.

For me, the worst is when I have a head cold.

Before I figured out the new inhalers, and had gone through the grieving process, I went off to the local sundries shop and bought an over the counter inhaler, Primatene Mist, an old enemy of mine (my mad boyfriend in high school was majorly addicted), so I could get a hit of epinephrine in my system and breathe easier.

When I found them on the shelf, there was a label explaining how the product was being phased out in 2011 (perhaps they're off the shelf already), for the same reason my old inhalers were gone. I bought one and hold onto it, just in case, and almost wish I'd stockpiled the old kind of albuterol inhale while they were still available. I didn't know they were disappearing before it was too late.


Of course, any albuterol is better than some of the other ways to control rampant asthma attacks. When I get all out of control with pneumonia I'm given prednisone, which is fine as long as I want to spend all week cleaning the house from top to bottom 24/7 and alphabetising the larder. During high school, they routinely gave me and my friend Amy something called Theophyline, which I hope has been outlawed, because it did the opposite of anti-psychotics and made us literally "crazy teenagers."

I worked it into a murder mystery once.

Asthma is a strange ailment with strange attitudes about it. I've gone into the emergency room only to be told I'm not using my inhaler right and sent home gasping for air. I've gone into the same emergency room another time, and the nurse on duty gave me a nebulizer treatment while monologuing on the virtues of asthma medicines and how she could get so much done with so little sleep when she was taking hers. It was surreal.

They say seventy-percent of Olympic athletes use albuterol inhalers, so there must be some truth to the superman speed and endurance side-effect.

I have one of the old kind left, the white canister with the white plastic case. The canister is empty except for a slight spray of propellant, but I'm keeping it for sentimental reasons and so I can study the ingredients. Maybe someday there will be another version that gives the same satisfaction and quick results without the fluorocarbons or chemical aftertaste.

Until then I will use the red-cap mini-inhalers and push/suck/hold/repeat, and hope for results when I need them. They're what I've got for now.

Whining over.  

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