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  3. How Asthma Set Me Onto the Career Path I Love

How Asthma Set Me Onto the Career Path I Love

Respiratory therapist checking the lungs of a senior male patient with asthma
Getty Images/ NanoStock

Living with asthma isn't just about learning to be resilient. For John Bottrell, it led to his dream career.

I've lived with asthma my entire life, spanning almost half a century. While asthma has posed serious challenges for me over the years, it has also introduced me to many wonderful people and led me to a career I love.

A lifetime with asthma

My asthma got really bad between 1980 and 1985, starting when I was ten and going into my mid-teens. Mom and Dad took me to the ER many times, and I was even admitted to the hospital on a few occasions. 

My average length of stay was six to seven days, which was plenty of time to chat with the other patients, doctors, and nurses on my ward. Dad was running his own business, and Mum had my four siblings to care for at home. It was okay - it just meant that I relied a lot on the nurses and respiratory therapists (RTs) to keep me company. 

But hospitals are always busy, so their time to chat with me was limited. Many of them came in to do their duties, would exchange a few short but friendly words with me, then bustled off to carry on with their round. 

My doctor made equally short-but-sweet visits to my room every morning. He was there, and then he wasn't. A busy nurse would do something with my intravenous drip (IV) or give me a pill. She was cheerful but brisk, and I wouldn't see her again for several hours. One RT introduced himself and started my breathing treatment. Again, I longed for some company, but he did his charting and left as quickly as the others. I was grateful for all the hard work concerning my health, but I felt a pang thinking about what I was missing at home and school. 

However, someone stood out among all the others during one of my stays. She was also an RT, and I really liked her because she'd take her time to get to know me, despite her packed schedule. 

One day, she sat next to me on the bed, and we watched TV. Sometimes we talked. Once, we spent an entire evening in my room playing a card game called War. It was so nice to see a friendly face who helped me through those lonely, semi-isolated days.

Finding an unconventional path

By 1985, my asthma had only gotten worse – so much so that I spent six months in the hospital. My usual doctors were now slightly stumped on how to treat asthma of such severity, so I was admitted to the National Asthma Center (now called National Jewish Health) to get my symptoms under control. 

Going to this facility proved to be a turning point in my care - and even shaped who I was as a person. Those long hours in my hospital room meant I had a lot of time to read and write. As the weeks went on, I found myself falling in love with words and how I could make them sound on the page. 

When I was discharged, I spent my free time continuing with these new habits - reading what I could and putting pen to paper. It was a few years before I had to think about my career path, but those teenage years slowly drifted into early adulthood. 

My dad and I discussed potential jobs quite often. He owned a car lot but figured car fumes would bother my asthma. Likewise, he discouraged me from finding factory work due to the fumes, dust, and chemicals that were part of daily life in those environments. Carpentry and construction were also no-gos for the same reasons; they wouldn't work with my asthma symptoms. 

Instead, Dad began building me up to go to college. He thought training to become an RT would be my ideal path because I'd have so much empathy for my patients. I seriously considered his advice, but my heart was telling me to become a writer. 

In the end, I settled on journalism school as the foundation for my next steps. There I'd learn the tips and tricks I needed to transform my written work from "promising" to "professional." When I was handed the certificate for my journalism degree, it felt great! I was the first person in my family to graduate from college, making this accomplishment even more meaningful. 

However, transferring those skills from the classroom to real working life proved a bit of a moral conundrum. I loved writing columns, but real journalism requires snooping around for information and potentially trampling on others to get ahead. I didn't care for that part. 

Reinventing myself

I went back to college for a second try, and I chose respiratory therapy this time. I remembered how much I loved my respiratory therapists as a kid and thought how awesome it would be to care for and guide children living with asthma. I knew I'd be good at being an RT, given my lifelong experience with the condition. 

After earning my second degree, I was hired as an RT at the hospital of my choice. It has a down-to-earth atmosphere and is a great place to work. The therapists who took care of me all those years ago became my coworkers. 

The best part is getting to know my patients. I've had many eye-opening, heartfelt conversations that have developed into real friendships. 

The takeaway

Few people would wish for an asthma diagnosis, and the condition has undoubtedly made my life difficult at times. 

But, looking back, I can't say that asthma has only affected me negatively. My career and many friendships have sprung from asthma and me making the best of my situation. And, as you can see, I still write for those who need advice, guidance, or comfort when it comes to managing asthma. Being able to write articles like this one is a gift. I'm thankful for that. 

The information presented is solely for educational purposes, not as specific advice for the evaluation, management, or treatment of any condition.

The individual(s) who have written and created the content in and whose images appear in this article have been paid by Teva Pharmaceuticals for their contributions. This content represents the opinions of the contributor and does not necessarily reflect those of Teva Pharmaceuticals. Similarly, Teva Pharmaceuticals does not review, control, influence or endorse any content related to the contributor's websites or social media networks. This content is intended for informational and educational purposes and should not be considered medical advice or recommendations. Consult a qualified medical professional for diagnosis and before beginning or changing any treatment regimen. 

NPS-ALL-NP-00545 MARCH 2022

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