7 Things People Don’t Tell You About Pneumonia

While many of you might’ve thought I have been on a hiatus due to winning the lottery and spending the past month enjoying my new home in Italy, I’ve actually just been sick. Really, really sick. How sick, you ask? So sick that I couldn’t even read. THAT sick.

You see, I went home to Texas for a quick, early Christmas visit with family in mid-December and came back with the worst gift ever: H1N1 flu. (That’s the swine one, in case you didn’t know.)

It’s an evil, evil virus, folks. As in fetal position for six days. And then for me, it quickly turned into pneumonia, with a side of kidney and liver failure. I spent many days in the hospital. Christmas and New Year’s never happened, really.

Basically, you know those stories you read in the newspaper about previously healthy people who get the flu and die unexpectedly? Well, that was ALMOST me. I was one of the lucky ones who pulled through. (And for inquiring minds, I didn’t get my flu shot. I usually do, but I kept putting it off because our whole household had been sick with one thing or another since Halloween. I was waiting until my immune system had rebounded. Big, huge mistake.)

It’s been two weeks since I got out of the hospital now, and I’m still on oxygen. Which makes me feel about 90 years old, and is something that I never dreamed I’d need in my 40s.

Here are a few other things that no one ever told me about pneumonia. (Disclaimer: This is not any kind of medical advice and is based on my singular experience.)

1. When you are in the throes of pneumonia, before the antibiotics start to kick in, every time you cough, you will feel as though someone is reaching down through your lungs and pulling out your soul. And the sound will be violent. Horribly violent.

2. If you have pneumonia but don’t know it yet, the whole not-being-able-to-breath thing can catch you off-guard. At one point, my lips and fingernails turned blue from not enough oxygen. I didn’t know it though because I was lying in the dark, clutching my chest and stomach. When my husband did realize it, that’s when we called the ambulance.

3. Once your lungs fill up with bacteria-laced fluid, it takes a long, long time to get them back to normal. I thought once I’d completed the high-powered antibiotic regimen, I’d be home free. Nope. It can take weeks and sometimes months for you to get a clear chest x-ray. I’m still waiting for mine.

4. In addition to your lungs, it takes a long time for your whole body to get over pneumonia. I didn’t believe that at first. When the doctors told me I’d need another two to three weeks off of work, at least, to recover, I scoffed. I now take back my scoffing.

5. Pneumonia is as much about fatigue as it is about fluid on your lungs. And when I say fatigue, I mean bone-tired fatigue. It’s the kind of fatigue where, in the beginning, taking a shower takes every ounce of energy you have. The kind of fatigue where, I promise you, you will not have what it takes to shave your legs for weeks. Because it’s just too much.

6. Pneumonia jacks up your sleep patterns. You see, you spend so much time in the beginning coughing your head off that you can’t sleep. Not a wink. Then, if you end up in the hospital, too, there’s no sleeping there, either, because they’re busy taking your blood and your vitals and changing your IV 24 hours a day. So you end up going home, an exhausted insomniac who takes a few short naps during the day and stares at the ceiling, pondering the meaning of life all night.

7. Pneumonia can bring you and your spouse closer together. You wouldn’t think this would be true. After all, odds are he has now seen you at your complete and utter worst. He may or may not have had to wash your hair when you didn’t have the energy. He may or may not have had to clean up bio-hazmat things and help you on and off the toilet when you were at your most frail. And let’s face it, there is no way to rock an oxygen tube in your nose. But for us, we’re closer. Because I am usually always in control. And now I wasn’t. He had to step up and take care of me at a very basic and raw level. I couldn’t have made it through this without him. And he almost lost me forever. These kinds of things create a different bond than we had before. And so far, it’s a good one.

Have you ever had H1N1 and/or pneumonia? What’s been your experience?

 


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62 thoughts on “7 Things People Don’t Tell You About Pneumonia

  1. Crikey Kathy, what a scary scary time. I’m SO glad you made it past this and that your husband was such an angel. Pneumonia sounds absolutely awful, but your experience is a reminder to us all to appreciate our health. xxx

  2. Yikes! I’m so glad you’ve survived. The world would be a sorrier place without you. Pandas are standing by, wishing you a speedy recovery. There is just nothing funny I can say about this. (OK, the part about pandas standing by? That was a LITTLE funny….I just didn’t want to make you laugh and start another painful coughing jag.)

