Louise DeSalvo

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Annotated by:
Shafer, Audrey

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Journal


DeSalvo, a writer and biographer, relates her experiences with adult onset asthma. Because her symptom complex centers on coughing, rather than wheezing, there is a delay in diagnosis and appropriate treatment. Nine months after her symptoms begin, she reads an article about asthma and sees a pulmonologist who confirms the diagnosis.

The author details the many ways that her life has changed, the medications and precautions she must take, and mourns the loss of her earlier easy-breathing life. She is helped by a saint-like husband, open access to medical care and medication, and a compulsive avoidance of triggering agents.

As a writer interested in writers' lives, the author examines the effect that asthma had on the writing and lives of Marcel Proust, John Updike, Djuna Barnes, Olive Schreiner, Michael Ryan, and Elizabeth Bishop. Due to her own traumatic childhood (including being fondled in the bath) and her readings, the author concludes that "asthma is caused by terror, by trauma, by abuse (of a child, of the environment), by deprivation" and specifically that "asthma is a breathing disorder that is caused by abuse and that it is probably a manifestation of post-traumatic stress."

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