This winter I’ve been grateful for the miracle of modern medicine. Two rounds of antibiotics have saved me from pneumonia, a sinus infection and bronchitis. Now that I’m “well,” I’m weak and have a lingering cough. My full-time job is staying away from sick people.
Sir William Olster, a Canadian doctor who helped found John Hopkins Hospital in 1889 and who is frequently called the Father of Modern Medicine, said that pneumonia was “the captain of the men of death.” Hippocrates, who first wrote about pneumonia in ancient times, claimed that death from pneumonia usually occurred on the seventh day.
According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data from 2014, pneumonia still kills 50,622 Americans a year.
Before I got pneumonia I thought of it as something that only happened to elderly people. As a 39-year-old mom who went to the gym five times a week, I never thought pneumonia could happen to me. But now I realize that middle age doesn’t offer as much protection as I assumed. I’ve heard from lots of people my age who been diagnosed with pneumonia.
Even my light case of so-called “walking pneumonia” was difficult to shake.
“You’ll be tired for at least a month,” one friend told me.
“Don’t overdo it,” advised another. “Take lots of naps.”
Napping was easy over winter break when my kids were home from school, but with our schedule back in full force it’s been tricky to rest. My only recourse is to go to bed early. As soon as it gets dark, I’m exhausted.
Sleep is one tool I’m using to improve my health, but I’m also incorporating other wellness ideas, too. I fight my cough by breathing in steam several times a day like the doctor told me to. I dust, vacuum and air out the house regularly. I blow-dry my hair after taking a shower so I don’t go to bed with a wet head. I’m the queen of soup, smoothies and tea.
Feeling my energy return is a huge relief but also a slow process. I used to clock 14,000 steps on my Fitbit each day. Now I feel proud of myself for reaching 5,000.
My kids, I should point out, did not get sick, perhaps because they’d both received the Pneumococcal vaccine that protects them from numerous strains of pneumonia.
The CDC recommends that all children under 2 and adults 65 and over be vaccinated, as well as people between the ages of 2 and 65 with certain medical conditions. I don’t know if the vaccine would have helped me or not, but now that I consider my history of asthma and allergies, perhaps I should have asked my doctor for one.
If one shot could have prevented all of this misery, it would have been worth it. This summer when I’m all better, I’m going to be the most enthusiastic vaccination recipient my doctor has ever seen. Yes, please, bring on the jab!
Jennifer Bardsley is author of the books “Genesis Girl” and “Damaged Goods.” Find her online on Instagram @the_ya_gal, on Twitter @jennbardsley or on Facebook as The YA Gal.