This is part two of a series about my chronic illness journey. You can read the introduction here.
First and most importantly I want to say recovery, wellness, health does not happen over night. If you woke up this morning and are finding this blog because you decided you wanted to be well, that’s amazing. But making that decision is only the first step. There is a lot of work, some luck, and just the right amount of support involved in the process. This is true for everyone, not just those of us living with chronic illness.
Back in the fall of 2007 I was a full time graduate student working on a Masters in Christian Education. I was passionate about the environment and sustainable food, and I was working both in my church and as a nanny for two precocious kids. My husband and I had been married for 2 years and we lived on campus at my theological school.
Over fall break I got a pretty rough cold but I recovered before returning to class. Then we went away for a wedding. As one does when college friends get together I had a bit to drink. That weekend I kept thinking “I must be getting old” and “it does not take me this long to recover from a night out.”
Then the Tuesday before Halloween had me calling my doctor because my chest hurt, like an elephant was sitting on it. She couldn’t see me that day and encouraged me to go to urgent care, which I did. With a diagnosis of pneumonia and some prescriptions I crawled back in bed. I spent the next 3 weeks coughing, coughing until I threw up, coughing, and bringing up the most disgusting phlegm I had ever seen. Eating very little, showering less, and sleeping.
During the 3rd week I visited the doctor where we quickly discovered that my oxygen saturation levels were dangerously low. I was quickly admitted to the hospital. There we discovered not only did I have pneumonia, but also pertussis, whooping cough. This is something we are all vaccinated for as children, but it was recently coming to light that the vaccination did not last into adulthood.
After 6 days of IVs and breathing treatments I was deemed well enough to go home. Given instructions to hydrate, take what was left of my medications and rest. Because I had been so seriously sick it could take up to 6 weeks to get better.
Great, in less than 6 weeks I had plane tickets to fly to India. I had already dropped all but one class that semester. But India, termed a cross cultural immersion trip, was something I did not want to miss.
I’ve tried to go back and remember those weeks between the hospital and getting on an airplane heading east. I’ve looked at pictures and read old blog posts, but there is very little there. I was still very sick. And in my passport picture which I must have gotten taken right out of the hospital, I look like it.
At the time, this was still an acute illness. The idea of being chronically ill had never even entered my mind. I was simply recovering from a serious illness, one the mother that I nannied for informed me that “some people die from pneumonia.” So I slogged through my days with a headache and burning lungs. Ignoring the fact that every muscle and joint hurt, because it was my lungs that were sick, not the rest of me.