5 Lessons From Pneumonia

banner-pneumoniaI’ve not been around for a while. Nearly four weeks now. Only now am I starting to stick my head above the water from the metaphorical ocean of sickness I have been drowning in. I was so sick I couldn’t look at computer, phone or tv screens for the majority of it. Meaning no contact with the web and absolute boredom.

As with most people, I’m not a fan of being ill. I’d say on average, I get a small bug every season or so. Usually nothing that keeps me down for more than a few days before swinging back into action. It’s probably good for my system to stop like this every now and again. But it happens very rarely. Although this wasn’t always true – in fact, in school I’d be sick as much as possible. Usually on PE days. And on the days I had to go into PE, I’d refuse to exert any energy. I’d calmly explain to the teachers that by carrying out exercise, I would be using up valuable food energy which would need to be replaced thereafter. I’d finally close the argument with an offer to participate if the teacher was willing to pay my food bills to refuel myself. I don’t think PE teachers appreciated me much. Which is fine, because I wasn’t a massive fan of them either. I digress. Back to point, I don’t get ill much these days.

So to be hit with something a bit more serious without warning took me by surprise. And it was clearly something more serious than a flu bug when I couldn’t face food or watch a screen. I didn’t even want McDonalds. Something was wrong. Elements of fever, flu, cough chills and dizziness all resulted to me being unable to get out of bed, much less get back to work. With plenty of symptoms, doctors appointments and doctor phone calls, two and half weeks into the worst sickness I’ve experienced in my life, I finally got a diagnosis of pneumonia. I realise a lot of people go through a lot worse and I by no means wish to belittle anything else or exaggerate my story. In some ways, if this is the worse sickness I’ve ever had then perhaps I can count myself blessed? That said, this is still the worst sickness I have ever had and it caused me to learn a few things along the way. And what kind of a blogger would I be if I didn’t write them down (the kind of blogger than hasn’t posted anything in two months…).

Lesson 1 – My Instincts
Projectile vomiting at 5am into a bucket can bring a sense of perspective, especially when it comes regular for four weeks. It’s that moment before the vomiting where the classic fight-or-flight instinct kicks in. If it were ever in question, these few weeks have certainly clarified for me what my instincts are. Unquestionably, undoubtedly and without hesitation flight. From 4am to 4:30am, I sat in bed convincing myself I didn’t need to throw up. Starting with the restless turning, transitioning into the sitting up taking deep breaths and finally sitting on the end of the bed whispering “no… no… no… no…” until 5am before the inevitable finally happened.

The truth is, you can give up trying to feel better but it doesn’t matter. You’re still ill and you still have to go through it. Or you still have to go throw it up.

My instinct to flee at the first sign of trouble goes beyond throwing up though. I think in difficult situations (especially social ones), if there were sand around I would sooner literally dig my head in the sand than deal with the situation. But if this little adventure has taught me anything on my instincts, it’s this: the inevitable is inevitable. You can’t run forever. Unless you’re Mo Farrah. Although based on his veggie diet and beanpole physique, I’m amazed he can move it all. Perhaps it’s just the wind blowing him along.

Lesson 2 – Stuff Doesn’t Make You Feel Better
The first week I was ill was absolutely the worst. The latter three have hardly been fun, but the first was practically unbearable. It also just so happened to co-inside with my once-every-two-years iPhone upgrade. So each day until the Friday of that week, I would wake up feeling rough and remind myself: new iPhone in a few days! Well the Friday came, the iPhone 6s arrived and it was fantastic. I’m sure I’ll write another blog about it sometime about the phone. But even something that I am highly interested in (and frankly, now love) didn’t make me feel better. I couldn’t enjoy it and it was an anticlimax to the end of the week.

True of the rest of my life. Often my go-to response is stuff. I love shopping. That makes me a little feminine perhaps, but I get a real kick out of buying stuff. But this whole experience has just shown me – it’s all just stuff. And even the coolest gadget on earth can’t have any actual effect on how you feel and/or who you are.

Lesson 3 – Family in invaluable
The things that I value, I now REALLY value. And most specifically my family. Before a non-contagious diagnosis, I was scared to play with my daughter. Scared to cuddle her. It was horrible. The pain of basically not seeing her for a couple of weeks made me crave her cuddles and smiles. But that’s just the start.

For four weeks, my wife managed to take on the load of being a mum, working her job, working my job, taking care of me, taking care of the dog and in the five minutes left over – take care of herself. She has been my rock through it all, keeping me going and generally being my super hero (Captain Marvel, I’m thinking). I cannot tell you how much more I appreciate and love this woman.

My extended family. Mum and Dad have been amazing, along with Becky’s parents. They’ve stepped in helped non-stop too. And to top it off, my spiritual family who’ve supplied food and support along the way too.

All in all, a massive thanks to everyone who’s lent a hand. Because…

Lesson 4 – I had to let it go
Cue the Disney number. Seriously though, the truth is, I like to stay in control of things. My business, walking my dog, keeping up to date with emails and texts. But when something like this hits you – you just can’t. It wasn’t a case of being hindered, it was a case of being stopped. And in that moment of helplessness there is nothing you can do but let everything go. And that’s what I had to do.

As I said, I was so thankful for my wife and family who stepped up and helped more than I could imagine, but at the same time it was horrible sitting around helpless while they did everything I would normally do. I felt like an old man, unable to even put his socks on. But when I’m fully better, I’m going to be more than I ever could. Watching the amount my wife had to do has only inspired me to do more. Slowly, of course. But now I’ll actually appreciate the jobs I have to do – how crazy is that?

Lesson 5 – Doctors Need Your Help
Look, my wife had a baby last year and Worthing Hospital were fantastic. The NHS at its best. Nurses, Doctors and everyone in-between outdid themselves. I have huge respect for all NHS workers. But I really struggle with one element of the British health system. And its this: Doctor Surgeries. I went to my surgery three times and spoke on the phone four times before they’d even take me seriously. The first doctor prescribed me a cough mixture that had about as much potency as a glass of orange juice. While the second give me something a little stronger, it wasn’t until my third visit that I finally saw a doctor who knew what she was talking about and finally realised I had pneumonia. I think she was shocked that the others hadn’t realised. Most patients with pneumonia are hospitalised, but instead I’d been shrugged off with a cough mixture. So that’s 1/3 doctors at my surgery that knew what they were talking about.

Like I say, I’m sure they all work really hard – but pneumonia is a pretty obvious case. And I’m not thrilled that they missed it. I mean my wife and several other people had suggested the diagnosis before any of the other doctors. Some of whom had less FaceTime with me than the doctors did. Mind you, I didn’t have high hopes for the doctors there anyway. From previous visits with other conditions, doctors from my surgery had genuinely Googled my symptoms to diagnose me.

So all in all. I think if you’re really ill, it might help to Google your symptoms before going to the doctors and telling them what you think you have. That way at least they have a starting point. Saves you having to buy a bunch of prescriptions for watered down cough medicine.