Walking beside the river at eight o’clock in the evening, the temperature has hardly fallen from its afternoon high. Twenty-four degrees is no longer considered a hot day, it would have taken another ten degrees to have brought the day to a level comparable with the warmer days this summer. However, twenty-four degrees under heavy grey clouds creates an oppressive humidity that aggravates my asthma.
Reaching into my pocket for my inhaler, I found my phone, and the cotton mask I wear for shopping, and no Ventolin. Pausing to catch my breath, there were memories younger years when medication was less developed.
Before the days of Ventolin, there were spincap inhalers hardly remembered by anyone younger than fifty. Capsules containing powder were placed into a cylindrical inhaler which had a device that punctured the capsule. The inhaler was then placed between your lips and a sharp intake of breath caused the interior of the the inhaler to spin and the powder to be inhaled. That was the theory, anyway. Often the process of the breathing in the powder would cause irritation and a paroxysm of coughing that saw the content of the capsules spluttered out in a cloud of white dust.
Yet the spincaps represented a huge advance on what went before. I grew up in times when doctors had no arsenal of drugs with which to treat small boys with asthma. There were pink soluble tablets and a foul tasting brown cough mixture, and, if all else failed, there were adrenaline injections.
My uncle who grew up suffering from asthma and eczema thought even the limited medication of the 1960s to be progress from his own experiences.
There were stories of asthma sufferers in times past inhaling with smoky vapours from substances burned in tins, or sitting with a towel over their head breathing in the steam from bowls of hot water in which liquids that were meant to assist breathing had been dissolved.
Asthma seemed much less common when I was young, perhaps it went undiagnosed in many cases. It also seemed a much more serious illness. In the summer holidays of 1974, two boys from the special school on Dartmoor that I attended died from asthma attacks. I am still trying to find the grave of a friend from those days who died in 2003, he was forty-two.
Needing to pause to catch my breath is no more than a slight inconvenience compared to the experience of those who suffered asthmatic evenings in the past.