  3. Yes, this will be a Christmas that you and Ryan will never forge, that’s
    for sure—-if it makes you feel any better, it added a few years on me as well!!!!

  4. Yes, this will be a Christmas that you and Ryan will never forget, that’s
    for sure—-if it makes you feel any better, it added a few years on me as well!!!!

    • Ugh. I’m so sorry to hear that. It’s certainly no joke, even though I tried to make light of some things in this post. It’s really, really serious stuff. I just still can’t believe I was healthy with no pre-existing conditions one day, and then within a week, I was near-death. I won’t forget it, either. Thank goodness for antibiotics that worked for me. Some folks aren’t as lucky. :(

  5. Good Lord, Kathy! What an ordeal! I hope it’s all behind you. Thank you for the post to remind us that we’re not invincible and that really, really bad little bacteria and viruses are still all around us. Every day is a gift!

    • Thanks for reading, Ann. And you’re so right. I thought I was invincible for sure. No longer! Every day really is a gift. Just hope I can remember that as I get better and better, and a year from now, and …. forever. Feel free to remind me! :)

      • I been sick for a month on and off. I found out today that I may have pneumonia. I swear constantly and was put on Antibiotics. It’s hard not to smoke cigs.

      • Hope you feel better soon! I swear constantly, too, but I’m all better now. :) Hang in there!

  6. Take your time getting well. The world will gladly wait to enjoy your genius! Hugs and special prayers for you my dear friend. Winnie

  7. And to think that I was recently complaining about my allergies.

    Wow, Kathy. SO glad you’re going to conquer this thing. What a scary time for you and the boys. Tell Ryan that I thought he was a saint already, but he’s taken that halo to new heights. You’ve got quite a guy there.

    Grant has contracted H1N1 twice (and had gotten a flu shot both times). The first time, we were on a camping trip and he went to bed early before making s’mores. I knew something was amiss. He woke up the next morning with low-grade fever and respiratory funk, and I took him straight to the doctor, who diagnosed him with a respiratory infection. That evening, his fever spiked to over 105. We took him to the emergency room and he was put on an ice-water IV. He was far too weak to even protest (he was 9 at the time). But he recovered quickly and, thankfully, didn’t get nearly as sick as you did. We were very, very lucky both times. My hearts go out to those who haven’t been.

    • Thanks for reading, Kara, and I’m so so so glad Grant’s brushes with this stuff were not like mine. And yes, I almost feel guilty reading the news stories of families who weren’t as lucky as us. It really could’ve gone either way for me. That’s why I’m trying so hard to deal with the latest setback with gratitude and grace. But frustration’s at the top of that list, too!

  8. Good lord, that was awful. That happened to my husband a year ago this month, hospital, big drugs, near death etc. Except yours lasted longer (and he took five weeks to recover) and he never had to have oxygen. The bugs are getting stronger than us, just what you read in the news. Thank goodness you survived to tell the tale, understatement! I recommend getting flu shots the very minute you see them advertised at your pharmacy. I ran late this year and that scared me. I am so, so glad you are on the mend and that your fabulous husband came through big time! Onward to full health!

    • Thank you, Kay! Glad your husband is well now, too. Scary, scary stuff. I’m on week 6 since the flu first hit. Still nowhere near myself.

  9. Kathy, bless your sweet heart. Please take care of yourself. So glad you have such an amazing husband to take such sweet care of you. What a blessing. Slow and steady wins the race!

  10. Pingback: My Favorite Reads of 2013 | Kathy Lynn HarrisKathy Lynn Harris

  11. I had it last year after emergency surgery for gall bladder. Coughing after open abdominal surgery sucked!! Home after 7 days in the hospital then 3 was at home before going back to work 1/2 days. Everything drains any ounce of energy you even thought you had. And that stupid little lung exercise machine thing is the devil!!! Rest and take it easy. It’ll all come back with time.

