Exploring the poetry of everyday life

Score One For Mama

This week’s New England Journal of Medicine has an article about a scientific discovery indicating that dust in Amish cow barns is good for preventing childhood asthma. It seems to have something to do with a healthy immune system. My mother could have told them that seventy-five years ago.

When I was two years old I developed asthma that kept both Mama and me up at night with my wheezing. This went on for several years until my pediatrician suggested that I get tested for allergies. The test revealed that I was allergic to house dust and grasses. The doctor told my mother to remove curtains and rugs from my bedroom. He allowed no pets. Mama’s reaction was “bosh and tommyrot”, her favorite term for ideas she considered ridiculous. She believed if I were kept in an environment free of normal dust and pets I would never build up a resistance to asthma and outgrow it.

She saw to it that my bedroom had curtains and scatter rugs. It was no more dust-free than the rest of the house. On my sixth birthday I was given a puppy that I named Fuzzy after my favorite cousin’s dog. I played with my neighbor’s guinea pigs. I remember being taken to a rodeo – after all I lived in Houston, Texas. My mother wanted me to wear a surgical mask but I balked at being seen in public wearing one. We compromised by her spraying one of Daddy’s handkerchief’s with what I remembered as chloroform (but surely it was something else) that kept me from breathing in dust when I held it to my nose.

The article I read described asthma as “chronic and frightening”. When I was a child as far as I know children weren’t rushed to the hospital when they had an asthma attack. I do remember a time when Mama and I spent the night in a hotel during an extreme summer hot spell so I could breathe more easily in an air-conditioned room. What I remember best is having breakfast the next morning at the “Toddle House”. To me asthma wasn’t frightening. I never imagined I would die from it. I do think the asthma of today is worse that it was in the 1940’s.

My mother was right thinking that if I was not isolated from ordinary dust and pets I would build up my resistance and outgrow asthma. I don’t know how much science would see cause and effect in my mother’s actions. I do know that I outgrew my asthma when I was in my early twenty’s. Hurrah Mama!