Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Literary Loses to Lousy Lungs

I was supposed to be at the Poetic Principles reading at the Virginia Museum tonight. A literary-loving friend was going with me so that we could be read to by writer Randall Kenan, followed by dinner out. I've had my ticket since October and I was eager to hear this man whose fiction focuses on what it means to be black and gay in the U.S. South.

Instead, I was lying in a hospital bed, taking breathing treatments and steroids yet again. Only three days from the one-year anniversary of my 2009 diagnosis of pneumonia and I was back to coughing and wheezing. Only this time, instead of soldiering on, I went to the Emergency Room at MVC where I was told that I did not have pneumonia (whew!), but that my lungs "sounded like crap." Yes, those were the doctor's actual words. WTF?

Returning from my chest X-ray, I smiled at the man in the bed on the other side of my curtain. After my next coughing fit, he asked through the drape if I was okay, which led to a fascinating, but blind conversation. As it turned out he was a "Sir," born in Wales to a British father and Australian mother and since his grandfather had been knighted in 1935, that carried over to him and his oldest son. The things you learn through a hospital drape!

After a couple of breathing treatments, I was reluctantly moved to the CDU (Clinical Decision Unit), aka the Observation Room. I was determined not to be admitted and only agreed to four to six hours there. After my third breathing treatment, I was exhausted and requested food STAT. What I got was penne in a red meat sauce with a side of the kind of gray green beans the color of Army drab uniforms. I'm no fan of tomato sauce, but I ate all the pasta dish, although the beans remained untouched. Luckily the meal had a hefty junk food component (individually sized packages of Oreos, Cheese Nibs, Lorna Doon short breads and Ritz Peanut Butter crackers with a Schweppe's Ginger Ale to wash all those preservatives down) to flesh out the meal.

When I had arrived eight hours earlier, my lung capacity was at a pathetic 140 (optimum is 450) and rose to 220 when I got to CDU, but I wasn't allowed to leave until I got to 300. After my fourth treatment and once the steroids kicked in, I finally made it to 350 and was stripped of my IV and given prescriptions for more drugs than I can afford.

The entire staff was aware that I had one foot out the door, having been told by the ER staff that I was not willing to stay overnight. They praised my response to treatment, told me to avoid smokey places and smokers and walked me to the door.

I'm gratified and appreciative to feel better, if not normal, but totally bummed that I missed a literary evening of Randall Kenan. I wanted to hear him read from works with evocative sentences like this in his southern-raised voice:

They say that day the sun shone while the rain poured -the old folks say that's when the devil beats his wife- the day Estelle Pickett died giving birth to Clarence.

Damn these lungs!


  1. I love how even in the hospital, you write a food review! Glad you are doing better.

  2. As a person with Asthma, I can relate to having crappy lungs, and am glad to hear it worked out okay for you, despite the many hours at the hospital.

  3. A- AND had a totally random conversation with a strange man. Eating and randomness = my life!

    H- I almost feel like these episodes would be more understandable if I DID have asthma. Thanks for your empathy.

  4. How does this happen to you? I am wondering if walking in the freezing weather, breathing in cold air could be damaging your lungs? I know you stay away from smokey bars and get plenty of sleep.
    Have the Dr's been able to give you an idea why this is happening again? I am sorry you missed your reading tonight. Please take good care of you!

  5. I'm sure it has to do with being allergic to practicaly everything, so I have to walk to maintain the best possible lung capacity or it'd take forever to recover.

    And I have to admit I'm not nearly as good about sleep as I used to be. Thanks for your concern.

  6. I'm so glad you went to the hospital...not a minute too soon according to the numbers.

    no declining...

    only reclining will be allowed!