your pulse and blood pressure checked. A blood draw. An EKG. Eyedrops and eye pressure checked. Bright lights shined into your eyes…
You know you are alive.
When you have
a dog lick your hands out of nowhere and rest his head on your leg. A conversation over coffee. Poutine, no matter how bad it might be for you. 11,359 steps on the Fitbit and counting. Excited hugs and high fives from kids. Coloured your hands pink with food dye and laughed, then fingerpainted with coloured pudding at work with three boys. A run in on the bus with a friend you haven’t seen in forever and you both jump off a stop later to go for Subway, a trip to Bulk Barn, and continue on to Toys R Us and Dollarama and CATCH UP. A silicone Lego ice cube mold arrive in the mail as a late birthday present. A million messages flying around about the plans for tomorrow and next week…
You know you are living.
I know I am alive, even if a little scarred.
Two weeks ago, I went to Denver.
(By the time I’m getting this published, it’s been two weeks.) The time was packed, let me tell you. (I told my friend Sam everything I did when I was there and she was like “How long were you gone for?” and I was like “Left Monday morning, came back Tuesday night.” and she was like “…I thought you were gone for like, a few days with everything you did.” Nah, just didn’t sleep. Actually I did. A bit. More on that below.)
People tried to explain to me that I was not actually in the USA and Canada at the same time. I fail to understand how this works, because while the airport may think I am in the USA after I pass this door, I could jump back out the window and be in Canada. Because, there’s snow out there.
Then I got on a plane
On another point, my CLEARLY OVERSIZED BAG fit in the carry on sizer. Easily.
Then I got on a plane.
and they sprayed my plane with green goo to de-ice. (Yes. Because we have to de-ice in May up in these parts. Thanks, Colorado.)
This dude is sleeping with his stuff in a very precarious position. The flight attendant seemed confused.
And then I landed in this field that looked like a farm, and it turned out I was in Denver, so I met Dia by the giant statue of a potted plant (I expected it to be more giant, actually. It wasn’t worth photographing, I guess.) Dia is my Canadian asthma advocacy partner-in-crime, and the current Chair of the National Asthma Patient Alliance Executive. (And also she and I have seen each other every second Monday for the past six weeks and next Monday is going to break our streak.)
Dia and I took a cab downtown to the Hyatt Regency at Colorado Convention Centre where the American Thoracic Society conference was taking place (note: we didn’t get to go in, except once Dia tried to wander past the passes-only area. She was unsuccessful.)
Dia and I met Dr. Dilini Vethanayagam, a respirologist from University of Alberta, Edmonton, who has special interest in severe asthma (and working with the Canadian Severe Asthma Network [CSAN]) almost as soon as we made it downtown. This is the thirty fourth floor lounge at the Hyatt, where Dilini took us to hang out—it’s always fantastic to finally meet someone in person after—at this point—a half dozen phone calls (or more?) and a few years worth of e-mails. Dia and I learned more about the state of the research study I’m working on with U of A, and where CSAN is at.
After meeting with Dilini, Dia and I headed over to the ATS Conference, or as far into it as we could get, anyways. Dia was in heaven as she picked up 20 pounds of respiratory journals to take home with her, and we visited the Canadian Lung Association table. You know, after Dia tried to sneak into the badge area…
We also took a selfie at a selfie station to win a prize pack. (I think we didn’t win. I’m also unsure why I look more excited than Dia, because Dia is actually probably way more excited than me at this point because she has an armful of medical journals and she likes smart things…)
Wearing my Badassmatic shirt. Except I lost Dia’s challenge and didn’t get any pictures with asthma doctors with it on…
And then we got popcorn before meeting Dr. Sally Wenzel from University of Pittsburgh, and the Severe Asthma Research Program. (You might remember Sally from a previous asthma adventure to the World Congress of Asthma in Quebec City in 2012. We failed to get a picture with her, but it was great to be able chat with her before a presentation for 15 minutes!)
Now, enter my American asthma advocacy partner-in-crime, Steve (it took his cab an eon to get from the airport to the hotel, but he made it!)
