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."


Unfortunately, the author's whiny, self-absorbed tone and her unsubstantiated generalizations and conclusions detract from important messages of the book--asthma is a potentially deadly disease, people with asthma suffer, the incidence of asthma is rising, the poor are the most vulnerable. Inner city children, with exposure to multiple allergens and limited access to health care and clean air, are at great risk of developing asthma and complications of asthma.

It is difficult to develop much sympathy for the author, though, when she is forced to eat "risotto with sun-dried tomatoes, fresh asparagus with olive oil and balsamic vinegar, braised pears in red wine" at home rather than in a restaurant (perfume triggers her asthma) and when she takes five pages to diagram sentences to try to decide how to describe herself ("I have asthma" versus "I am an asthmatic" etc.) and finally decides on "I am asthmatical."

The sections on writers with asthma are interesting. For example, DeSalvo quotes an article by Marilyn May Lombardi about the effects of Elizabeth Bishop's asthma on her writing themes, style, and life.



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