Sunday, June 09, 2013

I have a cold

I have a cold.

Until today, it’s been a bit different than most of the colds that I’ve had. Usually, my colds start with a runny nose, dripping into the back of my throat, which gives me a sore throat. Then, the infection migrates down, and I develop either bronchitis or pneumonia.

This cold has had very little moisture. Instead, my sinuses are inflamed and swollen, making it hard to breathe. The inflammation reaches down to the top of my throat, but there is very little dripping and the infection has not migrated down. I occasionally sneeze or couch, but it is more from the irritation of the inflammation rather than mucus tickling my throat or lungs.

I have had pneumonia, or at least bronchitis, almost every year since I was three years old. I can tell when I’m getting an infection in my lungs or bronchial tubes; I can taste it. I experience a particular flavor when I’m getting a bad cold that I never experience at any other time.

I remember when I was a kid, my eldest sister would first get strep throat and then I would get pneumonia. Of course, we don’t live together any more, but I do sometimes wonder when I get a cold whether she’s been sick recently.

I relish getting sick. It seems to me like a vacation from having to worry about everyday concerns. I’ve had conversations with several friends about this and they’ve said they don’t feel this way about getting sick. I suppose my Mom lead me to have this attitude; when I got sick as a kid, she took care of all of my responsibilities and let me focus on recuperating.

When I have a cold, I use several tricks to minimize the discomfort. When I have a tickle in my chest that makes me cough, I breathe carefully so I don’t move my lungs through the point at which the tickle makes me cough. If the tickle is deep in my lungs, I may breathe shallowly. If the tickle is higher in my chest, I may breathe using only the deep part of my normal breathing cycle. I also find that sometimes the position of my body affects my coughing. It’s as if my body or organs press on my lungs and stimulate the tickle. I roll over and when I find a position in which the tickle isn’t noticeable, I lay very still.

The most uncomfortable part is when I’ve been coughing so strenuously for so many days that my diaphragm muscles are sore. Coughing becomes painful. When that happens, I try very hard to avoid coughing. It’s unpleasant.

The first time I got pneumonia, it was quite severe and I was hospitalized. It happened when I was about 3 years old and my first memory is of that time. I remember I was in an oxygen tent which was a plastic cube, about 3 or 4 feet on a side, draped over the bed. I remember my parents gave me a wooden jigsaw puzzle with handles on the pieces. These memories have always been very interesting to me, I suppose because it was a traumatic incident in my life.

Recently however, I’ve realized something else about them that I find even more interesting: the incident happened before I knew how to read and write. Although I clearly remember the oxygen tent and the jigsaw puzzle, and I know I knew what they were called, unlike memories from my more adult life, I have no inclination to picture the object’s names as written words. In fact, as I was considering writing this essay, I found myself struggling to connect the English words with the memories. I realized it felt quite uncomfortable to think about writing words to describe the memories because it might distort the memories so they were no longer free and unadulterated by associations with knowledge of written language.

One more thing, in my memory, the jigsaw puzzle was new. I don’t remember it being something I had had at home.  It occurred to me this week, I wonder if my folks bought it in a hospital gift shop.

Sunday, June 02, 2013