  12. Hi really glad to hear you survived. I had to leave a comment as I had pneumonia all over Christmas and New Year also, like you they didn’t exist for me, I was borderline hospital case so luckily got to stay home seeing as my partner was off work for 2 weeks and could constantly care for me, I recognise every bit of what you say from needing help off the toilet and being an insomniac (in my case staring out of the window gazing at clouds) I am 50 and thought pneumonia was for the very old, Im so glad we both had someone to look after us, I certainly would have probably just lay there and died if I hadn’t been looked after, God bless

    • Oh my goodness! Jane, so glad to hear you survived as well, and that you had your partner to look after you, too. It’s scary stuff. Thanks for reading, and I hope you are well on the way back to health now!

  13. Oh my! I couldn’t believe it until I read your article. I thought I was being a “baby” about how bad I felt, until reading this.
    For me it also started as the flu. Which kind I have no idea but the flu with all the trimmings. Fever, coughing, chills, sweats, nausea, vomiting and what flu would be complete without intestinal distress. For the first four days I thought I could just get over this. Not so.
    I went back to work after five days with a ribcage so tender and sore from hacking and coughing, that by two pm that day, I realized I was an complete idiot. By 2pm I could not catch my breath and booked to my doctors office quickly. From there I was sent for chest x-rays and the next day boom! Bacterial pneumonia.
    Then came the ultra strong antibiotics and day after day, I kept expecting to feel better because of medication. I have never been one to “nap” during the day. I found myself falling asleep at the drop of a hat and could not lie back at all or the coughing would start. I, like you, ended up the first few nights, lying awake all night and sleeping more during the day. But it’s when I was sound asleep that I have had the most bizarre effects. Dreams! Wow, every time I fall deeply asleep, I dream vividly! Strange dreams of driving a car and sinking into a deep hole, Donald Trump singing over a 3-way radio to me the song “Your just to good to be true” (ok, some call that one a nightmare!) and I could go on and on. Did you experience the vivid dreams?
    Still not out of the woods and the fatigue from doing and exerting very little is excessive. I did have the flu shot and my PhD scientist of a husband explained that bacteria and virus are all very different so the flu shot may not protect you at all, as in my case.
    Thanks for the article. It made me feel better to know I am not alone and validated that I really do feel this horrible and it’s not just me.

    • First, I’m so sorry that you’re going through this. Second, you are not going crazy … the fatigue is just devastating. Hang in there. And don’t overdo it when you start feeling better. Or you’ll end up with round 2 of pneumonia, I found. Thinking of you and wishing you the best!

      • You are so very kind. Thank you for you reply and best wishes. I appreciate the words of wisdom. I will keep in touch and let you know how I am doing. Best, Meri

  14. Hi I hope you’re improving Meri, Kathy is right don’t overdo anything, from my last reply you can see I had pneumonia about 14 months ago, I’ve since had the flu and pneumonia jabs. has anyone else had the pneumonia one?
    I thought I’d just chip in with my mad dreams, I had vivid dreams of L’wren Scott growing larger than a skyscraper singing “bang bang into the room” she was so loud ha, god bless her soul.

    • Too Funny! Gosh, the things our brains can come up with. Thank you so much for checking in and sending me best wishes. Very nice people on this blog.
      I am back to work PT and indeed, taking it slow. I am in retail management and had a grand opening yesterday @ a new HomeGoods and couldn’t believe how tired I got from running around. Called it a day early. Again, thank you.

  15. I never had the bizarre dreams you all are talking about, but at least it would’ve made the whole thing more interesting. Everyone, keep getting better!

    • ***PLEASE READ THIS UPDATE***
      ~Good evening all~
      I had to give you this timely update and sudden perspective of why I came down with bacterial pneumonia. While watching GMA (totally admit I am a “Good Morning America” junkie while getting ready for work), I saw a segment about humidifiers causing health issues. Medical beliefs are that if you don’t rinse out the humidifier everyday and disinfect it once a week, big trouble can lurk. I have a large floor humidifier right next to my bed and it has been on high every night. (and this is hard to admit, as I am a clean freak, truly) We do not rinse our machine more than once a week and honestly, have never bleached it. So….I pulled mine apart this morning and bam! Mold inside where I could not see it. I was breathing it in nightly and only a foot away from my side of the bed!
      Have to admit and share with you all in the hopes that it might solve a mystery for someone else or better yet, help prevent the pneumonia from hitting one of you. Who knew? Not me.

