I woke up late today. I could feel my heart fluttering like an anxious bird and I decided it was because my body wasn’t getting enough oxygen from my weak lungs so it was just pumping the blood around faster in a futile effort to make it up. I rolled over and went back to sleep, since it was the only thing I could think to do about it.
After I got up again I shuffled into the kitchen in my pajamas to make breakfast. While huddled on the couch eating my oatmeal with cinnamon I heard a key in the door. It was just past noon at this point, way too early for either of my roommates to be home from class.
Eva came into the room, looking a little shellshocked. I tried to think of a nice way to ask “what are you doing here?”
“Yeah,” she said. “Apparently if you have too many asthma attacks they send you home from school.”
She went on to describe how the winds must have changed in the past few days because the pollution has been just as bad out on the new AUC campus as it is here downtown. It has been BAD the past couple of days – once again we couldn’t see the sun because it was just a beige smudge in a white sky.
This morning everything culminated in a trip to the campus clinic because Eva was so severely oxygen deprived she wasn’t able to speak, just babbled. Fortunately my other roommate was there to look after her and get her in the right place.
The clinic gave her a shot of something and she came home. She told me about waking up in the middle of the night unable to breathe and looking out the window to discover a wall of the strange smog preventing her from seeing the other side of the Nile.
I feel lucky. I haven’t had it nearly so bad. I don’t feel well, but I haven’t had an asthma attack today. On the other hand, I decided not to leave the house at all because of Eva’s experience.
This is frightening. The thought of getting caught in traffic, having an asthma attack and not being able to get to the hospital is terrifying. I feel so glad that I have the choice to stay indoors all day if I need to avoid the air. Eva doesn’t have that choice. She has to go to class on the bus, every day.
The only way I can describe this experience is as debilitating. I cannot do the things that I would normally do if I were outside Cairo. I’ve had to adjust my expectations about what I can do in a day. I’m okay with this situation for now because I know it’s only for a short time and once I leave I’ll probably be fine again.
Equally bad is watching someone else going through an even worse experience, and knowing it could be me. Not only that, but knowing that there’s not much I can do to help. We’re both just hoping for blue skies.