As I went for the allergy meds this morning, I thought of Wylie Osler. For those who never had the opportunity to know Wylie, I can only wish that I had a record of all his stories – Wylie saw the humor in most everything he encountered.
Wylie had asthma – and his story about smoke was that he was the only person in Montana who had a prescription, written by Dr. Schroeder, to leave his home on Dickey Lake and spend the weekend in an airconditioned motel in Spokane. I misremember if the story grew out of a disagreement on tax preparation or what – but it was a time when air conditioning was not common in the valley. Our normal way to keep a house cool was opening windows at night. While the technique let us escape the heat, it didn’t allow us to escape the smoke.
My own asthma was never as severe as Wylie’s – at the worst, all I’ve had to do is sit down and concentrate on breathing calmly to keep it under control. As a youngster, I had a benzedrine inhaler. It was a wonderful thing – sniff through it and nasal congestion disappeared. Up until I turned 10. My otc inhaler that gave me normal breathing was banned by the FDA in 1959 – but I was a kid, and didn’t notice the ban until it quit working a couple years later. It seems the FDA was protecting me because some folks were taking the inhalers apart, soaking the strip of benzedrine treated paper, and squeezing the amphetamine out. It’s kind of the first time I learned that government intervention may be in someone’s best interest, but not mine. From my early teen years until my early thirties my susceptibility to allergens of all sorts increased – that, and a shoulder injury brought me a 1-Y draft classification . . . I think it translates to “the nation will be really desperate before we need this guy.” In my thirties, the new wonder was a steroid shot for asthma – it was great, but I needed too many. My physicians stopped that, and called for desensitization shots. Somehow, I still think of that 39 cent inhaler that brought me such easy breathing . . . and the politicians who took it away. It was such an easy and affordable solution.
My experience with relatively mild asthma gives a little perspective into the challenges that led to Wylie’s prescription for a weekend in an airconditioned motel away from the valley – and I suspect we have neighbors today who have even less physical ability to cope with the smoke.