In faint gray letters, that says 49 beats per minute.
A fit person’s resting heart rate. Mine.
I didn’t always have that. In my late twenties and much of my thirties, I was in and out of the hospital with pneumonia and lung bleeds. I couldn’t get up a flight of stairs without being out of breath. I rationed my activity, wanting to do things like play in the snow with my kids, but having setbacks if I dared too much.
Nowadays, I can walk my dog, go to a dance class, edit all day, and then take a train into the city to meet a friend for a late dinner — and not have a lung infection flare up. Anyone who knows chronic illness understands that a single one of those activities might result in payback later, so to do all is akin to a miracle.
How did I get from there to here?
I always will say LUCK as my first reason, because so many dedicated people work their bodies and brains out and still stay sick.
Luck that my bronchiectasis — the diagnosis I eventually got — is mild and not complicated by other health conditions.
Luck that I have the family, social and financial support to help me take care of myself.
Luck that I haven’t caught that one flu or been exposed to that one bacteria or smoky fire that will set me back.
Luck that my genes predispose me to enjoying and improving at exercise.
Luck that my parents raised me to be interested in and scientific about food.
EXERCISE is the second reason.
In 2008, I learned of someone who jogged daily with supplemental oxygen. Jerry Cahill has cystic fibrosis, one of the diseases that causes bronchiectasis, and even with dramatically low lung function, he was using exercise to clear his lungs and making no excuses.
In contrast, I don’t have the complicated disease of cystic fibrosis and my lung function is far from needing supplemental oxygen, so after meeting him, I felt beyond inspired.
I walked. I ran. I switched to dance. I added rock climbing. I exercised when sick, with walks or even just stretching. I exercised injured, using the other limbs. I began to need antibiotics less and less, and I got stronger and stronger. Able to withstand more activity and stress without relapses.
NUTRITION is the third reason.
In my research and writing for www.cysticfibrosis.com, I have learned about food, gut health and systemic inflammation.
I focus on nutrition because I love cooking, and because lung damage stems not only from a viral or bacterial invader but also from the inflammatory response of the body. Food and gut health can influence inflammation.
Also, people with CF suffer from fat and nutrient malabsorption, and they need often constant and multiple antibiotics, so I research and write about foods that can deliver the most nutrients and sustain the best populations of gut flora.
As a result of this research, my diet consists of some sweets and treats, but mostly vegetables, beans, whole grains, fermented dairy, fruit, and some meat. A lot of garlic, onions, chili pepper, ginger, oregano, basil, black pepper, turmeric, cumin, and fennel.
I look at that almost-decade of health struggle, and at the treatment regimen I still do, and at some of the issues I still have, and I’m grateful.
Grateful that I still appreciate walking a few blocks and a hundred other things people take for granted when they are healthy and young.
Grateful that being sick once tied me to an airway clearance machine, nebulizer and my laptop for several hours a day, which started me down the career path of editing.
Grateful that I discovered the well-being, camaraderie and physical power of dancing and rock climbing.
Grateful that bronchiectasis put me in contact with the cystic fibrosis community, where I learned how to take care of myself; encountered vast inspiration, compassion and courage; and where I began medical and health writing.
Grateful that the chronic infections caused me to focus on the microbiota aspect of nutrition, learning to ferment vegetables and grains — to bake sourdough bread.
Grateful that bread and words and workouts were born of those years.