• Piyumi Kapugeekiyana

The gift of breath

For as long as I can remember, my respiratory system has given me trouble.

The earliest manifestation was at age 8, when I was hospitalized for a serious bout of pneumonia after one swimming lesson. I recovered - but lost the desire to swim after that.

As I grew older, the struggle to breathe manifested in new ways:

Sneezes that came in multiples of ten and lasted all day, leaving me wiped out.

Muscle spasms and strains from particularly strenuous sneezing attacks.

A coughing fit every time I had a good laugh

A vulnerability to my environment - to dust mites, pollen, and things unseen

A life-long experimentation with nasal sprays, inhalers and antihistamines

A relentless tracking of triggers to minimise the unpredictability of an attack

Constantly having to reassure others that what I have is not contagious.

Doctors have called my condition different names: Rhinitis. Catarrh. Hay fever. Upper respiratory distress. Catchy. Regardless of the moniker, I've learned to live with it and manage it. On good days, I can breathe like the best of them.

With the COVID-19 pandemic, I've been thinking a lot more about the gift of breath.

It occurred to me that if you don't know how it feels to gulp fistfuls of air,

Finding yourself hitting an invisible plateau,

Unable to find that sweet spot;

That comfortable fullness in your lungs,

You might not appreciate what you have.

Or guard it as carefully as you should.

If you have a strong constitution,

You might even be tempted to take chances,

And gamble with your gift,

When you really shouldn't.

The longer this pandemic endures, the more likely it is that we might grow complacent or restless and start resorting to half-measures. All I can say is, please continue to take every precaution. Do it for yourself, and especially for those of us who can't breathe very well.


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