  16. I have a friend who just passed away from double pneumonia. We’re in such shock because we thought she’d just be in the hospital awhile, take some antibiotics and then be good to go. However, no matter what the hospital did, her lungs kept filling up with fluid and then her organs failed-she basically drowned in her own fluids. This happened over the course of just a few days, and to a youngish woman in her mid-40’s.

    One thing I do want to say is that when doctors say to finish your antibiotics, you really need to. She’d had a chest infection, felt better and so stopped taking her medication. Then she developed pneumonia and I guess the antibiotics didn’t work as well as they should have. At the end, her lungs turned into two big, spongy things that in no way could support life. It’s so shocking-I never thought it would kill her, we all just assumed the drugs would work. This is still a serious thing, even with all the treatments out there.

    • Annie, I’m so very sorry to hear about your friend. Just so sorry. And you are right …we all just assume there are drugs that will work. And they don’t always. And when complications occur … Thank you for reading and writing. And I’m thinking of you and your friend’s family.

    • Annie, so very sorry at the loss of your dear friend. You have such a strong message and I hope many see it. Doing what the doctor prescribes you to do is so important unless you went to medical school as well and disagree. Hang in there.

  17. Hi Kathy. Firstly you are a very strong and brave lady for having pulled through what you did :)
    Well . . . it is now 03.34 am and I have stumbled across your story because I CAN NOT SLEEP. It is so very frustrating, I am as tired as tired can be but the minute I lay back to sleep the severe coughing starts. And it does not stop. Not for 10 minutes.
    I googled “pneumonia lack of sleep” in a desperate attempt to find some way that I CAN get some sleep. I have tried propping myslef up with pillows to almost sitting, no luck. I think it is just worse at night? Because during the day I can have a successful 2 hour nap, no coughing.
    You see, I discovered only yesterday that I had pneumonia. But I had flue 2 weeks ago. It had cleared by Sunday. Then suddenly Monday evening I had this severe pain in my left rib cage (thought I pulled a muscle). But later in the evening I was woken with this most horrible feeling of being extremely hot and cold at the same time, dizzy, sweating and confused. So I got up to splash my face with water in the bathroom. I never made the basin and connected the bath tub. Woke up thinking, Is this how I am going to die? I know it sounds silly, but at that moment I could not recall feeling this bad ever.
    So let me cut my story short, I went to the doctor and gor the lovely conformation that I have swine flue. Obviously I was struck with horror! Its okay she said, plenty rest, lots of water, pain pills and antibiotics. By yesterday i could not cope with this cough anymore and went back to see how she can help. Listen lungs….. Breath…. Breath deeper…. Ummm I cant, thats the deepest breath I can take…. Oh…. Dear….. You have developed pneumonia.

    To add to all this, I just heard this evening that my mom has passed away. Tomorrow I have to go and do all the necessary! How? I havent slept a wink. I have pneumonia. Its moments like this, when reading your story, I can truley say you are so lucky and blessed to have a husband who loves you and cared for you when even you couldnt. Its a blessing, hold on tightly to him.
    So in my sleepless state I have now typed out my whole story :)
    All the best, and only happiness and health forward for you.
    Michelle

    • Oh Michelle, I’m sorry I’m just now checking my blog comments and saw your post. What a horrible ordeal – I cannot imagine having to handle the death of a loved one while in the throws of serious pneumonia. You poor thing. I could barely function. I don’t know how you did it. Please let us all know how you are doing now. I hope you are on the mend, at least physically. I’m so sorry I didn’t see this sooner to offer you some support.

  18. Hi,I’m currently in hospital searching online how to sleep whilst suffering with pneumonia and I ended up here.i have it and have been in hospital 3 days now but haven’t slept for 5 days due to coughing when trying to get some sleep,I’m sooooo tired.the comments I’ve read have really made me realise that I’m not alone in this.i feel inspired by all of you to beat this.all the best to you all

    • I’m sorry I’m just now checking my blog and saw your comment. I hope you are well on the mend now … how’s it going? It took me a long while to fully recover. Take it easy and hang in there!

