Andy's Pneumonia Story: More Than Just a Cold

November 15, 2020

What I thought was just a cold became a severe life-threatening infection with long-term consequences.

It all started with some shortness of breath and phlegm. My thought at the time was, ‘it's just a cold,’ and ‘time will heal.’ I had been dealing with a number of other issues at the time: lymphoplasmatic lymphoma, and nerve issues stemming from neuropathy. I was used to things being a bit off with my body. But when the symptoms progressed and I was no longer able to sleep comfortably through the night, a nagging voice told me something was wrong.

I addressed the ongoing respiratory issues with my specialist doctor at the time, twice. The first appointment the doctor assessed the breathing issues as nothing serious and said that they would pass with time. So I returned home with some solace. However, the symptoms continued. After waiting for natural relief and trying to ignore the realities of my own increasing pain, I returned to my health provider. At the second visit, I once again voiced my concern at the persistent and increasing symptoms. Once more, I was told to rest and prop myself up with more pillows to ease the breathing difficulties.

From there on, the symptoms became insidious. Moving around my apartment slowly became enough of a burden that I was consciously deciding whether or not each trip was worth doing. When even the simplest of movements become difficult, I kept asking myself, ‘is this real, normal or the way this life should feel?’ At the same time, I was in denial after multiple reassurances from my doctor. But I continued to spiral. My breathing became difficult and laboured. My daughter insisted it was time to get me to the hospital.

My gradual decline was deceiving in its severity - with fluid in my lungs my heart was extremely close to shutting down. I ended up in the ICU for days. It was difficult to gauge time while lying in a darkened state in intensive care, connected to intravenous support for food and hydration as well as the regiment of drugs to rid me of this life threatening infection.

I was oblivious to the fact that my life was in an extremely perilous situation. I remained hospitalized for the next three weeks. The cursed retreat was a blur of blood draws, physiotherapy and wishes that the food they were serving was closer to what is really required for healing, ironically.

Recovery post-discharge was longer still, lasting for months. Physically, it has taken its toll and years later I still have never fully recovered. I never for a moment thought my life at 66 years would be so loaded down with the chronic complicated health issues I live with today.

Surviving pneumonia brought into focus for me the fragility of life, something I took for granted before this experience. Confusing the symptoms with my existing chronic conditions and valuing my doctor’s assertion that they would clear up on their own caused me to overlook and ignore my growing concerns about the seriousness of what I was dealing with. Live and learn, and trust your own instincts. There are no stupid questions and never too many second opinions when it comes to your health.

My advice for others is to not be too stubborn about asking those around you for help when you are in need, for your own sake and for the sake of those who love and care about you. And if you think those people don't exist, take a deep breath and think again.

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First Nations land acknowledegement

Action on Sepsis operates on the traditional, ancestral, and unceded territory of the Coast Salish peoples — xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish), and Səl̓ílwətaʔ/Selilwitulh (Tsleil-Waututh) Nations. We invite everyone to reflect on the traditional territories and land that they currently work and live on.

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