The Asthmatic Trumpeter
Asthma for Life
I have suffered from Asthma all my life and apart from two life-threatening experiences that required an ambulance and hospital treatment after my lips and fingers started to go blue in my fight for air whilst hyperventilating, I have led an active life.
I was born six weeks prematurely, on the 9th August 1943, a birth induced by my mother being blown over when a bomb hit Cardiff Station as she was on her way to the ammunition factory in the early hours of the morning. On my arrival the doctor gave me up for dead but fortunately my Mother and Aunt put me in a 2lb sugar box wrapped in cotton wool and fed me milk through an eye dropper. They commented on the fact that when my legs poked through the cotton wool they could see through them!
The reason I mention this is that maybe premature babies are more likely to suffer from Asthma?
My School Years
I missed so much of my education due to the continual horrendous Asthma attacks that I was not allowed to enter for any junior examinations
until the 13 Plus.
School sports were out of the question as running seemed to encourage breathlessness, coughing and wheezing. My earliest recollections seemed to be in a blanket of wheezing and a shortage of breath. The inability to describe exactly what it was like received little or no sympathy whatsoever except from my Mother and Grandmother and therefore proved a lonely and somewhat terrifying experience especially when the affliction was not so common. The best way to illustrate the ‘fight for air’ is by trying to inhale air through a drinking straw held tightly between the lips whilst the nose is squeezed
(to stop alternative air intake) after vigorously deep breathing prior to the insertion of the straw!
I remember being forced to dive into the deep end of Dovecot Baths whilst on the Blackmoor Park Primary School swimming trip to practice life saving. No matter how much I remonstrated with my teacher she refused to believe that the chemically saturated water had set of my chest and insisted that
I retrieve a brick from the bottom of the bath at a depth of six feet.
The outcome was inevitable and I ended up being rescued, coughing, spluttering and unable to speak! I was off school for the next two weeks!
Therein lies one of the biggest problems in the fact that because there was no blood coming from my nose or lungs no one believed me when I said I was ill or having an attack.
There was far more sympathy for grazed knees! Teachers very often looked at me in disbelief suggesting that I was skiving!
In retrospect they knew next to nothing about Asthma during the late 1940’s to the early 1950’s.
This led me to bunking off school to avoid sports on Wednesday afternoons and going into Liverpool City Centre when my classmates went to Calderstones Park for various sporting activities. This was during my time at Junior Art School, aged between 13 and 16 years old. On these days I used to hang around NEMS Record Stores annoying the staff including Brian Epstein for the latest Rock & Roll and Rhythm & Blues records. They got to know me and would have a stack of 45’s to listen to every Wednesday afternoon. I developed a craving for the music of Chuck Berry, Gene Vincent, Elvis Presley, Ray Charles and Muddy Waters and far more obscure Blues Singers as well as the contemporary Jazz renditions of Miles Davis. Sinatra and the like were not for me and I became a young ‘Teddy Boy’. I used to jive to the music ‘til my lungs were about to burst and that was
my most strenuous sporting activity!
Cures and Medicines
The earliest cures meant spending hours with a towel over your head bent over a bowl of hot water containing a substance known as Vick.
This was also rubbed on your chest at frequent intervals and did bring some relief from the ongoing fight for air.
My Grandmother in Pontypridd, South Wales was my saviour during my early years as she seemed to have the time and patience to see me through my frequent Asthma attacks that more often than not confined me to bed from where I can recollect the screams of enjoyment of the children playing outside in the sunshine whilst I fought for a breath of air. The days and in particular the nights seemed endless and wallpaper patterns and birdcalls became in a strange way very special. My Grandmother died of Asthma at the age of 61.
I have kept my ‘old friend’ the Amber Glass Brovon Midget Inhaler ‘An atomizer designed to produce a fine cloud of vapour’. This was one of the earlier sprays long before the introduction of the Ventolin Evohaler and Becloforte B Inhaler that are my companions today. I must admit that during panic attacks I have over used these inhalers and inadvertently increased the severity of the attack but taking into account that there was no such thing as an Asthma Clinic until the 1980’s I survived but only just!
Throughout the years many different inhalers have been introduced and I have been given others than those mentioned above to disastrous effect.
Once again Doctors told me what was best for me until I adamantly refused to use any other as my breathing had shown a sharp decline and my visits to the GP more frequent. I believe that the problem with the move to get me onto other makes of inhaler was purely for financial considerations
and not my individual assessment.
They argued that the ‘new’ inhalers contained the same ingredient i.e., Salbutamol Sulphate what they didn’t consider was that the propellant was different!
I have recently been informed that the decision to change my inhalers was due to the fact that the original propellant released PCB's into the atmosphere.
I have spent many a long hour in hospitals in Liverpool, twice in A&E with very serious attacks that saw my fingers and lips turn blue whilst hyperventilating. The paramedics told me once I had recovered that I was probably about 20 minutes from death!
As a teenager I agreed to attend tests for preventative cures at Alder Hey Hospital that is until I collapsed unconscious on a running machine with all kinds of paraphernalia attached to me. My head had hit the machine supports and I’d gone dizzy with the inhalants being pumped into my lungs. I undertook these tests with the knowledge that others and I especially children might benefit. In retrospect I don’t think that this would be allowed in today’s mitigation society?
When I was eleven years of age I spent many weeks in Broadgreen Hospital undergoing skin tests, twenty-two injections in all and none of them proved that I was prone to any allergies, but I did learn how to become a ‘Bookies Runner’ for the sick and dying around me. This was the first time that I had seen the results of chronic chest ailments since my Grandmother’s death from Asthma at the age of sixty-one.
