The lost art of convalescence: 6 things I did while I had pneumonia

con·va·les·cence /känvəˈlesəns/ noun: time spent recovering from an illness or medical treatment

Glass Beach 2

 

Every January in Austin, I and thousands of others wage war against the cedar pollen that explodes across central Texas. This year I armed myself against these nasty nostril and lung invaders with a regimen of Claritin and Flonase that began in early December. But the medicines were no match for the record-breaking spewing of pollen these vile trees perpetrated against my fair city and her citizens. By January 9, the mild spring-like weather had generated a yellow-orange cloud over Austin that had me choking and wishing someone would set fire to every single Juniperus ashei in sight.

A few days later, I found myself in urgent care getting a chest x-ray and confirmation that I had pneumonia. I now understand what the big deal is about the illness. I thought the flu was bad, but pneumonia is in a league all its own. The fever, chest pain, cough, and weakness are unlike any illness I’ve ever had, and I can’t even talk about the strange grunting sounds one makes while trying to sleep. Antibiotics came to the rescue, and a week later I was on the road to recovery. And that is one of the biggest problems of our modern world.

Antibiotics are amazing because they cure the infection, but they also make us feel like we are better and can return to our normal lives. The doctor warned me that a bout with pneumonia is different, and it can take weeks for the lungs to heal and the immune system to recover after the initial infection has cleared. I took this to heart and lay low for two weeks before resuming my normal schedule. It wasn’t enough. I relapsed, and this time, the doctor put me on bed rest. I prefer the old-fashion term: convalescence. She insisted I needed the time and space to rest, to treat myself gently, to avoid people with germs, and to recover thoroughly long after the antibiotics had done their part. My boss was 100% supportive, so I let go of the guilt of taking the time off and hit pause to honor what my body and my doctor were asking me to do.

Being still, letting go, listening to my body – convalescing – was healing and restorative. It wasn’t boring; in fact, the time flew by. I feel like I’m more immune now than before, stronger than before even though I’m still quite weak, and more in tune with my body than before. Convalescing properly was an important lesson I learned, so I’d like to share my top tips for being great at it if you, heaven forbid, fall ill, or just need a respite.

  1. Sleep when you’re tired and eat when you’re hungry. I would go into a deep sleep early, around 8:30 pm – sometimes earlier – until the sun came up, and I would also take long afternoon naps.This benefited me more than anything. I didn’t even get up to let the dog out at her normal 6 am time. I ate a lot of oranges, broccoli, carrots, pears, raspberries, tomatoes, and soup. My body hungered for green, orange, and red fresh foods. It also wanted lots of yogurts, to keep the good bacteria from being annihilated by the antibiotics.
  2. Weather permitting, get your vitamin D. The sunny spring-like weather continued in Austin in February, so I would wrap myself in a blanket and sit outside on the deck of my backyard, my face toward the sun, sipping tea. It made me feel like I was living in an earlier time when illnesses like pneumonia were treated with the respect they deserve. I would stroll around my yard feeling very 19th century-ish.
  3. Let others do things for you. This one is hard for me because I’m so independent, but I had to accept the role reversal and let others help me. Loved ones did my grocery shopping and errands, my daughter took care of all the dog’s needs and learned to do some light cooking, and friends drove my daughter to and from school and theater workshop rehearsals. It was liberating to be relieved of so many responsibilities.
  4. Watch lots of good movies. I watched many movies I had saved to my iTunes wish list. From 2003’s tragic and haunting House of Sand and Fog with Ben Kingsley and Jennifer Connelly to all three of Iranian director Asghar Farhadi’s latest films (About Elly, A Separation, The Past – who knew Iranian cinema was so good?) to finally seeing Al Pacino return to being the great actor he is for Danny Collins to weeping at the predictable triumphant ending of Disney’s sports drama McFarland USA. But I was really disappointed in French film Amelie, a movie about which I had heard great things but that I found trite and ridiculous. Amelie is a stalker and she’s creepy, not cute and charming.
  5. Read. I read business books (Deep Work by Cal Newport was my favorite), my prayer book, a mystery (Sue Grafton’s X), a delicious bestseller (Lianne Moriarty’s The Husband’s Secret), Laura Hillenbrand’s historical and biographical Seabiscuit, and articles on Content Marketing Institute, 99u, Houzz, and Harvard Business Review. I wasn’t able to read until the worst part of the illness was over as it was too tiring to concentrate, but once I felt a little better, I was grateful for the time to enjoy my reading list.
  6.  Thank your dog. They know you’re sick. My dog wouldn’t leave my side during the day, watching over me like a mother whose child is in the hospital. She happily let my daughter take her on her daily walk, asked to go outside only when she really needed to, and kept vigil downstairs at night.

While convalescence may seem like a bygone concept, it shouldn’t be. While it would have been nice to do my convalescence the 19th century way in a cottage by the sea, strolling along a glass beach, I am grateful for the time I had to recover at home, with so much support and encouragement from my family and friends, doctor, employer, and colleagues. I’ve had to cut back from my normal routine, and I will say “no” to a lot of things for the next couple of months, but it’s great to be breathing again and letting go of self-imposed “shoulds” and feeling like a slacker for taking the time to properly recover.

What about you? Have you ever had a period of convalescence? What did you do and what did you learn?

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