Gut-Punched by Pneumonia


I’ve never felt like I was drowning before last week. Starting Thursday night I had a fever which continued to build into the weekend. I coughed, nothing came with it. I felt dizzy, but no ear or sinus problems. I was getting short of breath. On Monday I thought I was getting better, I thought my fever was lessening, but I would cough until I saw stars and my body was wading in chest-high water. When I breathed out my lungs gurgled like a pot of boiling pasta. I begrudgingly went to urgent care where they gave me a face mask after I hacked my way to check-in.

After two different medical specialists listened to my lungs while I coughed, hard, I was told I needed x-rays. Going in, I thought I would be told, “You have a virus, go home and get better.” Or, “Upper respiratory infection, here’s some cough syrup, go home and get better.” The call for an x-ray meant one thing: checking for pneumonia.

They found it. Almost a third of my right lung was plugged up with pneumonia. My oxygen levels were strong enough for me to drive myself home. The doctor didn’t think I needed to be hospitalized. He gave me prescriptions for antibiotics and made me swear I would get them that night. I said yes. I took the prescriptions to out local big box store, Meijer, and was told I’d have to wait for 35 minutes.

I ghosted through the aisles imagining my right lung partially in fluid. I couldn’t take big breaths. I knew I needed some sickness essentials to see me through the rest of the week. I grabbed a half-gallon water thermos, some berries and cans of coconut milk, mac and cheese boxes, two boxes of face masks (to protect my family if they weren’t already infected), and A Moon Shaped Pool by Radiohead (a lucky find at a store with a music section the size of a battery kiosk). At checkout a boy around 8 or 9 looked at me with frightened eyes and pressed closer to his dad. Not many people wear surgical masks in America. I picked up my meds and went home, praying no cop stopped me with my one dead headlight I’ve been meaning to fix but haven’t had the time. I made it.

Pneumonia is the first time I’ve been able to physically empathize with strangers and their suffering. It is exhausting. It numbs the mind and body as unproductive coughs come in violent waves. Dizziness happens often from the short breaths one takes to avoid coughing. I could actually feel the fullness in my lung. I thought, “This is an historically fatal illness, I’m grateful for the antibiotics and health insurance we have.” I never thought much of reports from elderly family members or others with pneumonia. I thought it was just like a chest cold. As a man in early 30’s it knocked me on my back. I couldn’t begin to fathom how hard it must hit someone in their 70’s or 80’s.

Now I can.

I have been fortunate to have work I can do from home on my laptop. I am fortunate to have access to doctors. I am fortunate for Kristin for encouraging me to go to the doctor and caring for me when I returned. I am on the mend 48 hours after I started my meds. I am still coughing and getting dizzy, but the fever is gone. I am healing.

I know not everyone is so fortunate.

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