Breathing Easy (or Not)

5 May


May 5, 2020

Day 45

For the record, I am ill. Under the weather. Sick. Feeling poorly. Less than ideal.

I have a recurring headache, a tiny off kilter trembling centered just behind my cheekbones and numbness in my hands and fingertips, but the real kicker is a persistent migrating congestion in my lungs that despite my best intention and mumblings about a river in Egypt, will not go away. Wheezing with the slightest exertion, every now and then hawking up mucous and spitting it out on my work bench to examine it for green streaks or blood or aliens, then wiping it up with a paper towel and continuing with my work, I’ve been ever mindful that Valerie has been unwell for far longer and that I cannot afford to be sick. Yet sick I am. So I telephoned my doctor and told asked her to look at my chart for May 7, 2019 and write me a prescription for whatever I had back then. She did and I’ve been taking prednisone and I’ll keep you informed.

Lungs, lungs, lungs. People tend to take them for granted until there’s a glitch. If the malfunction is serious then they don’t worry long, but that’s not often a problem as the lungs usually don’t just pack it  in suddenly. That’s more the heart’s department. Lungs are the long suffering organ of the human body. They absorb a lifetime of a smoker’s choice of combustion byproducts and hang on until the bitter end, fighting all the way to do their simple job of getting oxygen into the bloodstream. Or they are filled slowly, year after year, with coal dust inhaled by a miner trying his best to put food on his family’s plates and after a few decades of this there are no unspoiled alveoli to speak of in the tortured passages of his airways and he dies of Black Lung. Asbestos fibres are another killer that starts out in the lungs, and true to form, that unsung organ soldiers on for many years before giving up the ghost and taking its owners with it.

Tuberculosis, cancer, emphysema, the names of lung diseases are legion. My particular disease is asthma. I daresay there are a great deal more obscure lung diseases that start with the letter ‘A’ that come before asthma but, nevertheless, I’m right there in the ‘A’s’, so I have that going for me. Considering what’s happening in the world right now, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately about vaccines, and in my research I’ve come across several accounts of people who developed asthma right after they were vaccinated as children. Vaccinated for what, you ask? Tuberculosis is the main one. My grandfather had tuberculosis and lived, only to die of emphysema much later from chain smoking Marlboros. In looking into what was in vaccines back then I ran across a recurring chemical named Thimerosal.

Back in the day (mid 1950’s), almost fifty percent of Thimerosal was composed of mercury, which was used as a preservative. The mercury was considered an inactive ingredient, but, by weight and dosage, it’s use pushed children way above the limits for mercury poisoning then and seems to have been in use until the turn of the century.

What does a three year old boy in the 50’s know of any of that? Precious little. I was simply the child in our house who had asthma and that was that. Luck of the draw. I dealt with it as well as I could and never complained. It was was it was. Looking back though, and talking with childhood development specialists I realise that the disease had to have taken its toll on my energy and stamina throughout my youth and thus affected my ability to absorb information during school and to process it afterwards during the homework portion of life. I was always behind and while I am not blaming the disease on my lack of Nobel Prizes on the mantelpiece, it did affect the course my life took.

I remember being responsible for the exiling of all furred pets from our house, for being excused from the work of sweeping out the basement during monthly cleanups, for being the sick one, of having to be cared for just a little more than others in the family. When I wanted to join the cross country team in high school I ended up being the manager instead. Pop Warner football league for two years in my early teens was a struggle, first because I was a skinny, lightweight kid and second because I had no wind.

When my number was called during the 1972 draft (last year of the draft for Viet Nam and I won the lottery with number 68) it never occurred to me to use my asthma to dodge that responsibility. Instead of being hoovered into the army I chose to enlist in the navy and then had to lie through my teeth re my medical history to make it to the physical at the induction centre. There I held my breath, no pun intended, because though I had no special love for, or desire to be in the navy, it was something I’d set my mind to and I did not want to fail at it. As it turned out, I had a pulse and the rest was history. (Though I did have to repeat the lie when I volunteered for submarines and then again to be selected for naval nuclear power school.) Fire fighting training was a challenge, as I did not want to have an asthma attack when they placed us in the training building on hose crew teams and then set the other half of the building on fire. Same with the tear gas training room. Always wondering if I’d suddenly lock up and pass out and be kicked out. But I never did and never was. My lungs ceased to be an issue for for the next 38 years unless you count the times I stayed too long in the same room with a dog or in a house where a dog or cat lived. I learned about albuterol inhalers and exercise induced respiratory distress and I was smart about my exposure to allergens and I coped.

