A dose of reality makes tough medicine a decade later

Jan 20 2013 - 9:28am


I wish I could apologize to my mom about now.

Mom died almost exactly 10 years ago of what I've got: pneumonia in lungs that were already compromised.

I inherited mom's asthmatic lungs, and my dad smoking at home when I was a child probably didn't help. Despite massive advances in modern medicine, my current adventures remind me that my lungs will haunt me to the end.

Pneumonia is mean. My Merck Manual of Geriatrics refers to it as "the old man's friend." If this is a friend, I don't need enemies.

Friends have a way of showing up uninvited.

When my brother found mom collapsed, semiconscious, he could have, we now know, just put her back to bed and let her go. The pneumonia would have finished its job quietly. In retrospect, we often think that would have been the smart thing.

But you don't do that.

You find your active 87-year-old mom collapsed, you call 911. You take her to the hospital, plug in the tubes and wires, give her drugs and say stupid stuff like, "Remember, Mom, you need to cough."

She fights. Oh, how she fights. For three horrible months, doing everything every doctor tells her to do.

And still dies.

I had no idea then how much physical work pneumonia is. Like most Americans, I figured you shoot someone with it full of antibiotics, kill the infection, they're done.

I actually said that to the nurse in the emergency room as she finished my first IV of antibiotic. "I'm cured, right? I can get up and run home?"

She laughed, no doubt thinking "... idiots who watch too much TV!"

I staggered to the car. I spent a week in a recliner, unable to do anything but stare out the front window. Between coughing and pain worse than a broken rib, I didn't have the energy to be bored.

Which is where my apology to mom, and my brother, come in.

Paul lived near mom and got stuck with the caregiver job. I enjoyed distance and suffered from some severe "she's had her meds, she's getting better, all is good!" denial.

But she wasn't. It was wearing her down. Wearing Paul down, too. God bless caregivers. I pray for their strength.

Today I am a 63-year-old cyclist who rides 50 miles a week, or more, in good weather, and this stuff has kicked my butt. I am told healing will take another month, if then.

Meanwhile, I come to work, sit and type and try to look intelligent, but usually after lunch I'll sneak out back and take a nap.

Constant coughing, plus my body's furious efforts to heal, have taken off 10 pounds and left me sore. Lungs, I learn, take a long time to clear out and heal.

Sadly, despite all that ab work, no six-pack. Apparently it doesn't work that way, darn it.

Do this to someone in their 80s?

Mom was strong. I didn't appreciate then how hard she fought. My brother knew because he saw it daily, but I pretended too much.

No pretending now. I know.

If you get it, be patient, don't push. If someone you loves get it, help all you can.

It will be a long pull, you'll all fight hard and even then, maybe, you won't win. Pneumonia fatality rates are depressing. It just got Gen. "Stormin' " Norman Schwarzkopf.

I will beat this, but I am told some friends, like bad pennies, have a way of coming back.

How to keep him away?

"Get the pneumonia vaccination," all my friends tell me.

Wasatch Rambler is the opinion of Charles Trentelman. You can contact him at 801-625-4232 or email him at ctrentelman@standard.net. He also blogs at www.standard.net.

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