AND, his Boston Marathon racewalking partner-in-crime, Lis, whom I was also meeting for the first time… not that you’d be able to tell…
…The first picture…
Now, I’ve known Lis online for a good five years now, and in person she is every bit as energetic (to put it mildly) and passionate as I would have imagined (look, these words are failing to explain her adequately, so let’s just say she is this wild force of awesome, and you’ll have to meet her yourself!). We also met up with Sheila, another asthmatic in Denver (Lis was the odd one out—though she was initially misdiagnosed with asthma, and is since doing a LOT better since confirming she has vocal cord dysfunction! :].) Lis lead the way to Mellow Mushroom Pizza because Dia and I were kind of starving at this point and Steve liked the name (and so began my first of two pizzas in about 4 hours..!)
After food, Sheila, Steve, Dia and I grabbed the free bus back to the hotel, Dia and I got our stuff from storage at the Hyatt, and we parted ways with Sheila and headed to the hotel via Uber.
So, know what rocks about travelling with people with asthma?
This—if you’re unfamiliar, the missing ingredient would be the nebulizer tubing, AKA the piece that connects the nebulizer to the compressor making it useful…
Yeah, the three of us all travel with the same compressors/tubing… I headed across the hall to Dia’s room instead of upstairs to Steve’s. Really, I did not feel super terrible except elevation probably + fragrant people exposure + hotel under construction = kind of a perfect storm. I did another treatment the next morning, but upon landing back at home I was breathing easy again. Denver = weird. Which I was told to anticipate.
Then we went to dinner at Piatti and met the other two bloggers attending, Juan and Karen from GSK, and Samantha and Minyan from Golin, the PR company working with GSK. I rolled onto my second pizza of the day (margherita, and not just cheese ;)). And then Steve, sneaky friend that he is, made this happen…
This was Monday. My birthday wasn’t until Thursday (oh, hey, I’m 24 now..!), so I was more than a little shocked/confused for a moment! So, Steve dropped the word because he wanted to buy a cake but then basically GSK stole his idea ;).
How freaking beautiful is this cake?!
Then we returned to the hotel, where I had to go get new room keys (because, no, I can’t just forget my room keys when I go to the pool with Goalball Steve [as opposed to California Steve] and Gerry in Toronto, I forget them in Denver, too. Fortunately I had ID this time. Steve, Dia and I went and hung out in my room after I got new keys, and when Steve and I walked in, I found this… (Well, it was in the bag at the time!)
Yes, Ms. Lizzy (Lis) and Doc Boots strike again! Pineapple Fanta and Jarritos! (Complete with bubble wrap so I could get it back home in my then-checked backpack!) Lis knew it was my mission to get my hands on some Pineapple Fanta while in Denver, and… there it was, complete with puppy birthday card! Steve got to work using some surface or another in the bathroom as a bottle opener, and Dia went to get ice (I am the lazy one who only tore the paper cups out of their plastic wrapping and poured the bottle of soda into cups ;).) Dia and Steve got into some scientific discussion about mast cells over Pineapple Fanta while I stared at the curtains (aka not the mountains. The hotel claimed mountain view but they were VERY FAR AWAY) cluelessly.
Eventually we all went to bed (I did my bedtime reading from GSK with a side of GSK Ventolin): I sort of slept. Steve did not sleep. Dia actually slept. I sent Steve my sleep graph in an early morning text message.
Sometime around six I went and hung out in Steve’s room (note: Steve and I are polar opposites in the regard to Hotel Room TV. He always has his TV on. I never do. When I was in California, he was the one who turned my TV on, and I turned it off when he left). Dia decided to test out the 24-hour-Starbucks-theory (as she told us) and headed over to Starbucks nearby, after coming up to Steve’s room to pick up my phone with which she bought me hot chocolate. (…Yes, look, this is how awesome my friends are, and how lazy I am early in the morning. But mostly how awesome Dia is).
