Very early in my pregnancy I started to occasionally have trouble breathing at night. I would wake up with a tight feeling in my chest and I was unable to take deep breaths. Back when I was in college, a doctor suspected that I might have exercise-induced asthma because of difficulties that I have with breathing when I run or jog. I didn’t really look into it much, though, because I was able to manage the problem on my own by simply abstaining from running or jogging. I call this treatment “the laziness cure”. I had never experienced nighttime breathing issues before getting pregnant, though. When they started to get worse, I decided that a trip to the doctor was in order.
I first visited a general practitioner, who noticed my severe eczema and told me that I probably have asthma, since the two are often related. He gave me a referral to a lung specialist so that I could have some breathing tests run. It is usually difficult to get an appointment quickly with specialist doctors, so I was worried that my baby would be deprived of oxygen for the next few weeks until the specialist could see me. I decided that my chances of getting an appointment might be better if I stopped by the doctor’s office in person to work my charm. Little did I know what trauma lay in store for me based on this one decision.
It was cold and windy as I walked across the bridge over the Rhine, so I was thankful when I made it to the other side. I pulled out my phone to see which street I needed to turn onto to get to the doctor. As I continued walking, I glanced up from my phone and saw a man dressed in black walking quickly in my direction. He was maybe in his 30s and seemed kind of grungy. He was carrying his belongings in trash bags. I don’t know if he was homeless or if he was just “alternative”. I’ve done a lot of community work with homeless people and others who are on the edge of society, so I know that you can’t judge a book by its cover and most people have good hearts. But this man seemed different. He really looked angry. I tried to avoid eye contact with him as we passed on the narrow sidewalk, but this was to no avail. As he walked past me, the man turned and hocked a loogie in my face! He then continued his fast-paced walking as though nothing had happened. I immediately, instinctively tried to wipe the spit off of me with my gloved hands. I was in too much shock to actually respond to him in any way. I looked around to see if anyone was witness to the atrocity that had just occurred, but it happened so fast that I knew none of the people at the bus stop up ahead would have noticed. I suddenly felt so alone and upset that I started to cry.
Because I am a worrywart, I quickly began to wonder what kinds of diseases could be transmitted by spitting on someone’s face. I was fairly certain that AIDS couldn’t be spread through saliva, but what about tuberculosis? “I’ve definitely just contracted tuberculosis while on my way to the lung doctor,” I thought. How would my baby ever survive its mom having both tuberculosis and asthma? Here I was trying to do the best for my baby, taking a day off of work to visit different doctors, and now I had just contracted a deadly disease as the result of my decision. My tears flowed uncontrollably. I got some sympathetic glances from the Germans that I passed by, but no one was brave enough to ask me what was wrong.
I tried to calm myself before heading into the doctor’s office, but once I stepped up to the front desk I quickly lost any semblance of composure. “I’m sorry” I burst out in broken German between sobs, “My doctor thinks I might have asthma so he referred me here but while I was walking here a homeless man spit in my face and I’m pregnant so that’s why I’m really emotional!” I poured my heart out to the unsuspecting receptionist in just one run-on sentence. The kind lady took pity on me and told me I could wash my face in the bathroom and she’d give me a towel. She asked if I could come in the next day for an appointment; someone had just cancelled. I was happy that I didn’t need to wait weeks to see the doctor. I wondered if my tears had helped me to get the next-day appointment. As the receptionist handed me the towel, she told me not to worry, the chances of me contracting any illness through the spit were very slim. Her words reassured me a bit, and of course I also felt better after washing my face.
I was scared of walking back to the sidewalk where the spit-attack occurred, so I tried calling my husband to let him know what had happened and to ask him to accompany me. Unfortunately, his phone didn’t ring. I had to be brave and head back alone. Even though I knew that not all men are face-spitters, I still felt a bit panicky every time a man crossed my path.
The next day my husband came with me to my appointment. Apparently everyone working in the doctor’s office had heard my story from the receptionist. “You’re the one who was spit on, aren’t you?” the nurse asked as she ran some tests. Yup, that’s me. The results of the breathing tests were completely normal, but based on my description of the problem the doctor said that I probably do have some mild asthma. He gave me a prescription for an inhaler and sent me on my way.
Of course I never developed tuberculosis or any other infectious disease from the spit. As for the asthma–the funny thing is, I only ended up using the inhaler one time. My nighttime breathing issues resolved on their own. I think they were probably some sort of anxiety thing. Or perhaps the man’s spit had magical healing powers. Jesus healed a blind man by spitting in his eyes. Maybe this man was a modern-day healer. Or maybe not. I still feel nervous while walking on the sidewalk where the man spit on me. I may or may not have very mild asthma, but I now definitely have spitter-phobia.
The moral of this story is: if someone hocks a loogie in your face while you are 10 weeks pregnant and walking to a lung doctor, try not to panic. You and your baby will probably survive. And you might get a next-day appointment with the doctor out of sympathy.