A near fatal attack occurred in the mid 1980’s when I was playing in Leeds with my rhythm and blues band The Lawnmower. The DJ insisted on using a ‘smoke machine’ after repeated requests not to do so before, during and after my performance. He didn’t take into consideration the amount of air I had to inhale in order to play trumpet, harmonica and lead vocals!
The inevitable happened and after being rushed to my mother’s in Huyton I ended up once again on a ventilator in Broadgreen Hospital Liverpool.
I had another close shave again in the 1980’s after a near collapse at my girlfriend’s flat in Park Road, Liverpool and once again the ambulance crew saved my life as they rushed me to Royal Hospital Liverpool. Since that time after seeking alternative treatment and modifying my diet I have been able to avert such critical attacks although I do still use my Ventolin and Becloforte inhalers every day.
Physiotherapy at the Northern Hospital Liverpool was an experience to say the least!
My mother wondered why I like the treatment so much? So at 12 years of age I experienced sensations other than a ‘Tight Chest’!
During breathing exercises the Physiotherapist, a young female nurse besides pummeling my chest used to straddle me whilst I lay face upwards on the floor, pushing vigorously with both hands from the bottom of my ribcage to the top of my chest in time with forceful slow breathing and her verbal commands of ‘in’ and ‘out’. Of course I noticed that when she partook in this exercise her skirt rose up across her thighs and her white uniformed blouse opened to reveal what young adolescent boys start to think about. This was a particularly hot and sweaty experience in a small badly ventilated room with about half a dozen other ‘bronchial’ patients.
I blame this ‘therapy’ for my lifelong fascination for the more the more voluptuous aspects of the female anatomy with its psychosomatic connotations relating to my well-being. To my disappointment, not long after my mother attended one of these sessions and witnessed the type of exercise involved the attendances stopped.
Obviously that type of physical contact would not be allowed today.
Diet and Exercise
‘Dietary Care’ which means a limited intake of rich ‘Dairy Produce’, Whole-meal Bread, Rice etc. This is also another factor in helping to deal
with the ‘Asthmatic Condition’.
As a teenager I couldn’t understand why I had a ‘Tight Chest’ after eating chocolate cake or pudding and once again there was very little understanding that certain foods could have an adverse effect on the ‘Bronchial Tubes’. I have cut meat from my diet and now eat plenty of fish, fresh fruit and vegetables. Various additives can have an adverse effect on the chest and it is a process of elimination depending on the individual concerned.
I am allergic to Penicillin and wear a ‘Dog Tag’ to alert any Paramedics to my condition.
Manageable sporting activities like cycling and tennis have also been effective in reducing my dependence on prescribed drugs. It is also very important to note that emissions from vehicles have had an adverse effect on my chest when I’ve been out cycling in particular that from diesel engines. In my early teens my Doctor advised me to take up a wind instrument in order to develop my lung capacity. This was wonderful advice because that led me to taking up the Trumpet that eventually developed into my career in the Music Business and a Diploma in the ‘Art of Playing a Trumpet’ as a
Licentiate of Trinity College, London.
Dust and the Environment
This obviously plays a big part in the ‘Allergy Diagnosis’ so besides my ‘Alternative Medicine’ I have learnt that the biggest culprit is the ‘House Dust Mite’ and therefore advise that rather than make the bed the duvet or sheets are best left thrown back to expose the sleeping area to light and air (Helpful advice for teenagers) and open the windows as much as possible. Avoid pillows that contain ‘down’ and wear ‘face-masks’ when painting or decorating. When out playing avoid getting wet especially the hair and make sure you dry off as soon as possible. This advice is peculiar to myself and will obviously vary in each individual case. Any dramatic change in weather conditions as with the change of the seasons can have an effect along with the ‘Stress’ of life.
My only advice obviously is to cut it to a minimum and acknowledge the limitations imposed by any illness, but that is not so easy to achieve and is once again down to the individual concerned.
Stress during an ‘Asthma Attack’ increases the symptom and when people around you who are trying to be helpful start to panic, the ‘Asthmatic’ has to learn to switch of and concentrate on trying to gain control of the breathing pattern and in my own experience signal for someone to phone for an ambulance immediately! The ‘Asthmatic’ during an attack will have great difficulty in speaking and breathing at the same time.
I have used sign language in the past!
This has without question proved invaluable in the stabilisation of my asthma to such an extent that I would highly recommend that all asthmatics should seriously consider visiting their local General Practitioner to arrange a session with a Homeopathic Practitioner. This is now available with the NHS. The advantage is immediate in that he or she will view the inherent problems that can contribute to an asthmatic condition from a different perspective.
I must say at this point that it took quite a lot of persuasion to convince my doctor to allow me to see a Homeopathic Consultant, but you have to consider that this was in the late 1980’s before the concept of Asthma Clinics conducted at local Medical Centres.
Although there are many skeptics regarding ‘natural therapies’ I have found that the weekly dose of sucking one ‘House Dust Mite’ Homeopathic tablet has helped stabilise my asthma and reduced my dependency on my inhalers from two puffs, four times a day on both my Ventolin and Becloforte
to one puff in the morning and one last thing at night.
Through this combination of both ‘synthetic’ and ‘natural’ medicine I have been able to continue my chosen profession as a Blues Singer, Trumpeter and Harmonica Player all of which take a considerable amount of wind or should I say breath control.
I admit that the limitations of my physical condition have limited my musical virtuosity but just the same the enjoyment and spiritual satisfaction that I have achieved and hopefully given to others is something to be proud of!
Therefore I owe a special thanks to my Mother, Aunt, Grandmother, Trumpet Teacher, Doctors Ghosh, Richardson, Norris, Wells, Clark and the Specialists at the NHS!
AL Peters Ó 2004 a.k.a AL Willard Peterson - The Bluesman – email@example.com