Many of those that know me will say I'm a pretty tough girl. I not talking street tough, but tough in the sense of a high pain tolerance. I don't like to let some minor health issue keep me from doing the things I wanna do!
However, a couple days after we arrived in France, I started coughing. Nothing big -- just a little cough here and there. My asthma was acting up, as I was having to take my inhaler several times a day. And a strange rattling/wheezing noise in my chest started making an appearance in the middle of the night. My inhaler stopped the rattling/wheezing, but the cough persisted, keeping me (and waking Evo) up at night.
I've dealt with my asthma for several decades and I rarely let it restrict my daily life. (Honestly, I find it highly inconvenient and simply pretend I don't have it.) Most people don't know I have asthma because I sneak away or take my inhaler in private. We were walking a lot -- every day and often more than five kilometers at a time -- and my inhaler use was increasing dramatically, sometimes up to as six times a day.
The cough was becoming a bigger issue day-by-day (actually night-by-night), and the rattling/wheezing was getting worse as well. After two and a half weeks, it got to a point where I it was hard to get my night time coughing under control. Sleep was out of the question for both of us, so Evo would get up with me at 3:30 in the morning and go light a fire downstairs so I could have some warmth while trying to sleep sitting up in one of the recliners in the living room. Sleeping sitting up (such that it was) seemed to help quiet the coughing to a degree. We spent at least three nights this way, trying to get my coughing under control so that I might catnap for a bit. Oh, and not freeze.
We started throwing out ideas of what could be causing the coughing. Could it be the chimney be the issue? The woodturning stove was placed in the original fireplace from 1880. Maybe it was venting some of the smoke in the upstairs bedroom where it passed behind the wall? Perhaps it was the down comforter and pillows I was sleeping on each night? I've slept on down comforters previously but never for this long. Maybe it was prolonged exposure to cold air somehow irritating my lungs? Nearly 23 years in the southwestern U.S. didn't expose me often to this level of cold for any prolonged period. Were my lungs simply inflamed and the pressure from laying down causing me to cough? Or was it one of 29 other possible things we weren't thinking of?
Evo thought down might be the issue, but limiting my exposure to it proved to be a challenge, as it was the only kind of comforter in the house. No down meant thin blankets, which we tried or our last night in France. Honestly, I don't know if it was coughing or being really, really cold that kept me up that night!
In Paris, I had a particularly bad coughing fit which set my lungs on fire. Imagine a fireplace where it is down to just the red embers and someone blows on the embers for about five hours just trying to keep the fire alive. That was how my lungs felt. No down at play this time, but we were out for a long and fast-paced walk in the sub-freezing temperature. No leisurely pace when you're trying to do a walking tour of an entire city in four hours! Not our smartest move.
We decided to experiment further when we arrived in Denmark. We asked our hosts to swap out the down pillows (they had others to offer us) our first night, and I slept pretty well. I woke up once coughing but was able to get it under control (didn't even wake up Evo).
We took a day of rest and then on Friday, we took a short walk around Copenhagen with our host, Nina. Thinking the cold air hitting my lungs my be at least part of the issue, I wrapped my scarf and hood up over my mouth and nose. Even after a couple hours, my coughing was significantly improved, and I didn't have to take my inhaler even once! That night, I awoke coughing again but was able to get it under control rather easily.
But was it down or breathing in cold air that was the trigger? Yesterday, I wore the down jacket a friend of mine (April) loaned me. It smooshes down to almost nothing, is super light weight (important with our packing situation), and quite warm. I put it on under my leather jacket, and in the three minutes it took to walk to the train station, I could feel my lungs tightening. By the time we were on the train, I started coughing a little here and there, and the rattling/wheezing was coming back. Since I'd kept my nose and mouth covered and was breathing in relatively warm air, I had a solid suspect. I took off the down jacket, placed it in it's bag, and asked Evo to carry it. I didn't have any issues the rest of the day with coughing or did I need to use my inhaler!
In other news, I'm apparently allergic to down. Which is too bad, because ducks are cute!
But now I have the answer. I'm hopeful that completely avoiding down -- Evo doesn't have any, either -- will get me back to my baseline, and I won't burn through my spare inhalers to quickly. Oh yeah, and it'll be great to sleep all through the night again!