Mr Light and Omicron

It feels like falling at the final hurdle.

Waking on Saturday morning, I felt as if I were suffering an allergic reaction, my eyes were stinging and my throat was irritated. I was convinced it was no more than an allergy because it had disappeared by the afternoon when I drove to Belfast to watch Ulster play.

However, yesterday afternoon, the feeling returned. “I must be developing a cold,” I thought.

Yesterday evening, a nagging cough began to annoy me. I took an antigen test, just another in the dozens and dozens I have taken in the past year. I was confident of a negative result. Almost immediately, both lines on the test strip turned red.

I have spent the day preparing lessons in a desultory way, the persistent cough creating a sensation of bruising in my right ribs. However, the Omicron variant of SARS-CoV-2 is as nothing compared with the severe asthma I once suffered.

I can hear Mr Light’s voice saying, “Deep breathing, Ian, deep breathing.” Mr Light was a teacher who taught us deep breathing exercises.

In the days at the Dartmoor special school to which I was sent, the available medications for respiratory illnesses were not as plentiful as now and they were administered sparingly.

Each morning we gathered on the tennis court, or in the gym, standing in lines as Mr Light called out the instructions for the inhalation and exhalation of air and the swinging of arms and flexing of the body. His philosophy was that the first response to everything should be deep breathing.

In addition to the daily exercises, Mr Light supervised the cross country runs over Hameldown on Dartmoor, watching boys in white tee shirts and blue shorts crossing the hillside from the comfort of his Datsun car. (One Saturday morning, a group of soldiers in combat fatigues passed us on the open moor; we thought that men who were allowed to run in full army kit had an easy time compared to us in light cotton tops and shorts).

Perhaps the clinical efficacy of deep breathing was not as great as he would have maintained, perhaps it would have been ineffective against severe respiratory problems, but perhaps its psychological power was significant. The worst reaction to a shortness of breath is a feeling of panic which only exacerbates the breathlessness. Instead, the slow, calm, steady deep breathing exercises created a sense of being in control, a sense that one had mastery of one’s body.

Stuck in a room in an apartment block all day, I should loved to have been out in the chill air of a Dartmoor winter.


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