Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Pneumonia, One Year Later

One year ago I was sitting out on our porch, with my wife and daughters and a few members of my wife's extended family. My father in law was just getting over an incredibly nasty chest cold, which still reduced him to heavy fits of coughing that concluded with a nasty rattle. I sat in my deck chair, nursing my drink and silently wondering what the odds were of me dodging that bullet.

Not good, as it turned out. The chest cold hit me, and settled in for the long haul. Shortly into my first week of the cold, I had to take my younger daughter to an oral surgeon to get a blocked saliva duct removed. It's a minor in-and-out surgery, but when I drove her home I felt like an emotional basket-case. I attributed my soppiness to the unwanted specter of seeing my eight-year-old lying in a dentist's chair with a gas-mask strapped to her face, and chose to focus on the long drive home.

It really did feel, though, like something in my disease had turned on a dime that very day. Eventually, after one misdiagnoses, I was told I had diffuse pneumonia.

Other sufferers can provide you with a blow-by-blow account of this affliction. For me, there were two conversational exchanges that summed up my experience. The first was courtesy of a visit from two friends, who came right over when they were informed of my condition. The first thing they said to me was, “Don't be surprised — and above all please don't get discouraged — if it takes a year or two before you feel like you're back to normal.”

Those were far and away the most useful words I heard. As recently as March I still spent the early part of the morning coughing up gobs of milky white phlegm — 10 months of waking up with a smoker's cough. The cough was just the most obvious physical manifestation of pneumonia. It is, after all, a respiratory infection, and that affects everything in a person.

Which brings me to the second exchange: in the fall a friend asked me if, after I'd recovered from the worst of the infection, I'd experienced any depression. Answer: yep.

In hindsight, the only surprise to any of this is that any of it caught me by surprise at all. Forty-two year old male, fannying about with this and that, figuring I could still live like a kid, albeit with a few superficial changes — if it wasn't pneumonia, I was surely going to get hit with something else. So, yes: with recovery came depression. Not a “I can't get out of bed” depression; more like a “I seem to have lost my bearings” depression. Since I was ambivalent about my bearings to begin with, this matter remains more profound than I generally let on. My mode has been to speak discretely to a select few, and otherwise just keep my head down and mull in silence (hardly a surprise, if you've followed this blog for the last year). I can't yet report that I am on the other side of that experience.

Helpful elements: the presence of family and friends; a local herbalist who has given me various concoctions and dietary advice throughout (I adhere more stringently to some recommendations than I do to others: wheat and dairy are big no-nos for anyone with respiratory woes, as is alcohol. So much for cheeseburgers and beer); and finally, skating at Christmastime and bicycling the rest of the year — because there is nothing that lifts the spirit, or expands lung capacity, like self-propelled gliding motion.


DarkoV said...

Hey WP,
I know you've under the weather but had no clue you've been buried under your self-created river of phlegm (sorry for the visuals). Glad to hear you're coming around and I think you've holding up the blogging fort quite remarkably, considering what you've been paddling through these last long months.

dan h. said...

Yeah... what he said.