Is it tag-team nebbing if you part ways to do treatments? 😉 I Instagrammed this picture with the caption “I get by with a little help from my friends—and their nebulizer tubing.” I usually only do treatments when I am tight enough for it to be really bothering me, but like the night previous, I was kind of not wanting to cough through dinner with GSK, nor did I want to sound more asthmatic than my usual cough during the event. Also, look, the things I do as a patient always come with a stupid side of asthma, and that is annoying, but a reminder that yeah this disease sucks but I get to do cool things because of it sometimes, and more-so because of the fact that I try not to complain about it and just live my life and coexist with my asthma.
Plus I always feel way better after even if I don’t think I reallyyyy need a treatment that much.
Plus also Dia made me laugh while taking this picture as she arrived at my room mid-treatment and probably yelled “housekeeping”. Steve also came [post-treatment] and did not yell housekeeping and just knocked like people sort of usually do. Then we went downstairs into the construction zone to get in the Ubers to go to Columbine Elementary School (for those wondering, no, this is not near Columbine High School), for the GSK Building Bridges for Asthma Care event.
Here’s Steve and I being sleepy in the Uber SUV.
We are good shoulder sleeping heights for each other.
Being mindful that I do not have a proficient understanding of the American public school system or its subprograms, I deferred the interpretation of this to my friend Kat. She explained that “92% of the families [in the area] make less than 185% of the federal poverty line; [about] $40K for a family of four,” and thus qualify for subsidized or free school lunches. (Note that in Canada we have no such national programs.) She continued to say that “In general, [with] that high of a percentage, it would be fair to categorize the neighbourhood as poor-to-working-class [living paycheck] to paycheck.” The schools the Building Bridges Program was run in had been referred to as inner city schools, and Kat’s explanation of the socioeconomic status relevant stat above helped clarify that to me.
I want to quote what Steve wrote before going any further:
So, do the big drug companies have a vested interest in helping these types of programs succeed and seeing the absenteeism rates drop? Would this type of program increase their inhaler sales? I seriously doubt it. Even the big bad drug companies do good things once and in a while and I think this is a perfect example of that.
This.And, like I said in my previous post linked above, I think it’s time we give pharma a lot more credit.
The Building Bridges program aims, in short, to decrease school absenteeism in kids with asthma—and through this, their parents are able to more consistently attend work. If we’re talking families that may already struggle financially, this becomes even more important. We’ll now break to a video. Because this is what they are doing:
This means that this little girl was in school on Tuesday.
Didn’t take much more than saying “I have asthma, too” to get a smile and a high-five from Countess!
This means her mom (Qyanisha, in the video) is able to work regularly. It means she could take time off to attend this event without worrying about her daughter. It means that less children and families are living similar stories—it means the core aspect of a child’s life is able to flip from asthma to school, just like every other kid.
While I said I had wished there was a kid on the panel (and I’m happy I got to meet Countess!), we heard from a bunch of amazing medical providers working with the Building Bridges program. I’ve Storified the event, so you can scroll through. I have to say though, that Donna Sparks, RN, was my favourite speaker of the day—
Another huge connection I hadn’t made previously, that Donna made (can I say again that this woman is awesome? Super Nurse Donna fan club, people): because these kids can be in school, they can stay in school. Donna underscored that if kids can stay in school, they can finish school—they can decrease their risk of becoming involved in crime by finishing school. I hadn’t thought of a link between asthma/absenteeism/deviance before: I just threw “asthma and crime” into Google Scholar: 34,200 results. Whether this is because inner-city areas seem to have higher rates of both asthma and crime, or because of issues pertaining to health care access, or because of algorithms, or actually because kids with asthma may miss more school and become frustrated and then turn to crime for psychosocial/socioeconomic reasons (or other cyclic things like that), is not super clear, of course, but here are some snippets (they are a bit long, so if you are not into academic reading, just read the first one and skip the bullets, okay? Don’t leave me hanging!)
The first concludes: “Evidence suggests an association between violent crime and childhood asthma prevalence in Chicago.” (Gupta et al., 2010)
Another: Results: […] Among African-American patients, age and residential crime rates were positively and negatively assicated with ICS [inhaled corticosteroid] adherence, respectively. Area crime remained a predictor of adherence in African american patients, even after adjusting for multiple measures of SES [socioeconomic status].
