Julie McDonald Commentary: Inability to Breathe a Terrifying Experience


A week ago, after looking at a used car for my daughter, I crawled behind the steering wheel in our car, whipped off my mask, wrapped it over my rearview mirror, and swallowed.

Suddenly, I couldn’t breathe.

I rustled into my purse for my inhaler and brought it to my mouth. I pushed the button but couldn’t inhale.


I couldn’t exhale.


Opening the car door, I scrambled to my feet and lifted my shoulders, trying to open my lungs.


I puffed the inhaler again and tried to inhale. Wheeze.

I tried to exhale.

“Mom?” Panic edged my daughter’s voice. “Should I call 911?”

With a trigger finger, I pumped and pumped and pumped the rescue inhaler.


My husband stood behind me. My daughter beside me.

Blood rushed to my head, pounded behind in my ears, behind my eyes. This is it — I’m going to die in a used car parking lot.

I pressed the inhaler, wheezed, pressed, wheezed, breathed.

Panic subsided as I inhaled a breath. I puffed again. Breathed in. Exhaled. Puffed again.

“Mom, are you OK?”

My stampeding heart slowed to a trot. I nodded. I inhaled again. Exhaled. Then I slipped behind the steering wheel again.

“I can drive,” my husband said.

“No, I’m OK.”

I thanked God I could breathe. Although I was diagnosed with asthma more than 25 years ago, medication kept it in control. I seldom used my rescue inhaler except when climbing a hill on my walks. I never appreciated how blessed I am to simply be able to breathe.

Years ago, when a friend and I sought signatures on a petition to change our postal code from Winlock to Toledo, I remember stopping at one home to hand the woman a clipboard. She reached for it and then backed away. “Are you wearing perfume?” I was. She waved both hands, refusing to accept the clipboard. Now I understand why.

Several of my friends in Oregon Christian Writers suffer severe reactions to perfumes, which is why all our conferences are scent-free.

I have no idea what triggered my attack. Pollen? Pollution? Post-nasal drip? I only know it was terrifying.

After we returned home, I switched on the television. The news anchor spoke about the Minnesota trial of Derek Chauvin, a former Minneapolis police officer accused of second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder, and second-degree manslaughter in the death of George Floyd, 46, last May.

I watched a clip of George Floyd, whose neck was pinned for more than nine minutes beneath Chauvin’s knee, as he pleaded with the four officers: “I can’t breathe.”

Tears sprang to my eyes. What a horrid way to die.


Easter Service

With the sun shining and a cool breeze blowing, my husband and I huddled on metal bleachers at Toledo High School Sunday to celebrate Easter with about 50 people from Toledo First Baptist Church.

Since the coronavirus pandemic shut down churches a year ago, I’ve watched church services from the warm comfort of my home. When the first wave eased, some churches reopened for indoor services. But TFBC’s pastors who have consulted with medical professionals in their congregation kept the church doors closed but held services outdoors — first at the Toledo City Park and later at Toledo High School.

Handfuls of hardy members of the congregation gathered every Sunday for services throughout the fall and the dead of winter while I watched the services online.

With more people vaccinated, after a final outdoor service next Sunday, TFBC will once again hold indoor services at 8 and 11 a.m. beginning April 18. Masks will be required. And for those still leery about meeting indoors, the church will continue to host an outside service at 9:30 a.m. on its patio.

As Pastor Joe Martin mentioned, the first Resurrection Sunday took place outside, and nowhere in the Bible does it mention the church as a building. It’s the people, the believers who gather together to honor and worship the Lord — whether indoors or outside.

I commend our pastors for their cautious and responsible approach to celebrating together during the pandemic and reopening slowly in its aftermath.


Julie McDonald, a personal historian from Toledo, may be reached at memoirs@chaptersoflife.com.