Saving My Breath { Excerpt }

I shuffled the three blocks between my office and Dr. T’s, staying close to the buildings, pausing to lean against the concrete. The nurse took blood from the artery in my wrist then analyzed its oxygen saturation. Healthy adults experience nearly 99% saturation, while asthmatics are often closer to 90%. Mine was 54%. Or this is what I remember Dr. T. telling me as he flashed the printout, which resembled a dimestore receipt, so I could see the numbers for myself.

“I’m calling an ambulance,” he said.

I followed him to the hospital and followed his orders, despite being confined for a week, because of overcrowding, to a room in the terminal ward with moaning, deeply suffering patients. (A doctor on evening rotations told me cheerfully, “You’re my only non-AIDS patient!”) When I was released, jubilant to be free, I was taking more than my usual multiple medications, jotting dosage times and amounts on the backs of envelopes, carrying loose capsules in my coat and jeans pockets, and occasionally forgetting what I last took and when. Disorganized perhaps, but still dutiful.