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I’ve had a cold for about the last 5 weeks. It waxes and wanes. At its worst I took a couple of days off, largely to spare my colleagues. At other times it has felt as if I have been completely clear of it. I took a full course of antibiotics and it dwindled from a wet cough to an erratic dry bark. Now it has returned in full force.
I don’t think I would be writing of it but for the scare it gave me last night. After a week of feeling fine I began to cough occasionally yesterday afternoon. The coughs were small, almost apologetic. Last night home watching the soccer on TV while it rained outside I felt it build and gather in my chest. I coughed unproductively while I felt this build-up thickly fill my lungs. I took another antibiotic and went to bed.
It’s easy to jump at shadows half asleep and feeling strange. I struggled to sleep lying there breathing quick, shallow breaths. I felt blocked up by the cold and as if I was trying to draw breath around a thick, viscous blockage. It was as uncomfortable as I’ve ever been. Trying to sleep my mind wandered where I did not want it to go.
I imagined this was something like emphysema. My grandmother, a smoker, had it and I remember her wheezing and short of breath. It didn’t really register with me as a kid, but lying there in bed I suddenly felt an horror of it. I imagined living like this day and night, to be fighting for every breath without pause. As much as anything it was the unremitting nature of it that terrified me. Such physical discomfort comes to dominate your life because it restricts so many of your activities.
This is more pertinent to me than most. I have something called bronchiectasis. Though only diagnosed in recent years it is something I’ve likely had since I was a boy. It’s an inconvenience. It means that I am more likely to get chest infections and that I have to watch myself. Beyond that it is no great hardship, though I’ve probably grown to accept it as part of life.
What I recalled last night was a specialist a few years back telling me I had to maintain a reasonable level of fitness if I did not want my last years to degenerate into this kind of wheezing discomfort. The inference was clear: if I was not careful then the quality and possibly the length of my life would suffer as I grew old.
It’s fair to say that recalling that spooked me last night. I did not want to live like this. I could not endure it. At about 5am my chest cleared a little, and the incessant coughing became more productive. I woke this morning feeling tired and sounding croaky. I still am, but I’m a lot better than I was. Most of all I was motivated to get healthy. There is no way I could accept this level of poor health, and if it means I have to put in the hard work now then it’s a small price.
It may seem odd, but I feel as if I’ve been given a glimpse of one of many alternate futures and, thus warned, I’ll do anything to avoid it.