My name is Stephen Gaudet. I am 57 years old and I live with severe asthma. I’m retired from my work as a respiratory therapist. Today I am a blogger and a marathon runner, and I operate various online forums for asthma support.
I was born and raised in San Francisco. I love being surrounded by water in the bay area; when I was a kid my grandfather used to take us out on the bay in his boat. I live with my partner of 25 years and four cats—not counting the outdoor ones. My cat Winston is actually a model cat. Folks really like his face.
Luckily I’m not allergic to cats; they don’t make me sneeze or anything. Actually, I don’t have a problem with any pets. It’s mostly the dust that’s a problem, though I do keep the cats out of the area where I sleep. Honestly, even if the cats did make me sick, I wouldn’t get rid of them. People always seem so cold, especially doctors, saying you should just get rid of your pets. I ignore it. You wouldn’t believe all the flack I get for that. There are so many different types of asthma anyway, and I’d say that it’s actually the smaller percentage of people who have allergic asthma. Most asthma’s intrinsic: Nobody really knows why people have it and more people are getting it, but it’s rarely your cat’s fault.
I am sharing my story with Better Medicine because people need to know about severe asthma. Because I’m so close to this disease, I tend to forget that I have a different perspective from people who don’t know or have never lived with the disease, especially to this extreme. I’ve survived so many phases of this disease, and, especially being a respiratory therapist by profession, I’d say that I have a really different perspective.
About My Early Symptoms
I’ve had breathing problems since I was born, but I didn’t really have “attacks” until I was about 6 years old. You have to remember that this was back in the 1950s, so people thought you were just a nuisance or that you’d inherited it and were basically doomed. I was probably born with it, but wasn’t diagnosed until I was 7. It was difficult for me to exercise; I would wheeze and was short of breath.
I came from a poor family, so we got most of our care at the local county clinic, and only when we were deathly ill. We didn’t really have medical insurance, and there was no Medicaid to speak of. Luckily, medical assistance had just started up and we were able to get help that way.
When I Received My Diagnosis
Nobody that I know of in my family had asthma. When I was diagnosed, they thought I had cystic fibrosis at first. It was really popular in those days to test kids for all sorts of diseases when they were about to start school. When the doctor finally did settle on asthma, my parents totally didn’t get it; nobody understood it. I come from a family of six kids, of which I was the eldest and the only one with health issues. It was a problem. I became very introverted because of it. Nobody understood what it was to struggle to breathe all the time, even my parents. They just thought it was a nuisance that I’d grow out of—that I needed to be a man about it, to toughen up. I remember my grandmother saying, “Stephen, don’t be silly, nobody ever died of asthma.” That’s how ignorant people were at the time. I really bought into that way of thinking until I was in my late teens. I feel sorry for people who were born prior to 1950—how much worse it must have been!
What Caused My Respiratory and Lung Disease
Nobody knows what really causes asthma. Some of my friends are probably some of the greatest living researchers, and they just don’t know. Even on a molecular level, they can’t tell what gets the whole thing going. I can tell you what made the disease worse: lack of treatment, no preventive treatment (just didn’t exist at the time), Theophylline (which was basically just caffeine), and Primatene (which actually killed a lot of people; it was just alcohol and some hard-core cardiac treatment).