Give me some air

FOOD FOR THOUGHT - Chit U. Juan - The Philippine Star

One will never know what asthma is all about until you get asthma. I used to see friends carry their puffs or asthma inhalers like an indispensable water bottle and dismissed the thought that one day, I could also be like them. And that day has finally come. The city air has become so unpure that one needs to see a doctor to find comfort or find a way to clean the air.

I remember the times when I could ride a car without airconditioning. To turn on the airconditioner in a car then meant more gas consumption and when one is a student on a tight budget, every liter of gasoline saved could mean the difference between a good meal and not eating at all. Yes, one thought in terms of savings in gasoline vs eating better choices. I hardly used my car airconditioner then and could survive traffic. Not anymore.

At a recent meeting of the Environment Committee at our Management Association of the Philippines (www.map.ph), I voted to prioritize clean air, solid waste management and planting trees as our priority areas. We do decide what areas of concern the organization members can focus on, if we are to propose policies or even just to drum up awareness among the members who are a thousand strong. I specifically voted for clean air as first priority as I could hardly speak at the said online discussion, due to lack of air from my lungs. Yes, I already have asthma.

I went to see my pulmonologist, who, guess what, was also short of breath when I called her. She lives in the same area I live in and the construction jobs all around just caused so much dust due to the moving of earth and debris from demolished structures. This has been going on for weeks and maybe even months already. If you look out the window, I see trucks moving debris one vehicle at a time, and who knows how many truckloads a demolished 30-story building will fill up. It could really take months. I take comfort in weekends when I can open my doors and windows to breathe in fresh air.

Then I went to Batanes. Contrary to my doctor’s orders, I did not need my inhaler, and I did not need to take any anti-allergy pills. The air was clean and light. And I enjoyed that for a few days and nights. So it is possible to ditch the medicines, and instead choose cleaner places where the air is fresh and clean.

I remember talking to a friend who was asked to “migrate” to Singapore by her doctor as her asthma was almost incurable in Manila. That was years ago and I thought – wow, one has to have the means to pack up and live elsewhere just to relieve her of her asthma. I have not seen her lately but I am almost sure, she still has asthma and finds ways around it. It’s like asthma never ever leaves. It just happens when you get irritants, of which there are now so many – smoke, dust, food, pets and many more which are unique to every individual. One can take pets, but not laundry detergent. One can take dust, but not seafood particularly crustaceans like shrimp and crabs. Mine is mostly a reaction to strong unnatural scents like soaps, room sprays and detergents on clothes, sheets and towels.

I was just in Baguio where the hotel had a spray mist every so often that gave out the most unnatural perfumed scent at the lobby area all the way up to the rooms. Yes, of course I coughed incessantly and even had to wear a mask in my sleep. I had to tell the receptionist twice about turning off the mist, to which request I am sure she thought I was just being a finicky and difficult guest. I have yet to write the management of this hotel but I also thought, would they care? Maybe I should just rate them on Booking.com as what every consumer now has the option to do. But do others care about doing something about this? Do you sniff around hotel lobbies to check the air? Give it a try. Some hotels even sell their mist sprays as I experienced in Tokyo. Definitely, it smelled cleaner than my Baguio hotel.

Another pet peeve is fabric conditioner. Whoever made this chemical-laden option a mainstream product must be in cahoots with the asthma inhaler manufacturer. Have you ever sniffed or taken in the chemical perfume-y smell of “fabcon,” as lavanderas (laundrywomen) now refer to this additive that you put in rinsing water to make clothes smell extra nice. When I did laundry in a machine, they came in sheets, and my sister would throw in one each time she used the clothes dryer. Yes, they made the clothes smell laundry fresh when tossed with hot air. But in a third world country where most do not use dryers, they figured out how to sell these seemingly fragrant additives – add it to the rinsing water. And guess what, your clothes now come out coated with some gunk that is so fine you will not see it with the naked eye. But the gunk on each fiber stays and will not leave until you wash them again!! And so the vicious cycle of fabcon stays forever on your clothes and may cause an odor you cannot remove until stripped maybe with yet another chemical. In previous decades, clothes were hung out to dry in the sun and fresh laundry was sun-kissed without any unnatural scents. Give it a try. No fabcon, just sunlight and some breeze (moving clean air, not the soap).

Thanks to the pandemic people are not offended when you wear a mask these days and I have resorted to this to avoid smelling what could trigger my asthma. But don’t you think it’s time we demanded clean air? It should be free for everyone, after all.

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