IN HERE : On Steroid Street

I don't think of my body and my brain as having much in common. My brain likes to think it's Daniel Day Lewis in 'The Last of the Mohicans', but the old bod wants me to waste my life away on a chaise longue
Click to follow
Indy Lifestyle Online
Well, here I am, holed up in bed and puffing like a Victorian central heating boiler. The nasty cold everyone's been getting has migrated to my lungs and I'm on Steroid Street until they settle down. The bedside table is stacked with Ventolin and Terfenadine and Becotide and cough mixture and vitamins and cod-liver oil and tarot cards and biographies of mass murderers and old coffee mugs. I can't talk on the telephone half the time, as if anyone makes me laugh, it rapidly degenerates into a coughing fit that has them calling 999. Very few people want to visit me, as my popping eyes and squealing chest reminds them of their own mortality. An asthma attack has sabotaged me again.

My body and I have been locked in battle for almost as long as I can remember. I don't think of my body and my brain as having much in common: as far as I'm concerned the former is an unruly element which wants to throw as much trouble in the way of the latter as possible. My brain likes to think it's Daniel Day Lewis in The Last of the Mohicans, but the old bod wants me to be Elizabeth Barrett Browning and waste my life away on a chaise longue with only a lapdog for company. Actually, it doesn't even want me to have the lapdog.

These are a few of the things that send me leaping for the inhaler: dogs, horses, feathers, housedust, Rose's Lime Juice Cordial , cold days, hot days, central heating, doing the nose trick, car exhausts, the New Car small, dry cleaning fumes, air freshener. Oh, and then there's stress, drinking chocolate, cats, many people, depression, artichokes, mohair, boredom, brandy, processed cheese, season changes, air conditioning, plastic that's been shut up in an enclosed space, white wine and a few dozen other things. In fact, if it weren't for red wine and cigarettes, life wouldn't be worth living.

Of course, the body-is-a-temple brigade will now be pursing their lips and saying "serves her right", but this charming malady came upon me before even I discovered the joys of nicotine and you've got to have something to live for. And at the best of times, my body was less temple than shanty town shack. For a start, God made it female, so I will never throw a ball as far as any boy, however young or weedy. And it's one of those bodies that waggles its extremities around when it runs so that it consumes twice the energy for half the effect of those little neat girlies who turn cartwheels for fun in the lunch hour. It was never a body that had any intention of playing in the First XI. And that was before it decided to sabotage me big-time.

It was this time of year. I was 11 years old and had been out fooling around in the orchard with Jackie from next door when her mother called her in for tea. Jackie went home and I went inside.

When I got into the warm, I stripped off my jumper and put my back against the radiator because that's what 11-year-olds do to warm up. Only this time, all the muscles in my chest suddenly tightened. The rest of the family were at the other end of the house and it never occurred to me to go and find my mum or anything because I thought it would pass. And anyway, I didn't realise it was asthma then, because when you're a kid you think that asthma's just a funny noise that goes away when you suck a Ventolin inhaler. By the time I realised that something was dead wrong, there wasn't a lot I could do about it.

It's hard to describe what asthma feels like. It feels a bit like bronchitis, only not really. It's a bit like being winded, but not really. It feels like someone's stuck their thumb over your windpipe and is pressing with all their might, while simultaneously squeezing both lungs with a steel glove. And at the same time, they're sapping your will to live.

The weird thing about this condition is that the feelings you have when you're in its grip are the exact opposite of what you should be feeling. The truth of the matter is that when your airways reach 30 per cent of normal capacity you can't expel air from your lungs. But what you feel is that you can't breathe in, and you're going to suffocate. Of course, to some extent this is true; once you're puffed up like a balloon, there's no space left. But in your panic, you keep gasping in and in and in until your head starts spinning.

I remember sitting there with my knees pulled up to my chest, making a death rattle while Star Trek blared out of the telly. I can remember the sound receding further into the distance as the thudding of blood in my ears got louder. After a while, I lay down on my side. And then everything began to go black. I was absolutely certain I was dying. I remember lying there with my face pressed up against the heat source and thinking "this radiator grille is the last thing I'm ever going to see."

Of course, I wouldn't have died. It's never been as bad as that. What happened was that my dad came in and stuck his puffer in my mouth. After that it was a case of lying by hockey pitches imitating a landed fish while my classmates walked past spitting out phrases like "putting it on" and "I get short of breath too sometimes, but I don't make this sort of fuss". Then again, it got me out of playing hockey. Nothing's all bad.

But you see, there's a chunk of me that really wants revenge for this. I wasn't meant to be Keats. I was meant to be Alison Hargreaves. I don't want to choke my life away bit by bit: I want to go out in a blaze of glory. And I don't want to be hidden away in bed like a character in Frances Hodgson Burnett while the wintry world spins on outside my window