My Losing Battle with Utah’s Inversions

Last night, I didn’t fall asleep until 3:30 am. If you ask any of my colleagues at work, they’ll let you know this is definitely a common occurrence for me. I often show up to work looking like I haven’t slept in weeks.

I’m a night owl — I prefer staying up late and sleeping in late. I don’t start functioning in the morning until I’ve had my cup (or two) of coffee. When I think about it, my excessive caffeine intake is most likely a contributor to my sleeping habits. I also have bouts of anxiety- and stress-induced insomnia, where I lay in bed all night over worrying about something that I should not be worrying about. Sometimes I just lay there with nothing going through my head but still unable to sleep.

But all of those reasons have nothing to do with this blog post.

Last night, I didn’t fall asleep until 3:30 am because I was coughing non-stop all night long. These were deep coughs – the coughs that are so rough that they hurt your lungs and throat, and after a while lead to a raging headache. It was so bad that I had to hug my pillow to my face so that I wouldn’t keep my sleeping roommate up with me. Mercifully, I was able to finally put myself to sleep by taking more NyQuil than was recommended on the bottle.

Unfortunately, last night wasn’t an isolated experience. This cough started about a week and a half ago. In fact, I’ve been coughing as I’m currently writing this blog post.

No, I haven’t gone to the doctor. And I don’t have any plans to see a doctor. Two years ago, I had a similar never-ending cough and eventually dragged myself to the urgent care a few blocks from my house. After waiting for three hours in the waiting room and an additional hour in the examination room, I was told there was nothing they could do for me. And as I paid my exorbitant bill, I continued to cough.

Diagnosis? Victim of Inversion.

I love the snow and cold. But every winter as our majestic mountains are coated in a shimmering layer of white, my lungs are coated in a toxic layer of particulate matter. For me, the inversion-induced soup bowl of pollution isn’t just an eyesore (literally — it makes my eyes itch), but is also a throatsore. (Yes, it’s a word now.)

I am able to find temporary relief. Not only is there potentially unsafe doses of cough medicine, but I’m also prescribed daily doses of singulair and flonase. I’ve also gone down to Iconoclad to buy one of their air masks that are much more bearable to wear than those infamous white hospital masks. And I’ve also invested in an expensive air filtration device that I keep next to my bed — after locking myself in my room for a whole day, I eventually stop coughing as I breathe that blessed pure air.

Even with all of that, I still cough.

I’ve recently had thoughts about what this means for my future here in Utah. Our leaders assure us that our air quality is the best it has ever been, but their assurances aren’t making the cough go away. If our air is already this bad, what is going to happen when our population doubles over the next thirty years? Our communities are still centered around automobiles and we continue to pour billions of dollars into expanding the capacity of our roads and highways so that even more automobiles can be accomodated. We continue to prioritize the use of fossil fuels, with oil refineries operating just across the border from our capital city and power plants burning dirty coal to light up our homes. Our residential and commercial construction standards could be more efficient, but we choose not to update them. And it absolutely infuriates me to see those coal-rolling trucks driving down the highway or people refusing to heed no-burn notices.

I don’t want to leave Utah but eventually I may have no other choice.

A year and a half ago, I gave up my car. There are many reasons why I have chosen not to replace it, but one of those reasons is that I could no longer justify contributing to my own suffering or the suffering of others. I still contribute to our pollution and climate change through other poor lifestyle choices that I feel bad about, but giving up my car and using public transit was something that was feasible. And I don’t regret it at all.

I’m not asking you to give up your car. It’s simply not feasible for most.

But for the sake of my cough and the countless Utahns whose suffering is more severe than mine, could we all take a moment to make some of the small changes in our lives that we continue to justify away? Whether it’s lowering the thermostat by a degree, or making a greater effort to carpool, there are simple things that each of us can take as individuals. The simplest thing you can do is vote for representatives who are committed to cleaning up your air, who value your lungs more than corporate profits. And while our leaders must stop justifying policies that benefit corporations while continuing to harm public health, in the meantime it’s only going to be through our collective action that we can make a difference.

“Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.”

My lungs thank you.

Want to win a chance to escape the inversion? We’re giving away seven nights in Las Vegas at Club de Soleil in February 2019! Click here to enter.

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1 Comment
  1. -T.Henri
    Dec, 19, 2018

    In December of 2017 the inversion was so terrible that my stepson’s mother was hospitalized for 3 days due to low oxygen counts. She suffered from Asthma and the air quality during the inversion had her lungs in very bad shape. She was released on December 13th and at 3 AM on the morning of the 14th she could no longer breathe and passed away at home at the age of 39. She left behind a beautiful and amazing 13 year old son. He now obtains a very bad cough during the inversion. We want to move out of the valley, but we have made it our home. My husband and I both have good jobs that have allowed for us to take on the full time care of our now 14 year old. I want everyone to be aware of just how bad the air is. This isn’t just ugly or gross….it is truly deadly. I hope the population doesn’t double and rather we see a mass exodus until our lawmakers are willing to change policies and make alternative energy more affordable and public transportation more efficient for all.