Conclusions: This study suggests that an environmental stressor, area crime, provides additional predictive insight into ICS-adherent behaviour beyond typical SES factors. (Williams et al., 2007). (Note: Remember that ICS use is positively correlated with asthma control, and that non-adherence can negatively affect asthma outcomes. Also that these drugs are quite expensive, especially in places like the US).
And, yet another (also nothing the use of “may” doesn’t mean that this is untrue, it just means that, as an instructor once told me, that especially in health, research never really ‘proves’ anything, only suggests potentials—as per point #1 up there, and the most recent of the articles cited):
Increasingly, studies have begun to explore the effect of living in a violent environment, with a chronic pervasive atmosphere of fear and the perceived or real threat of violence, on health outcomes in population-based studies. Violence exposure may contribute to environmental demands that tax both the individual and the communities in which they live to impact the inner-city asthma burden. At the individual level, intervention strategies aimed to reduce violence exposure, to reduce stress, or to counsel victims or witnesses to violence may be complementary to more traditional asthma treatment in these populations. Change in policies that address the social, economic, and political factors that contribute to crime and violence in urban America may have broader impact. (Wright and Steinbach, 2001).
So, yes: this understanding/hypothesizing has gone back to at least 2001—and probably way before. Many programs in the US are working to this phenomenon, and I am happy that Building Bridges is among them—and, I hope it is able to expand to other schools. Because if one thing—asthma control, both in the sense of actual control of the disease and reclaiming the feelings of these kids that they can do anything… can lead to a ripple effect of good things.
The coolest thing about this event, I think, was that it was ensured that we got there early enough to meet the speakers, and that they so wanted to speak to the bloggers attending. That doesn’t happen at every event. The event organizers also had a fantastically sized gap between the end of the presentations and lunch that people started to mingle, and then carried on their discussions over lunch—an amazing transition, even if it was not planned! As soon as the event ended, I also got flagged down to meet Qyanisha and have a direct conversation with her about how the program has impacted her and her daughter—prior to connecting with five or so others just on my way up to my bag at the back of the room, I returned to this scene:
Dia doing what she does best, asking great questions to Sheila—an asthma counsellor with Colorado Children’s Hospital—regarding parental buy-in to the Building Bridges program and how they deal with resistance to engagement and alternative therapy use—which is by educating without being forceful.
We flowed through chatting with a bunch of people in attendance, and then into the line for lunch and up to the tables on stage—I won’t lie, another huge highlight was spending lunch with the school nurses and asking their questions about blogging, while passing my phone over to show them my blog! How cool is that? I had to heckle Steve to make his way to the blogger debrief table because people were so interested in his awesomeness that they wouldn’t really let him escape ;).
Andrea (left-back), Katrina (right-back) Dia, myself (duh :]), Stephen
Below, same, with Karen and Juan from GSK.
Photo credit to GSK/Erin Guthrie on Photobucket.
The blogger roundtable was a great way to wrap up the morning with Juan and Karen. We basically had an open Q&A with them about what they can do better for patients (drug ads. make better drug ads, guys!), and other ways they can make the patient connection better. Can we go back to my post from prior to the event for a second? They. Are. Trying. Effort takes time. I realize that working in communications, Juan and Karen are just doing their jobs, but, people don’t get jobs that require high amounts of talking to other people if they don’t want to change things—that’s just kind of the way extroverts are. I’m really looking forward to seeing what comes next for the asthma community through pharma working towards bridging the gaps […no Building Bridges pun intended!] with patients and—I hope—implementing our suggestions, showing us progress, and not just letting the roundtable be a one-day, in-person thing.
Because whether we’re selfie-ing in an Uber…
(Karen, Juan, myself, and Dia’s eye.)
Or trying to get our own Uber for the first time…
…Or laughing at this sign for whatever reason…
…Navigating this security line with our plethora of medications and neb compressors…
We have a lot of things that, together, we want to make better
(or at least suck less?)
“Not a doubt in my mind anymore, there’s a storm up ahead.
