I don’t have coronavirus. I can only imagine how it feels, but I do know what lung issues feel like.
It’s not the first rodeo. I’m susceptible. Asthma as a kid, multiple respiratory infections over a life time, two cases of pneumonia, and almost annual cases of bronchitis make an unwanted, dreaded knowledge base of experience.
It starts as a tickle. A little irritation, like a little bug gently trots across the trachea.
The tickle soon turns into an avalanche of dry heaves as the lungs begin to tell the tale of problems to be.
The next day the tickle becomes a rattle in the chest. Each breath may, depending on unknown factors with unpredictable causes, create a series of chest convulsions straining to cough out an internal, hidden enemy lurking in the lungs.
The wheezing sounds more like a death rattle when you lay down at night. The sound of air trying to work its way down deep into the lungs to provide life to the body is disconcerting, at best. The air is blocked and each wheeze, every rattle, is auditory proof to the ears of what the lungs already feel and the mind already knows.
You can’t breathe, but when you manage to catch a breath, the enemy within reacts to punish the host by causing deep, horrific, bursts of air from the lungs.
No matter whether you stand, sit, bend over, nothing is ever quite good enough to rid the lungs of the thick, sticky infection stuck in little air tubes throughout the lungs.
It feels like super glue is creeping up the lungs, permanently bonding each tiny tube that should allow for the exchange of life-giving air for the body. Instead, wet cement sludge clogs airways.
An impending doom of drowning in mucous takes over. A short walk to the restroom becomes exhausting.
Sitting in a chair to try to keep as much air in the lungs open as possible is met with sporadic coughing fits that burst into a series of convulsive explosions trying to erupt death from the lungs like a volcano exploding lava from deep inside the earth.
You know what it feels like to suffocate. It’s slow, systematic, stifling. The breath of life entering the lungs is not enough.
Medicine gives a small measure of relief, but heaven help if you fall asleep in any other than the perfect sitting up position. Otherwise, you wake up and someone, something is strangling you, not with hands around the neck, but tight grasps on each lung squeezing, turning, wrenching the lung in pain where the finger prints of Dr. Death dig into the soft, non-functioning lobes of the lungs.
Sleep doesn’t come. And when it does, the panic of waking without air forces the brain to stay somewhere between awake and sleep, hung between conscientious and unsurrendering mindlessness.
The body fights off potential death while the mind dies a thousand times over. You feel, you know, you understand the loss of life as you slowly drown in phlegm.
In the still of night, a documentary of Pearl Harbor bursts into the mind’s replay mode. You remember, and experience, the feeling of men trapped inside a capsized ship. They clang metal on metal to let those above in fresh air know that they are there, alive, needing to be freed before they suffocate or drown.
The horror of the story re-emerges, for even after two weeks, faint tapping was still heard in places where men above could not get to them before the tapping eventually forever stopped.
Every movie where someone drowns in the ocean, someone suffocates in a collapsed coal mine, someone is tortured by water boarding….it all comes across the mind like a ticker tape as the chest battles lung lock, and oxygen levels slowly decrease with every slow, painful, methodical hour.
Imagination doesn’t get the best of you, for you know, not imagine, what it feels like to drown as the body fights to rid itself of the thick, mucous death.
Chest x-rays show the beginnings of pneumonia, which would be the third time. A new, more powerful dose of anti-biotics, steroids, hydro codeine cough syrup, netty pot, diffuser with essential oils, high doses of vitamins, anything, everything, to help defeat the enemy within.
Two weeks of misery. Then, as if by chance, the cough slightly recedes. Slowly, very slowly but surely, high tide in the lungs begins to move to low tide. Maybe, just maybe, there can be a day of drought again where both lungs function without thought.
Maybe a day will return where every breath, of every day, is not labored and painful, but free flowing, easy, and quite possibly, a day or two will go by where the mind will never even think, not even once, about breathing because it is so natural, smooth and normal.
Today, however, is not that day. High tide continues to recede and maybe next week, next month, all will be healed and back to normal. Maybe each breath will once again be easy and life-giving oxygen will flow into the lungs without wheezing, coughing or pain.
Today, just grab a breath and breathe, even if not deeply, breathe.
Air, sweet, sweet air.
Breathe. Just breathe.