The elephant on your chest. — 5 Minutes for Special Needs

The elephant on your chest.

by TiffandIvy


He is leaning forward, arms holding him, his face is ashen.

The room is tense as his mother and father wonder if it is time to make the trip to the hospital.

Breathing in fast rapid bursts, his wheeze is long gone and in its place is an unrelenting tight cough. He cannot catch his breath.

Medications have been given in short, sharp bursts but nothing seems to be helping now. He is uncomfortable and cannot settle to sleep, he cannot even lie down without feeling like there is an elephant on his chest.

The mother picks him up.

Enough is enough.

At the hospital the young doctor looks him over, patronises the tired women across from him.

“It’s just a cough”, he says. “You are just overprotective because you had a neonatal death”.

She insists it is something more and he chuckles lightly as he places the oximeter onto the little boy’s finger.

He is working hard and his heart rate and oxygen levels reflect this.

Suddenly there is oxygen and nebulisers filled with Ventolin and Atrovent. Continuously forcing itself into his lungs.  The coughing becomes worse and he is scattered and restless in the oversized hospital bed.

The mother holds him and rocks him quietly.

A bolus dose of prednisone is given as the oxygen hisses in eight litres a minute.

She can feel him starting to relax (and so she can too).

Soon he is sleeping, the coughing has stopped and he is noisily wheezing again, almost in tune with the stream of O2 and medication filling the mask.

“He needs admission and monitoring”, says the now abashed doctor.

“It’s okay,” soothes the mother, “I’ve done this before”.


How many of you out there have it or have children with it?

I have five, with varying degrees of asthma.

Over two million people in Australia have asthma, millions more in the USA. For many of us, it is a part of our every day living. The only two children who don’t take asthma preventers, in my house are the two who are not biologically mine.

Asthma is familial – my husband has struggled with it his whole life and all of his children have it.

That’s how I learnt what asthma is and what it feels like. It was David, who likened it to having an elephant on his chest.

Asthma is a disease of the airways. Triggers irritate the lining of the bronchial tubes, causing them to swell and make breathing difficult. It is not so much about that breath in. It’s more that it is difficult to exhale.

Out of my five asthmatics (excluding David) one is mild and only needs medication when she has a cold and the others are moderately effected. Two of those wheeze and two are coughers.

You see, asthma presents in many different forms.

The typical picture is of a wheezing child but many kids have a tight cough and a feeling of constriction in their chest area. It is usually obvious at night and early morning and during excercise.

When they have an exacerbation of asthma or ‘an attack’, they all complain of  shortness of breath.

Mostly we can control symptoms at home but sometimes it gets out of hand and frightening and we go to the hospital for help.

It’s National Asthma Awareness Month, in the USA.

There is no cure for asthma but there is prevention and treatment that goes a long way to helping kids with asthma lead a full and happy life.





Email Author    |    Website About TiffandIvy

Bringing up seven kids has led to in depth knowledge of asthma, autism, fetal alcohol syndrome and drug induced developmental delay, immune deficiency and autoimmune disease, ectodermal dysplasia, neonatal death and cardiac defect. Despite all of that, I didn't know I was about to start the ride of my life with the illness of my youngest daughter, Ivy.

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1 Melody May 8, 2009 at 2:30 am

Hugs of understanding. My Mac is a child with asthma and allergies.

2 Karin May 8, 2009 at 5:51 pm

Wow… the beginning of your piece… so gripping.

My Isaac struggles with asthma. It really seems bad in the fall and in the spring. But he plays soccer and plays and doesn’t let it get in the way. In fact, it is sometimes tough to convince him to slow down long enough for a treatment!

3 rhemashope May 19, 2009 at 2:04 pm

Thanks so much for this post. I can relate to every word. Just a couple weeks ago, my 2 yr. old daughter Hope spent 3 days in the hospital because of her asthma. Even at age 2, she can tell me when she needs a “treatment.”

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