Even living on the Big Island of Hawaii with its constant VOG did not hold me back. I worked on a wind farms and in a restaurant for a while then joined Atlantis Submarines in Kona, Hawaii. After my career as a tourist submarine pilot (had to be SCUBA certified then for maintenance requirements – another test for my lung capacity) I worked construction (lots of treated wood sawdust and few masks).  In 2010 I was able to pass a rigorous spirometry treadmill test in order to be in the running for a job at the summit of Mauna Kea at the Keck Observatory. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I got the job after the first candidate they chose couldn’t handle the altitude. A curious thing about working at the summit is that without exception, everyone behaves as if they are short of oxygen up there – because they are. Once in the door and assigned to shift work at night I found I was able to handle the low oxygen levels fine and did so for the next 6 years.

Then a leap of faith into another life and love led me to my last physical examination, the one required to be granted a residence visa for New Zealand. This one was not too hard and I passed with flying colours. Found the property we live on now and began building from nothing and over the last four years noticed something strange. For some reason, whether because I was living in the midst of the rot and genesis of a podocarp forest, or because I was (say it ain’t so) getting old or perhaps my life of breathing asbestos from navy ships or VOG or sawdust or extended periods of extreme high altitude were catching up to me, I don’t know, but for whatever reason, take your pick, my asthma had returned.

The building of a house alone, using a shovel to slowly excavate and sculpt and shift the land, clearing under-story trees and scrub, all these and more are candidates for being the possible or cumulative cause for my lungs diminishing in capacity. Personally, I think it’s age and a short use by date. I’d gotten a few respiratory infections that I couldn’t shrug off as quickly as I’d hoped, but nothing serious. I kept on working (the house wasn’t going to build itself) and was doing just that up until two months ago (actually, I’m still building, but I’m using scavenged or saved materials) when along came the Covid-19 Contagion. Hey, presto! – and suddenly I’m thinking about my my lungs more than usual, which, for me, is saying something.

The fact that I’ve got a lung infection right now (which is being seen to and worked on, thanks to Valerie’s persistence and love) was the catalyst for this post, but the contagion is the active ingredient. I am, as you’ve no doubt heard by now, one of the herd destined to be culled. One of Darwin’s least fit, so to speak. I am that person the young are talking about when they blithely say, “He was going to die sooner or later”. (Come say that to my face and see who meets St. Peter first.) But the young are young, they want to be out of lockdown and back to doing whatever the smartest people on the planet do, so I understand. I wish I could fast forward a few decades to that time when the realisation that they were not quite as smart as they thought sinks in. The expression on their faces would be priceless and of course there’d be the spectacle of them being marginalised or dismissed by a younger and equally clueless generation. Different people learning the same lesson over and over again. Life on earth.

But it’s not all bad. There are some bright spots out there for the discerning observer to see. First of these are today’s numbers, fresh off the press from the New Zealand Ministry of Health…

Screen Shot 2020-05-05 at 9.50.23 PM

Minus 1 New cases. (How that happens I know not, but I’ll take it as read.) 26 Recovered cases. Ratio of recovered cases to active cases is 87%. And an exciting first today – 3 Zeroes in the Zeroes department. Notable among these is the first day since the count began that there was no change in the number of confirmed cases. ZERO growth. That’s yuge, to paraphrase a politician of note. Really yuge. No change in the number of people in the hospital and Zero deaths again over the last twenty-four hours. Bada-bing, bada-bam, bada-boom! I love it. It’s a big day for New Zealand and big day for me because I have a vested interest in continuing the long saga of my lungs, specifically the part where they keep working.

On that note I saw a video posted by an emergency room doctor who said that though the  current paradigm has doctors preparing for and treating patients suffering from the Covid-19 virus as pneumonia and/or ARD cases, they should in fact be looking deeper because, he said, it appears to him that everyone he’s treated and who has died appeared to be suffering from high altitude sickness. Which I had Zero trouble with during my time at the observatory. An obscure connection? Perhaps. But it’s good news to me and it gives me hope, because, unlike the person in the photo below, who gives me no hope, I know what it is like to really have difficulty breathing.


AEasier to breathe


( )


You can’t make this stuff up.

(On second thought my friend Russell Gayer could make it up.

On third thought, he probably did, and paid that lady to do it. Kentucky’s not too far from Arkansas.


Screen Shot 2020-05-06 at 12.51.32 AM


Give me hope for the human race, Russell. Tell me you put her up to it.







10 Responses to “Breathing Easy (or Not)”

  1. rochellewisoff May 5, 2020 at 6:12 pm #

    Dear Doug,

    I’ve worried over your asthma for a long time. Probably since we met and you would have issues with VOG. I’m sorry you’re suffering with it now and am glad you have Valerie to look after you. Although therein lie concerns all around for you and for her.
    The picture has me shaking my head. Frightening. More frightening than aliens from outer space. These chuckleheads walk amongst us. Hail the conquering Zeros!

