by Asher Pan
photo Irene Serrano
I just turned 18 and I live in Merced. All throughout my life I have suffered from increasingly painful asthma. When I was younger and first diagnosed I thought it was just annoying and inconvenient. However, by the time I entered high school it worsened. Perfume and strong smells would trigger my asthma badly. Often I would spend class time sitting outside while classrooms ‘aired out.’ There were even times I would have to leave school in an ambulance, rushing to the hospital for a breathing treatment.
My family and I moved to Merced in February of this year. Normally people with sensitive and weak lungs like mine wouldn’t even think about living in Merced but for family reasons, this is actually the safest place for us right now. Personally though, living in Merced is like living with a bag over my heads preventing me from breathing like everyone else.
With the recent wildfires in our area I am worried because Merced, for lack of better words, is in a bowl. We have mountains all around us and that keeps our pollution stuck in place. Stanford Doctor Kari Nadeau thinks the air quality is lowering our immune systems here in the valley. UCSF’s Dr. Esteban Burchard calls the central valley a “cooking pot for asthma.” In the American Lung Association’s lists for most polluted cities in the country, multiple cities in the central valley show make the list. This all leads to children in Merced County being diagnosed with asthma at more than twice the statewide average.
The air in Merced has been terribly painful for me. I have had to go to the nurse several times in the span of a week. One of the times, my head was throbbing and my lungs were burning from just walking about. My friend urged me to go to the nurse. When I finally did, the first thing the nurse did was look up the air quality information. Her face turned serious, she gave me a cup of water, told me to take my inhaler and insisted I stay in her office for lunch.
Even after the smoke is seemingly gone from the air, I am still not breathing well. My head still throbs and my inhaler does little for the pain. For the past few days it’s been like there’s not enough oxygen in the air. I feel like I’m walking around with a heavy cloth over my face preventing me from breathing. With the fires all around us I’m worried that they are not only burning the forest lands and homes but burning a lot of oxygen. I feel like the air is thinning out from all of this and I’m not the only one.
Just about everyone I know has something to say about it. It seems everyone is worried about how the fires will affect Merced’s surroundings and air, not only now, but for the long run.