I started the school year with great enthusiasm and illness. On August 27, I began teaching traditional students at Cardinal Stritch University each afternoon, my oldest daughter began 4th grade, and son began 2nd grade and my youngest daughter began afternoon K-4. Despite the fantastic start, I was sick with bronchitis and pneumonia.
The diagnosis itself was a relief to me. With all the cancer in my extended family, I was grateful to know I didn’t have lung cancer. In comparison, pneumonia seemed quite minor.
As many of you know I teach writing and public speaking. I love being in front of the class and thoroughly enjoy my work. Teaching with bronchitis and pneumonia has presented new challenges. I now struggle to maintain my pace and a healthy breathing rate during lessons. I worry that my new students may mistake this for nervousness. Certainly with 15 years of teaching experience, I’d be beyond the nervousness that new public speakers get. Now I have a new empathy with those who find public speaking so very challenging. It’s a double edged sword. When you struggle to breathe while speaking, you exert more energy and sweat. This shakes your confidence and perpetuates the problem. Now I will be much more sensitive when helping students overcome their fear of public speaking. Focusing on breathing will go a long way toward alleviating some debilitating problems they face.
In addition to gaining empathy for those frightened of public speaking, I am now better able to understand what my son goes through in his daily challenge with asthma. He has lived with asthma since he was an infant and I’ve learned a great deal about respiratory viruses and all sorts of breathing difficulties through his many illnesses. Nothing is quite like experiencing it firsthand, however. When I can’t seem to get a good breath, I use my inhaler just like he does. I never understood just how sensitive someone with breathing issues can be to air quality. An errant pepperoni fallen off a pizza burning in the oven is enough to cause me pause. Those candle stores and perfume samples at the mall are also particularly annoying and I’ve had to go out of my way to avoid them. When you are faced with these obstacles, they are more than a minor annoyance because they threaten your breath. I understand that now in a way I didn’t before.
Even after I get well, I know these lessons with stay with me. They will help me become a better instructor and mother. There is nothing quite like “walking in someone else’s shoes” to gain a better perspective.