SMA Episode V: The Pneumonia Strikes Back
Another bout of pneumonia lands this columnist in the hospital
“Pneumonia! It’s been a few years. How’ve you been? Sorry to be blunt, but I’d rather you not stick around for too long since you’re a real pain in the butt.”
Fortunately, my most recent encounter with my old acquaintance was relatively brief. I spent one night at the hospital this time before going home with antibiotics and a treatment plan. It’s a vast improvement from my last quarrel with pneumonia, when I spent three days hospitalized and two weeks recovering.
This particular stint began on the most manic of Monday mornings. I woke up heavily congested and coughing up large swaths of phlegm. A week before, I’d just recovered from a nasty stomach virus. After several days of vomiting and diarrhea, I thought I was done with illnesses for the time being. I was especially eager to be healthy as I was supposed to go on a work trip to New York City that week.
Alas, that cursed pneumonia fellow put a wrench in my plans.
Once I started feeling unwell, I did treatments with my vest airway clearance system and took an at-home COVID-19 test. The test was negative, and I’d hoped it was just a mild cold. I canceled my trip, but I was still trying to make a quick recovery. Also, my mom was out of the country on vacation, and my dad and I were hoping to avoid a trip to the hospital while she was away.
Pneumonia then hovered over me with a sadistic grin, making an art form out of taunting me. Two days after my initial symptoms appeared, I spiked a fever and felt my energy levels collapse. I told my dad to pack the van and get ready for a venture to the emergency room.
Discharge and recovery
On the plus side, managing hospital visits is one of my skills as a lifelong disabled person. I know how to advocate for myself, ask medical professionals the right questions, and expect long waits and delays. The day at the ER consisted of multiple tests, consultations with different doctors, IV antibiotics, and an abundant lack of sleep once I was admitted. No surprises there.
In addition to getting tested for viral infections such as the flu and COVID-19, I had chest X-rays to test for bacterial infections. Thankfully, the medical team let me stay in my chair for this. I instructed them on how to remove my JACO robotic arm and position my upper body for the pictures. Again, self-advocacy and communication are my strong suits.
The viral tests came back negative, but the X-rays showed some buildup in my chest. It hadn’t spread to any organs, but it could have if left untreated. The doctor then prescribed me three different IV antibiotics and planned to admit me for at least a night. I agreed with this strategy and saddled in for an evening of needles and hospital food.
My fever broke the following morning. The antibiotics kicked in quickly, and I consulted with another doctor after breakfast. We both agreed that the best course of action was to go home with pill antibiotics and do my vest and cough assist treatments. This doctor discharged me at noon that day, and I devoted myself to rest and recovery once I got home. For the next few days, I spent hours doing treatments, avoided work, and yearned to wake up without having to blast green and yellow slime from my chest.
It took a few days, but eventually, I stopped filling the bathroom sink and cups with phlegm. A new week arrived, and I felt human again.
No sickness is ever fun or welcome, but it’s a part of living with SMA. To make a “Star Wars” comparison, this bout of pneumonia wasn’t as brutal or intimidating as the AT-AT monstrosities in “The Empire Strikes Back,” but more like the tiny replicas in “Return of the Jedi.” Nonetheless, I have no desire to encounter this troublesome acquaintance ever again.
Note: SMA News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of SMA News Today or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to spinal muscular atrophy.