It started as a respiratory virus. Hardly unusual. I get one almost every winter. A thundering chest cough. Fever. Every breath sounds like a hands saw cutting old tree branches.
I felt better on the fourth day. I left the apartment. Got my mail. I went to get a ham sandwich and iced tea. Then I got home. I could barely breath.
I coughed. I coughed more. I coughed until I saw static on my closed eyelids like an old tube TV with no signal. I was in trouble. The time was close to midnight. Too late for urgent care. They opened at 10 a.m. Sunday.
My brain decided to wait. It’s cheaper. It’s what you’re supposed to do. But the hours wore on and my breath was still sparse and the coughs plentiful. By 3:30 a.m., my body overruled my brain and said I needed to get some damn help.
I put on my shoes and coat and walked out to the car. Maybe a half block traversed. I sat in my car. Started it. And hyperventilated. My breath was shallow and I couldn’t gain control.
I don’t know how long I sat their gasping in the dark. I thought about calling 911. But I couldn’t speak. I couldn’t move. How would I let them in the gate.
My breath returned to a manageable state of labored. I drove to the hospital. I parked as close to the door as I could. I walked in. By the time I got to the desk, the great wheeze was upon me again. Swear dropped from my forehead. I fumbled for my insurance card.
The security guard, unprompted, brought a wheelchair.
“Looks that bad,” I gasped.
“It’s not looking great,” he said.
I would have laughed if I had the air for it.
They wheeled me into a room where a team of people took my details, started drawing blood and hooking me up to an EKG. The nurse was kind and focused. She had a sleeve of tattoos, a very heavy metal arrangements.
There was a gray skull in the desert. I asked if she thought it sent the right message to have a skull on your arm in the ER. She laughed. I would have, too, but laughter requires breathing I don’t have.
The gave me breath treatments, steroids, antibiotics and fluids. The diagnosis was pneumonia. I had a virus. In 80% if cases, the virus passes in three to five days. But in a special 20% of cases, pneumonia develops. Gosh, it’s fun to be gifted.
I’m home now. Bedridden. Sometimes recliner ridden. Not much else. I walk if 30 steps to the bathroom and back to bed is a lot. The same of walking to the recliner or to the kitchen.
I wouldn’t even attempt to walk down the hall to open the door for someone.
My friend Sara brought some fruits, soup and some of her famous apple crisp. She and her lovely kids sat with me and talked for a bit.
Her father survived lung cancer but has COPD. She understands the terrible fear of the wheeze. Through her, I understand the beauty of friendship and God’s grace.
I made arrangements with my property manager, a kind man named Pierce, like the doctor on M*A*S*H, to have Sara access the hallway through his office. I know I couldn’t have made it down and back without severe distress.
This evening I feel asleep in my recliner. I woke up dehydrated. I’d missed my Tylenol and decongestant dose. The body has about one trip in. I needed to take my empathy apple crips bowl out to the kitchen. I needed to fill my water. I needed to get my night meds.
I tried to do three or four things in one trip. But I couldn’t. My lungs punished me with wheezing and hacking at the sink and again in the bathroom.
I try to keep a cool head. If I panic, my breathing will be further challenged. But I am scared. I’ve never had pneumonia before and I don’t know what is normal.
I hacked up reddish mucus. I think that’s normal for this stage based on what I read online. But I don’t know for sure. I’m the kind of person who wants to talk to someone and have them tell me this is OK, this is trouble and so on.
I try not to pester my doctor and her nurses with questions by email. This is tedious. They have many patients. And they can’t really answer the question I want answered most: When will I draw a clean breath again?
I put in for short-term disability. I worry the paperwork won’t go through or it will get garbled up. I shouldn’t. My boss tells me not to worry. But I live with acute anxiety and when every breath is a struggle, everything seems super important.
I have a hitch in my psychological makeup. If something goes wrong, I want to fix it right away. If I lose something, I have to replace it RIGHT NOW even if that is unnecessary expensive or a waste of time and energy.
Illness attempts to harness me with patience. It suits me poorly. My brain spins it’s wheels like bald, wet tires in ice in the middle of winter. Is this it? Am I going to die? I don’t even have a will made. Who will want my comic books or Funko collection?
These are u productive thoughts. But I’ve got a lot of time for them. The steroids keep me awake. I sleep fitfully. And I can’t move around much. TNT had “Star Wars” marathon Monday. I watched the old films, the originals from when I was a boy.
It was comforting. I made a few jokes on Twitter. I read some comics. I visited with my friend Sara and her kids. It would have been a relaxing day if I weren’t worried I was going to die.
I know I’m not going to die. This will pass. But when I’m in one those hacking spells and I start to see fuzzy lights in the corners of my eyes, I have flashes that this might end poorly.
I’m not afraid to die. God will take care if that. I am afraid of all the things that lead up to it. And the slow, wheezing death is right up there in the grim end scale for me.
I’m trying to stay positive. I remind myself to do what I can. Keep calm. Take meds on time as ordered. Drink water. Rest. Heal.
But friends, I gotta tell ya, this is scary.
With love and hope, dpf