I hated spirometers. I'd hated them since four years prior when an eight-hour surgery led to fluid collection on my left lung. Every hour I was to suck deeply on the spirometer's mouthpiece for ten breaths, which measured my total lung capacity and tore at the limits of my swollen belly stitched together along the length of a fifteen-inch incision that traced the curves of my rib cage. Every hour I complained bitterly. Every hour my father told me to—rather appropriately—suck it up. I challenged him he could only continue to admonish me if he knew exactly what he was talking about and demanded that he perform the requisite ten breaths. A healthy lot, he consented, only going slightly cross-eyed and light-headed after the seventh or so breath. "That's hard," he said. "I know," I replied. We agreed to play spirometer gin—loser had to take ten breaths. Unfortunately, he was better at cards than me.
Back in the hospital for a nephrectomy and once again with juicy lungs, the spirometer again became my nemesis. I could feel the wetness and hear the telltale rattle. I tried to cough but was unable to get much force behind it unless my belly was braced with a pillow, making it a two-person job. My husband held the pillow while I hacked and horked as much as possible into a wad of tissues. The sputum was pink.
Eyes wide, I held out my hands offering the spattered tissues up as some kind of horrible prize. "Is that blood?" my husband asked. Terrified, I rang for the nurse. "Yes, may I help you?" asked the voice over the intercom. "I'm coughing up blood," I stated, my voice about an octave higher than normal. The nurse hurried in, looked at the tissues, and within moments a portable x-ray machine was perched over my bed, films shoved behind my back for exposure. The two technicians skuttled off with their machine and their images. The husband and I blinked nervously. The nurse appeared in the doorway. "Wait a minute. Didn't you eat a cherry popsicle an hour ago?" she asked. My face was blank. "Oh my gosh," I said. "Oh my gosh. Yes, I did. I am so sorry." Thankfully the nurse smiled, she appeared relieved rather than angry. "I'm so glad you thought of that," I said. Who knows what we would have thought had I eaten a grape one.
Last week the month's extensive travel gave way to exhaustion immediately upon arriving home from the airport on Thursday. I slept solid until Saturday, joined my parents for pizza, and returned home to bed. Sunday brought a 102 degree fever with chills and chest congestion. Nevertheless, I failed to think it was much more than my run of the mill cold progression. I thought that surely I could hork out the brown and green evil that was in my lungs on my own. By Tuesday afternoon, I called my GP's office and left a miserable sounding message asking for advice. My doctor's assistant called back, took some more information, consulted with the doctor, and recommended I go to urgent care or the ER for a chest xray.
It was sound advice that I didn't follow for another two days. To go would have meant a) leaving the house, b) choosing between the local urgent care in which I had only the mildest confidence or the region's major ER twenty minutes away, c) most likely getting a prescription for antibiotics, which I didn't want after having been on four courses in the past month already, or d) an expensive and time-consuming admission. Truthfully, none of my "logic" bore merit, and despite coughing up yellow sputum laced with red—I'd been drinking Crystal Light I said—I waited until I was exhausted and gasping for breath upon just the slightest exertion to go to urgent care. They took a chest xray. It revealed pneumonia of the right lower lobe.
I'm back on antibiotics—and will be for the next eight days. My body is sore from coughing, and I wheeze like a kazoo. They say that even healthy people may feel a general malaise for up to a month, and so for now, I'm doing what I can to hold our home's large pieces of furniture in place by lying motionless on them for hours. The cats think this is fantastic. My spirometer is in the hall closet. Perhaps I should go use it.