  19. It is 3:35 in the morning while searching Google for “why can’t I sleep with pneumonia”. The first hit came to your blog. I can’t thank you enough for your article. I know I am not the first or the the last to contract pneumonia, but the fatigue and shortness of breath can be so frustrating. Your ability to put into words all of the feelings going through my oxygen depleted brain, made me feel better. I hope more people suffering with pneumonia find your post. It will do them a world of good.

    I am so glad you made it through okay!

    Thank you.

  20. It’s two days before Christmas, and the nightmare still isn’t over. I came across your blog while searching for what folks have/are going through with pneumonia, and I came across your blog. Like most, I get a cold or two each year, but for me my sinuses always over-react and subsequently drain down into my lungs. This invariably leads to a chest infection (acute bronchitis) and for a week to 10 days I feel awful, tired and am constantly working at hacking up the resulting crud in my lungs. This Nov things took a different twist. Five days after the sore throat and sinusitis started, the doc looked me over and said my lungs sounded fine and gave me something for sinusitis that I knew wouldn’t work. I knew my lungs weren’t fine. Six days into the bronchitis back to the doc and he says I now have flu on top of sinusitis and (he finally admits) bronchitis. The coughing was worse, but nothing productive was coming up. Another six days and now the coughing is violent. I can’t sleep, I pop out of bed every hour and hold on to the bedpost as I cough to the point of passing out. I pant for 10 minutes like I’d just finished a 400 meter dash, then the coughing starts again. Now I’m scared. Nothing is coming up and I feel like an elephant sat on me. O2 meter is now reading 85%. Wife (who is a nurse) drags me back to the doc. “Yep – you’ve got pneumonia, on top of the flu and whatever else you think you have. Wife is wanting to strangle said doc and between violent coughing fits I try to calm her down. “I highly recommend you check into the hospital” he says. “Ya think…?” says the wife.
    So – we go there and they read the incoming data from my GP and immediately mask me and whisk me away to an ER exam room. I mean these people were moving frantically. Oxygen tubes up my nose, an IV in my arm, a CAT scan (IV with contrast, whatever that means), which of course made me throw up between coughs. All kinds of test later and yep, I have flu and bacterial pneumonia, so the Levofloxin drip starts and I find that that O2 tube really is my friend. I couldn’t sleep at home – try sleeping with all this in a hospital bed! A few 2×12’s I think would have been preferable. A stay in the hospital can be a real eye-opener. First, what they can do there is just not possible at home and second, you find out who really cares about you. I had visits from friends and co-workers during my brief stay that really lifted my spirits – and the hospital all made them put masks on before entering my room!
    Anyway, they kicked me out after 2 days, telling me I’m “out of danger”. Good to know, but my lungs – now a week after discharge – still seem to think otherwise. I’m a 59 year old musician and singer (OK, I can’t seem to quit…). Of course we have a gig for New Years. I haven’t been able to even talk for two weeks and am just now getting my throat to vibrate. The boys are going to have to do that job without me I’m afraid. Each day I think I’m going to wake up (I’m actually sleeping almost thru the night now) and the nightmare will be over, but it just keeps hangin’ in there. Almost a full month now. Reading your post and subsequent replies at least lets me know I haven’t gone thru this alone, and that (if you survive it) recovery takes time – probably measured in months at this rate, personal patience and the support of your spouse. And – I agree that an ordeal like this can bring you closer together. You don’t realize how much you might need to depend on a spouse until you find yourself in a situation like this.

    • Richard, I’m so sorry you’re going through this, too. It’s an eye-opener and it does take a helluva long time to recover from. Skip the gig, rest, and listen to what your body needs (read: Not tequila, as tempting as that might be.) Hang in there and let us know how you’re doing after the New Year!

