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?

 

A Walk and a Talk in the Mountains

I had the day off from work on Friday, and even though my husband and I were both still feeling sick from a Colorado Super Bug going around, I announced I was heading up to our cabin on the mountain. I needed to be there, to take one of my old walks that I took daily for more than a decade. It’s the same way I feel about Texas about twice a year, too. That driving need to be back in touch with some basic part of who I am.

My husband has been up to the cabin several times since we’ve moved, but I have stayed away. I knew I’d likely tie myself to a pine tree and he’d have to peel my arms away or chop down the tree to get me to leave. And frankly, it played out kind of just like that.

On our walk, we talked about moving back. It’s a tough thing, marriage. And parenting. You just never know for sure what the right move is. You can guess, and you can hope to high heaven you’re making the best choices. And then you can pick up the pieces and put them back together when they turn out to be the wrong ones.

I’m still not sure what we’ll do. I want to do what’s best for our son. His needs come first. But it’s all so murky, that determining what’s best.

Yes, it’s dangerous to live and drive up there on the mountain. The drive to school alone would be trying … about 50 minutes one way. And yet, I have to also believe that living in such a raw, untamed area would feed his soul, too. Right?

And let’s not forget his newfound love, or obsession, with fishing. At our cabin, he could walk out the back door and fish in a beautiful creek within minutes. And there are three private stocked lakes, too. He could be ice-fishing within 5 minutes during the winter. And doesn’t the opportunity to witness bears and moose and mountain lions and stellar jays and golden eagles in your back yard have profound educational value?

I’m not completely crazy, by the way. I know life on the mountain is tougher. The elements (wind, cold, blizzards) demand that you develop survival intelligence, that you respect Mother Nature in all her greatness. That you learn the value of hard work, like chopping wood, that ends up keeping you warm all winter. You learn that life isn’t just one big easy paved suburban street. You learn that sometimes the power can go out for days, but that’s okay because you kick ass at Scrabble and keeping a fire going 24 hours a day.

But are those lessons he really needs to learn in today’s society? Shouldn’t I be trying to create the easiest life for him? So that his biggest worries are doing well in school and making friends with kids, not foxes?

Or maybe we should just forget the mountain for now and instead live abroad for a year or two. Let a foreign country shape the kiddo instead of life at 10,500 ft. Maybe then my unsettled feeling would be replaced by excitement for a new adventure. Of course, there’s that little problem called money to fund such a thing, and let’s face it … we don’t exactly have Eat, Pray, Love kind of reserves going on.

I don’t have all the answers yet. But I’ll leave you with a few photos I took while we were on our walk … showcasing the Colorado Rockies in transition. The gorgeous aspen leaves are all gone, but the lake isn’t completely frozen over. The snow is on the mountain and some of the trails, but water is still trickling through the waterfalls. Paradise to me.

Colorado mountains

mountain trail

pine tree in the mountains

pine trees reflecting in water and ice

My One-Year Report on Living Like Normal People

07-james-peakIt’s been over a year now since we moved from our cozy log cabin, located at the top of a mountain in the Colorado Rockies, at 10,500 ft. above sea level, down to a mere 6,800 ft. in the foothills southwest of Denver.

This was supposed to be a one-year experiment with living without the dangerous driving conditions, the 5-ft. snowstorms, the year-round shoveling, the need for professional gear to take a walk around the neighborhood in February. It was intended to be a glimpse into things most people take for granted, things like a garage, trash service, newspaper delivery, a grocery store and gas station nearby, the certainty of running water and electricity. (Read about the move here.)

And it appeared to be the perfect compromise: Still living in a log-cabin-ish house, in a pine forest, with views of the Continental Divide if you squint to the west from our deck.

Sounds like a no-brainer, right?

For a normal person maybe.

For me, it’s been hell. I mean, don’t get me wrong … it’s an easy hell. A pretty comfortable hell. (Turns out, it’s no big deal to run out of toilet tissue down here. And the snow — get this — melts after a storm!) And my garden was lush and productive this year, unlike even our year we had a greenhouse up on the mountain, before the bear tore it down.

And yet, I’ve been in mourning.

It’s hard to put it into words, sometimes. Because it’s more than the hiking trails that were out my door, and the snow and the mountain view and the high-summer days that hit 75 at their warmest. (Did y’all know it gets damn hot down here in July? Especially with no air conditioning in a house?)

I miss the solitude and seclusion of my mountain. I miss neighbors that keep their distance and don’t freak about a dog that barks at herds of deer on occasion. (I’m particularly bitter about that one. See previous post. Animal Control and several certain people who live near here with their panties in a perpetual wad can kiss my aspens!)

Oh yeah. I miss the sound of aspen leaves shaking in the wind before they fall. And the silence. I miss that you can lie awake at night up there and not hear anything but your own breathing and maybe the stars moving up above. I miss how the raw world up there influenced my writing in ways foothills living just doesn’t do.

I miss the challenges of seemingly easy things, like getting to your front door in January after being gone all day and oh by the way there’s now 3 feet of snow there.

I miss how life at 10,500 ft. pushed me, every day, in new ways. I miss how alive that fresh, thin air up there makes me feel. I miss the creek and the lakes — they felt like ours alone. I miss evening walks when you didn’t have to worry about cars hitting you (only mountain lions out for dinner. And I can deal with mountain lions better than humans, most days.)

I even miss the nights when the electricity was out and it got so cold that we had to sleep in the great room by the woodstove, to make sure it kept burning all night so the pipes wouldn’t freeze.

If it were up to just me, we’d be back up on the mountain right now, enjoying the beginning of winter. But it’s not up to just me anymore. My husband likes it down here. My son misses the mountain, but he’s found a little tribe of friends down here at this neighborhood school, and his smiles are priceless. The commute to my new job from the old house would be painful. And let’s face it, moving is expensive.

So we’re staying through next summer at least. In the meantime, I have writer’s block when it comes to fiction writing, and the liquor store is only a few minutes away. Is this how Hemingway became an alcoholic?

Don’t answer that.