Yesterday it was unseasonably nice with blue skies as far as the eye could see and bright sunshine. The upstate New York winter was really getting to all of us and I’m pretty sure we could all be diagnosed with cabin fever at this point. The apartment was dry from the heat running and we all needed something fresh.
About 15 miles down the road in Elmira, NY there is a place called Tanglewood Nature Center. It has many trails and a center that is populated by children through the spring and early summer learning about local wildlife and nature preservation. In the winter it is pretty desolate, but you can rent snow shoes and tromp across the huge open fields if you feel the need to. My daughter had been hiking there with her father before, but I had never been on a trail so we decided to take advantage of beautiful day.
I was thoroughly enjoying the outdoors for its fresh smells, crisp air, bright sunshine, and the chance to use my muscles which have been few and far between this winter. It was also nice to spend some time with my family. We plodded the blue trail for some time with its alternating frozen ground and mudslides until we came to an impasse. We couldn’t find the trail markers and had to backtrack. What we did find was the red trail which on the map was about a mile longer. I decided for us all that we should just muscle that extra mile out. I was happy about the decision until we got here:
This was the first of three major elevations. The second one nearly killed me and definitely reminded me that I was almost 40 trying to bring 20 back from the dead. The second hill was the worst for me. My legs were great, but my lungs had other thoughts about it. Michael and Chloe were both way ahead of me on the trail. Michael powered up and Chloe, with her walking stick, was making a steady course for the top. I didn’t mind being the caboose on this hike as I was always the last one up the mountain even as a 20 year old. Slow and steady wins the race, right? Not this time.
I stopped to rest and take this photo. The next 20 minutes would be spent walking 10 feet and stopping to gasp for breath. My heart was pounding out of my chest and my asthma was doing its magic. I think the cold air was really what set me off into spasms. The problem was I couldn’t see my family, especially Michael who was in possession of the the inhaler. Anxiety set in.
As a nurse I know the mechanism of asthma and what can make it worse or better. Inhalers help for sure, but anxiety is often the thing that makes it go out of control. The sense of not being able to breathe is very scary. As humans, we rarely think about what our lungs do for us without even asking. I had to work really hard at talking myself out of lying on the ground and hoping they’d come back for me.
I walked 10 feet and hugged a tree covering my mouth with a rag to warm the air I inhaled. I kept thinking, they will notice you are gone soon. Another 10 feet. Another 10 feet. I had to stop awhile after the last one because the lactic acid was building up in my muscles and making them tired. I had my head down, body curled a little trying to give my lungs a place to expand. I heard the rustling of leaves and looked up to see Michael skittering down the side of the mountain with the inhaler in his hand.
When he didn’t see me he knew something was wrong and figured I couldn’t breathe. One puff and my lungs and heart stopped screaming at me. He looped his arm in mine and up the hill we went together.
This hill almost beat me. It definitely reminded me that I have lived half my life already, but it also showed me that I still have strength and perseverance and most of all, love.