The weather is deceptive; temperatures reaching the mid-teens disguise the fact that it is still February. Dampness in cold air can catch me unawares and leave me wheezing. A compartment behind the handbrake of my car is used for storing phone bits and Ventolin. I can reach back while I am driving and grab one of the blue-grey inhalers, one puff is usually sufficient to be able to breathe, and drive, more easily.
Asthma became part of my life at the age of five, after I had suffered measles. Perhaps there was no link between the two, perhaps I was going to become asthmatic anyway, but living on a farm in the 1960s and being a sickly child was not an easy combination.
Medication then was limited. Perhaps there were more possible options, but even the most severe of asthma attacks produced only a couple of different drugs from the dispensary. There was a vile tasting brown coloured cough mixture and soluble tablets to assist breathing. If my asthma was such that the doctor was called out, he would administer adrenaline injections to stimulate my respiratory system. Asthma seemed as frightening as it was threatening. It became isolating: the associated allergies to pollen, feathers and dust meant much of the everyday life of a farm would bring sneezing, streaming eyes to be followed by asthmatic wheezes.
Drugs changed my life. The first inhalers were clunky, Intal spincaps. A capsule of powder was put inside the inhaler device which punctured the capsule allowing the powder to be inhaled by deep breaths. Of course, the deep breaths were not always easy and were sometimes followed by a spasm of coughing in which the powder was exhaled, but the possibility of relief brought a new quality of life.
Along with the Intal, the arrival of antihistamines made rural life much easier. Piriton tablets in small, round plastic containers meant that the times were past when a cold wet flannel over your eyes was the only relief. Haymaking was still something that would have triggered a reaction, but at least the pollen season was not one that was spent sneezing.
Ventolin was the best life-changer. The ability to gain instant relief with one puff meant asthma was no longer the worry it had been. The surgery will not allow it on my repeat prescription, saying that if I need to take it regularly, I am not managing my asthma properly, but I have a reserve of old inhalers tucked away in various places the and the odd puff is sufficient to allow an unworried life.
When it is easy to watch the news and think that the world is spiralling downwards, I think back to the 1960s, to the Vietnam War, to the real fear of nuclear conflict, to violence and revolution that filled the news stories, and I think of a small boy gasping for breath and decide that 2019 with a Ventolin inhaler is a considerably safer place.