Hello hurricane [tornado?], you’re not enough. Hello hurricane, you can’t silence my love
I’ve got doors and windows boarded up, all your dead end fury’s not enough
you can’t silence my love. […]
I’m a fighter, fighting for control—I’m a fighter, fighting my soul,
Every thing inside of me surrenders: you can’t silence my love.”
—Hello Hurricane, Switchfoot.
(Asthma is kind of the storm—the kickass friends who dare to do something about it are the shelter.)
Yet, we prove every damn time we’re together, that we’re about far more than asthma
(Before, one by one, we departed—Steve, then Dia, then myself—
Denver International Airport)
but most importantly: together or apart;
advocating purposefully or just living our lives that happen to include asthma…
We are still here. We sill want to share.
Disclosure: GlaxoSmithKline United States paid for/is reimbursing all costs associated with attending the GSK Asthma Summit, including roundtrip airfare to/from Denver, CO, hotel, ground transportation and meals [and phone expenses?! And for my checked bag after I got gifted Pineapple Fanta?!]. I was not required to blog or share on social media about the GSK Asthma Summit, nor do they pay me to do so (nor do they affect the content I produce in this post, or in the future—or the past, I guess.)
More importantly right now… everyone includes YOU—or, anybody who is chilling at home on their couch, or at their kitchen table, or anywhere there is internet, thanks to the Medicine-X Global Access Program! Through the Global Access Program you can join the main stage fun of Medicine X, check out how technology is evolving and changing healthcare, and how that is becoming more and more accessible to both patients and care providers*. Med-X is taking place from September 5th through 7th [with workshops happening before as well]. And, it’s free! [I know right?! Free is my favourite price, too] If you’ve never attended a conference virtually before, Carly is a master: she has even written an amazing virtual conference attendance how-to guide to help make the most of your experience.
Remember: Medicine-X… is for everyone. Everyone who participates in Medicine X — whether in person or online — is there for similar reasons: We believe our stories can make a difference; we recognize the potential technology has to improve healthcare—to improve patient outcomes; to change the way we think of–and manage–our own stories that involve chronic disease or another circumstance that has caused us to more deeply invest in healthcare; in changing our own outcomes and interactions within our care. And we all believe that we can be part of a bigger story, where the patient truly becomes the centre of care—not the system.
I guarantee Twitter will be on fire, so if you’re watching from home [or work… Not that I’m encouraging that :].], ensure you jump on that before the conference if you’re unfamiliar. [My soon-to-be-roommate, Karen, even tweeted last year in both Spanish and English—clearly she is magic. She’s also a sport psychologist and also has asthma, so we were totally meant to be roommates and I’m beyond excited to meet her.]
And, while I could tell you what I’m excited for on the main stage, we might be here all day: so check out the program here and get stoked yourself!
And if you have questions, ask away below, or on twitter at #medx—we’ll help you out.
*Access to technology among providers in the Western world probably varies much on your geography/medical system. Just because it’s available, doesn’t mean that—for example—iPads are popping up in Canadian hospitals. Here in Winnipeg, electronic charting is sometimes either a) a new thing, or b) not even happening yet. Which is among reasons why having international input and attendance at these conferences is so important: we can’t improve care through technology we don’t have access to—and, beyond financial constraints, knowledge of value in application is the other huge barrier to integrating technology to improve patient care, or improve the lives of all people. Knowing what I know, I shouldn’t have been shocked when my new-ish gynaecologist, Alaa, pulled up my pathology report on his computer at my first appointment. And I should probably stop being so shocked when I find someone I know wearing a Fitbit or using MyFitnessPal. And, for those of you Canadians who are in this boat with me, don’t worry: there are a handful of Canadians in the crowd, and we’ll do our best to get our voices out there, too.
May is Asthma Awareness Month–and this coming Tuesday is World Asthma Day. After spending a couple days together in the SF Bay Area last week, Steve and I got our networks to send out some questions, and did a very unstructured Q&A videocast to hopefully get some light shed on asthma, our thoughts, and hopefully teach some people a few new things about this disease.