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Breathe Better: San Francisco

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“San Francisco is known for its cool summers and fresh air
that blows in off the water. It was the only city that ranked
average or above in all 12 categories ….”

According to a survey conducted by The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA), if you want to breathe, the best city to do it in is….ta da! Our dearly beloved San Francisco! Seattle comes in second, and Portland third. No mention, for better or worse, of Oakland, where I currently occupy a tiny dark studio apartment.

When I moved cross-country from New York in 1988, it was to San Francisco. I’d fallen in love with the city, as so many people do, while on vacation visiting a friend. Six months later I found a bright, airy, affordable studio apartment in the Richmond, and lived there more or less happily for three years. Then I met a guy, fell in love, and followed him to the grimy grubby East Bay. Emeryville, where we lived at land’s end on the water, was grand—but in a few years we broke up, SF rents went through the stratosphere, and I haven’t been able to crawl out of Oakland since. As the wise, too-young departed Amy Winehouse put it, “I should be my own best friend / not fuck myself in the head with stupid men.”

(Below: SF:)

Rents didn’t just rise in SF, but everywhere, so at this point I’m in East Oakland paying relatively low rent in a neighborhood devoid of trees, outdoor cafés, or decent supermarkets. What we do have are gangs, never-ending dust from the nearby freeway, and nasty neighbors who yell at me through the windows when I cheer the Yankees or sing a song. I’ve wanted to move back to San Francisco for at least a dozen years—but I also wanted to move, for various reasons, back to New York, or to Portland Oregon, or to Los Angeles to be near my grandkids; I got myself too confused to go anywhere. This report on the air in SF, though, is the straw that’s pushing this camel over the bridge at last. Because I really need to move, for my health if nothing else.

(Below, East Oakland):

In February 2002 I was diagnosed with COPD—Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease. It began while I was in Los Angeles, and I blamed the smog for a sudden case of pneumonia that had me gasping for air in the ER of Cedars Sinai Hospital. Gasping for air sounds mild compared to the experience, which I’ve never before attempted to describe. An inability to breathe is the worst, scariest thing I have ever been through, and during the following year it happened maybe half a dozen times. I remember during one episode thinking, “Why don’t I just die?” I wished I would, it was so painful not to be able to breathe, and I couldn’t understand how I was still alive without oxygen in my system.

For the next two years I got pneumonia six times, was in and out of hospitals, on oxygen, unable to work.  I stopped smoking immediately of course, that first night, and wanted nothing to do with tobacco. And then, as soon as I was off the oxygen, having no breathing problems, I wanted to smoke again. I squelched the urge as long as I could until a crisis gave me an excuse. Even so, I continued to be all right. I didn’t believe I really had COPD, though my pulmonologist insisted I did, and that it would come back again. He was amazed that I stayed as healthy as I did, still sucking on sickarettes.

I promised the doctor and myself that if I started to feel lousy again I would quit, but it took me years to finally do it, and I found it impossible this time without the help of a hypnotherapist. I also visit QuitNet regularly, a terrific supportive tough-love website.  Apparently I did further damage to my lungs–although I quit more than 3 months ago, I still can’t take a deep breath. I hate not smoking, but I just can’t do it anymore. I’m hoping that when I move back to the city by the Bay, with its cool moist winds, I’ll be able to breathe again and will feel a lot better for a lot of reasons.

If anyone out there has a lead on a cheap place to live, please let me know. I’m finished fucking myself in the head with sickarettes and stupid men.



One response »

  1. Post Card Row would be too expensive, I’m sure. I was there a few weeks ago and invited you for lunch but didn’t hear back from you.

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