    • Wow Richard, and I thought last Feb. I had it bad! I had many of the same symptoms along with not being able to sleep. I had never had pneumonia and what a toll that takes! Not just the body but mind and soul as well. Please stay home and don’t attempt to sing and play on New Year’s. You can relapse and undo much of the healing your body is struggling to do. Ask your wife, she’s the nurse. A spouse that can care for you and about you is the best medicine outside of the drug store variety. I felt badly as I could see the look of helplessness on his face for an entire month while my body slowly recovered. Try sleeping in a recliner to keep yourself upright a bit, it helped me stay asleep longer. Let us know how you are doing. You will recover and at times you wonder “Oh yea, when?” but it takes a good month or so before you begin to feel all your strength come back….slow and steady wins this race, so pace yourself. I wouldn’t wish this illness on my worst enemy!

  21. I have walking pneumonia and I don’t have a wife :'(. As for those of you who are having an uncontrollable cough try cloves, Just press them between your teeth and suck it. Hopefully it’ll help.

  22. I loved this article. I’m so sorry you’ve went through this but you are spot on about everything. I sat in the hospital shower, on a chair, as my husband washed my hair and showered me. We’ve been married less than a year. I’m 32. Inside I was too tired to think at the time but now I look back and think wow! My husband really did take his vows seriously ‘in sickness and in health’. Over two months on, and now with a parapneumonic effusion that I’ve had drained (1.5 litres and I possibly need more drained), I’m still so grateful I’m alive. Wishing you well on your recovery.

    • Thank you for reading. I’m sorry you’ve gone through this too, but we’re lucky to have good partners through this. So many people don’t. Continue to recover! I wish you all the best.

  23. This blog gave me such comfort in the middle of a painful dark night, not being able to sleep due to lack of air getting in lungs and coughing! I am now recovering from pnemonia septicaemia and pleurisy, 6 weeks in and finally starting to feel less whacked!!
    The points you make are just spot on and I do not think anyone realises how intrusive and painful this illness is. I had have pnemonia twice in a year and they have now realised my extreme hayfever cause me have bad asthma which causes the pneumonia. I am so lucky to have beautiful tender husband too who has had to look after me in all the ways you describe, putting his life on hold for me for the past 6 weeks not leaving my side. In a bad situation you really can learn to love each other more even if you did not think it was possible. Thank you for you blog it gave me hope on a. Very dark day

    • I’m so sorry you’ve been going through all of this, too, Rosy. Thank you for reading and commenting, and I wish you a VERY speedy recovery!

  24. I found this blog while I was looking for things about pneumonia. I was diagnosed with it last night. I have been ill for about 6 days with it. The first time I went to the doctor. I was just told that I had a chest congestion I was given so many antibiotics and told to drink Mucinex DM. I have been doing it for almost 4 days. I just noticed that I felt I was going to vomit or someone was just ripping my lungs out. I couldn’t sleep, and I am constantly dizzy and tired. I have been in bed none stop, I felt like my showers have been mostly in my bed as I sweat! I also have no appetite what so ever. I lost 10lbs in 4 days! I mean not trying to complain, but not the best way to lose lbs either. (haha)

    I am glad I read this because you explain how you felt the same way. I though I was being a lazy bum because I was being told that I was over reacting by people around me.

    When I told my mom I was diagnosed with pneumonia I had no support. I was told that I have to stop being lazy and get up and do something, so that I feel better.

    I’m glad to read this, so thank you. I don’t feel like I am over reacting anymore. I was surely shocked about how long it took though I thought once I finished my 2nd course of antibiotics and other stuff. That will be it, but you say it takes longer. Great………

    • So sorry you are so poorly :( I felt how you sound when I posted my experience. I am now pretty much fully recovered but developed a stomach ulcer due to so much long meds. It took me to have 9 weeks off work then 3 weeks phased going back to get to how I currently am. You are not being lazy, people do not realise just how energy zapping and how your heart pounds so much just making a cup of tea!! You just keep cosy early nights and long layins and you will get better! It’s a long journey but you will get better! Take care

  25. Hi Kathy,

    I am so glad I found your post, now I know I am not alone. I was diagnose with pneumonia two weeks ago and is the worst feeling I have ever had. It seems I have more trouble sleeping at night and when I have the most pain. I am glad that you are well and healthy getting to your daily routine. Take care and thank you for your post:).

    • I’m glad you found this post, too. I hope you’re well on your way to recovery … rest. It just takes rest. Wishing you all the best.

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