    Shalom and healthy vibes being sent your way,


    • dmmacilroy May 5, 2020 at 11:19 pm #

      Hi Rochelle,

      This particular lung infection is going to prove to be a passing thing and I’m sure it’s not related to my asthma, but, as I related in my long screed, I do find myself thinking about my lungs. They’ve done me proud all these years.

      It’s knuckleheads like the lady in question and their idiotic relationship to the Covid-19 contagion that have me wondering whether I’ll be able to dodge them long enough. The virus is continually modifying itself and is proving to be very slippery which means that everyone, sooner or later will have their encounter (one or more, god forbid) with it. Which is when the condition/predilections of my lungs will come into play. Hence this entry in the diary.

      We’re propping each other up and thank you for you love and good wishes.

      Ciao for now,


  2. Justin May 5, 2020 at 6:19 pm #

    Wow mate, potent writing on your part. Really moving stuff ya got there. Had to read it a few times to get the essence and honesty of your articulation. A form of autobiography that holds true. I wonder if Mother Earth has fired a warning shot across humanities bow. We hopefully can band together and survive this urgent challenge with grace and restraint. All of us in conjunction with a healthy balanced approach that can restore lives upended by these emergencies. It has to get better.

    • dmmacilroy May 5, 2020 at 11:27 pm #

      Dear Justin,

      Thanks for your well expressed thoughts re all of this madness sweeping the world. I think Mother Earth has been firing warning shots across humanities bow for a long time. Trouble is we keep dodging them. Or acting like Steve Martin in The Jerk (It’s the cans! he hates the cans!). I do hope that you are right about the grace and restraint and the coming together of mankind to meet this challenge. Just as I hope that I can stay isolated long enough to see it. As to it having to get better….well, I certainly hope so. You are part of that equation, Justin. Good on you.

      Hope you are well and staying low, wherever that may be.

      Stay safe.



  3. sustainabilitea May 6, 2020 at 2:04 am #

    I can understand you thinking about your lungs after a lifetime such as the one you described. While I was growing up and even later, I had allergies to cats, hay, and other things that made me wheeze, so I know the feeling of not being able to breathe and breathing being all you’re able to think about. I don’t know if you remember Primatine Mist ads showing free breathing in 15 seconds, but trust me, it worked and it was wonderful! Naturally, the formula is different now because Congress or someone decided that little bit of propulsion threatened the environment. Fortunately, I’ve outgrown most of this but I would never go on a hay ride to find out how much is left and I take allergy pills around cats.

    At any rate, more than you needed to know. I loved seeing the zeros (three today!) as well as two -1’s (how does that work?) as well as a post from Valerie. As I told her, prayers for you both and whatever love I can send.


    • dmmacilroy May 6, 2020 at 2:16 am #

      Dear Janet,

      Primatene mist was a godsend when I was thirteen. Now it’s albuterol inhalers and all’s right with the world. Don’t know what I’d do without them. Loved hearing that we’re kindred souls with hay rides and cats.

      And yes, the numbers here look good. I hope we can avoid the chaos of elsewhere.

      Thanks for writing. Stay safe and love back at you.



  4. Sandra May 6, 2020 at 10:11 am #

    Concerned to hear of the latest development, and hopeful that this too will pass. You know my empathies on the subject of asthma – I won’t repeat them. The world is full of idiots, and hindsighters and this event is enticing them out of the woodwork in their droves. The press are not to be believed, twitter is an alternative universe, and television is no better. My world is getting smaller – my appreciation for what I’ve seen and done grows with every day. Take care, take time. Get well soon. x

    • dmmacilroy May 6, 2020 at 10:24 am #

      Dear Sandra,

      Yes, I’ll be okay. My current malady just led me to muse on why this Covid-19 worldwide tempest has my attention. You are spot on re Twitter and all the rest. Main stream media, news, talking heads, pundits, celebs, covidiots, the works; all loons in general and specific.

      I am very fortunate to have you in my equally small world. I feel that I know exactly what you mean when you reflect on your appreciation for what you’ve seen and done. Your words resonate with me for I, too, have seen and done things these people will never know… And that’s how it is and ever shall be. I’m glad to have sat with you at the helm of Desormais and floated down-canal beneath the trees.

      I still feel as though we will meet, Sandra. Valerie’s roots run deep into the bedrock of England and I’d love to spend a summer there walking her old haunts.

      Stay safe and sane,



      • Sandra May 6, 2020 at 10:54 am #

        You must let me know if you ever plan to pass this way.

      • dmmacilroy May 6, 2020 at 12:49 pm #

        Count on it, Sandra…

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