Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Breathing in China: Quite an experience

Travelling with a breathing condition has its ups and downs at times.

Travelling in China with a breathing condition has wild ups and downs at times.

Background: I’m not sure what I have. I’ve had occasional breathing and throat issues for a while, but during allergy season in May I really hit the wall. Shortness of breath, chest pain, sore throat…you name it. The doctors think I might have asthma, but they’re not sure right now. Anyway, I’m on a cocktail of meds. This is new since the last time I was in China, and I had trouble then.

Shenzhen’s pretty clean on Chinese standards. But even then, it’s really polluted.

I’m loving my time here. I’m really grateful and it’s been awesome. But the health worry has made a bit challenging at times.

Because I’m short of breath sometimes. Or because I feel dizzy. It’s mostly the pollution.

The first few days were pretty tough. I had a really bad attack my second day here. It’s gotten better, but I had a lot of trouble for some reason today.  I also had trouble in Shanghai, which is really polluted.

I’m lucky enough to have plenty of medicine. Two puffs of an emergency inhaler and I’m usually good to go. 

But even then…

It puts a damper on the trip sometimes that I wish it didn’t. I’m enjoying myself so much. This is an amazing opportunity. But I also worry sometimes about my health here, and about getting used to the air here. I’m pretty new to the asthma world, and I’m nervous enough.

Thankfully, it’s been pretty straightforward coping so far. I feel physically good most of the time now and it hasn’t been that much of a damper. I’m lucky enough to have the resources I need to handle it, and my colleagues have been really supportive. But that attack today was really scary. I was alone, and lost, and feeling faint. Blessed be He, it got resolved.

In a sense, challenges like these are part of the travel experience. Travel is meant to challenge us, to give us experiences that aren’t always pleasant or beautiful. Some people end up in riots. Some people get malaria. Some people get mugged. I worry about my breathing, and look ridiculous when I jump off a bus so I can take a puff of the inhaler (as I did today).

But it’s not so bad. I’m learning how to handle it. And it’s been an experience to suddenly, as I experience 
the joy and novelty a new place. And I’m getting better by the day.

And I have lots of people to rely on. My colleagues. You guys, my friends. My family. I know that there's someone there, even if contact's delayed, who I can talk to about this. I pray, and when I do, I feel like it'll be OK and I can really enjoy myself here like I do most of the time. After my medicine (one that I take daily), I read and that makes me feel good too. Even if it's depressing Dostoyevsky.

I promise to take care of myself here in China. I’m eating well and I get exercise and I get enough sleep and everything. This is just one of those challenges requiring more work and vigilance. 

I feel guilty about complaining on such an awesome trip, but my health is important. I thought it would be good to write about it.


  1. Travel is an amazing experience, but it's also a transition and it's difficult to keep calm all the time during those. Never feel guilty for feelings, especially ones as reasonable as anxiety about taking care of yourself.

    I'm glad you're being careful with your health and know what you need to do. If there's anything your stateside friends can do to help, you know we'll do it in an instant.