"Tapos BUGA! Sige pa, sige, konting tiis na lang."
What was this woman telling me to do? How could I possibly exhale when there was no more air in my lungs?
But there was, she insisted, and like a good soldier I grasped onto the handle that supported the plastic mouthpiece. My lips were pressing hard against the plastic, and I had to pull it towards me just I wouldn't fall forward. My chest felt like an empty cavity and my back was beginning to hurt from the strain.
You have to make sure that your lips form a seal around the mouthpiece, she had advised me. Oh, like when you do oral sex? I thought to myself. That's probably what she meant, but I kept my opinion to myself. But really, when was the last time I had my lips around a hard object?
Despite these distracting thoughts I did as she said. Because after years of denial, and several intermittent episodes, I finally had THE asthma attack that caused me to throw in the towel.
So there I was at the hospital doing a spirometry, also called a pulmonary function test. Inside the testing room is a glass booth the size of a telephone booth. Inside it is a wooden seat that's fixed to the floor. And in front of the seat is a metal arm that holds the sterilized plastic mouthpiece.
The mouthpiece itself is connected via a tube to some thingamajig that connects to a computer outside the booth. Other tubes and wires were also hanging from the thingamajigie, but for my test they weren't necessary.
The test was a bit complicated, and the technician had to be very skilled just so patients like me could do it right. Mayette was a short, stocky woman in her fifties. Very friendly and helpful, but not the kind you'd want to cross. She'd be right at home commandeering a class of rowdy high school boys, I imagined. And she was very good at coaching.
How long had she been working here, I asked. Twenty years, she replied. She even knew my dad, one of the best doctors of all. I loved her for saying that. I tried hard to be a good testee.
For the second test, I had to breathe heavily, in and out, as if exercising, for as long as she told me. Deep, panting breaths.
Anong exercise mo, she asked, so as to coach me.
I don't exercise, I replied. Sorry, no point of reference for me.
But then I considered: deep, panting breaths. Isn't that like sex? Why does this whole exercise have to be about sex for me? I put on a poker face and told her that I used to swim. And I really used to - for about 2 weeks, that is.
So I panted and puffed, my chest heaving up and down, my mouth around a hard plastic object, and hoped that it in no way looked sensual. Thankfully I had to focus so hard on my breathing instead.
After that, she made me take some puffs of salbutamol, rest for 15 minutes, then do the whole thing over again. This time around I didn't have a dirty mind.
Sad to say that the preliminary results clearly showed that my lung capacity is compromised. Although I knew it, it was still a real blow. I'd hate to be on steroids and maintenance meds.
And just based on how I felt before and after those puffs of salbutamol, I can tell how much less energy I have when I can't get enough oxygen. Absolutely everything is affected. In a nutshell:
not enough oxygen = not enough energy
Not a good place to be. I understand now how Bonsai (my former teammate) felt after her bout with pneumonia. She felt weak, like a 30-year-old grandma.
Definitely NOT a good place to be. I have to get out of here.