Geeks Vs Loneliness: World Asthma Day 2019

Today we look at a condition that affects millions of us and the impact of which is often underestimated.

The Goonies is a brilliant film. However, there’s one scene that has always bothered me. As a kid it was great to see the Goonie Gang hunting for pirate treasure to ensure that the Goon Dock community get to stay in the place they loved. The leader of the gang is Mikey. He’s smart, he’s resourceful, he thinks like a pirate to get to the goal. And when the going gets tough he inhales on his asthma inhaler.

Teen me cheered him on as a fellow asthmatic with the ubiquitous blue container in my own pocket. Asthma is not cool and this was the first positive representation I’d seen of the condition on screen.

No, the scene that bothers me comes at the end of the film. The Goonies are victorious. Goon Docks is saved from redevelopment, thanks to a marbles bag full of glittering jewels. Then Mikey throws away his blue inhaler, deciding that now he’s a bona-fide hero he no longer needs it.

My kid self was shocked. My adult self is horrified. I know it’s a cute moment in the film, signifying Mikey stepping up and stepping out, and no longer being dependent for breath on steroid charged compressed air. But it’s an awful message.

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Goonies never say die. Unfortunately asthma does not respect slogans – and it kills. Silently, scarily and without respecting age, race or privilege. Asthma UK highlight the following statistics:

– 5.4 million people in the UK have asthma. It affects one in every 11 people and one in five households.

– Every 10 seconds someone is having a potentially life-threatening asthma attack in the UK. Every day, the lives of three families are devastated by the death of a loved one to an asthma attack.

I repeat – 5.4 million people in the UK have a condition that limits their ability to breathe. That requires them to take medicine that can have far reaching side effects that include weight gain and digestion problems.

My asthma is under reasonable control. I see an asthma nurse for review annually. Ventolin (Mikey’s blue inhaler) makes me feel like a jittery marionette.

In Mikey’s case it was inferred asthma was caused by stress and anxiety. And it can make it worse – but asthma is a physical condition with a range of triggers that can combine to dangerous effect. My own is triggered by allergens and illness, though it can also be triggered by strong winds.

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When people dismiss asthma as a trivial condition I think about how asthma feels. How it robs me of my words and my ability to cross a room without staggering. Of how it sounds like birds are whistling in my chest when my lung capacity is at 30% of what it should be. Of the sheer terror of not being able to expand my lungs enough to breathe.

I think to that bright, lovely actress Charlotte Coleman who died of asthma in 2001. She was thirty-three.

I don’t write this to scare you. I ask you to think about the consequences of the condition. If you don’t have it then perhaps be mindful of how it affects those who do. If you suspect that you might have it then take a look at the symptoms checker on one of the links I’ve included below.

If you have an existing asthma diagnosis then check your peak flow. Blow into the traffic light colour coded plastic tube that the asthma nurse will give you to keep – and know what your lung capacity should be (for example mine should be 450 litres of air per minute (l/min) per puff – with medication I generally hit 380 l/min a day). If you fall into the red zone seek immediate medical help.

If you’ve not had your annual check up then book it. Know your triggers. Push for the most suitable medication that you can. And get your flu jab in autumn.

I suspect that those of you reading this who have asthma will have your own stories about your triggers and what does and doesn’t work for you in controlling the condition. Please feel free to comment and talk about these below.

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Goonies never say die. But people sadly do. Keep hold of that blue plastic inhaler if you need to. Stay well. And thanks as always for reading.

For further information about asthma check out:

Asthma UK: 

Asthma UK’s symptom checker: 

The British Lung Foundation: 

NHS England factsheets: 

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