Pneumonia, Body and Mind

Two days ago, I was lying on a stretcher in a brightly lit and far-too-cool doctor’s office in Malaysia with an IV sticking into my right wrist. Antibiotics flowed from a bag above, down a long plastic tube, and into my veins. An old copy of National Geographic rested precariously in my one useable hand. I was reading an article about the claims various nations were making to territories in the South China Sea – the part of the world in which I happened to be located.

The article detailed the author’s travels through the area while he attempted to gauge the attitudes of those who will be affected by the conflicting claims on the region. At one point, he described his experience hitching a ride with a cargo ship and learning along the way of the risks of piracy in these waters. At that point, he stated something along these lines: ‘The romantic fabric of travelling sometimes does not stretch far enough to cover up the realities of what you are facing.’ I am paraphrasing, but that was the gist of his point. This point forced a deep sigh of understanding from my enfeebled lungs.

Tonight, I find those words resonating with me still. Soon, I will take four different kinds of pills, a sachet of dissolvable powder, and two teaspoons of cough syrup. After that, I will hook myself up to a machine that will pump medicine into my lungs. If I don’t, I may not be able to breath properly. Such is pneumonia.

A fever came suddenly three weeks ago. One minute I was running an errand and feeling a little sluggish, two hours later, I was in bed, hoping the sheets would not reach their flashpoint from the heat I was radiating. With the classic run-over-by-a-bus flu feeling, I lay in bed for a couple days, completely useless.

On about the third day, I woke to find myself in a puddle. No, it was not a nightmare that had forced me to regress and wet the bed. Instead, it was the fever breaking (or so I thought). Sweat had poured from every pore and left a darkened outline on the bed. The scene resembled a filled-in chalk outline of a corpse. After finding some replacement sheets, I went back to bed and soaked those as well.

The night’s perspirations brought optimism in the morning. ‘One more doctor’s office dodged,’ I thought since I felt well enough to actually step outside into the city. In comparison with the previous day, I felt like a marathon runner, but in reality, I was still quite under the weather. But optimism prevailed and I carried on as though delivering a clean bill of health to myself was a perfectly normal and medically-acceptable practice.

That’s when the cough started. First, a tickle. Then a wheeze or two. Then, a doubled-over, throat and lung spasm that left me whimpering after each attack. Oh yeah, and the fever and aches came back too.

When this worsened condition of mine persisted, I relented and went to the doctor. My determination that I could fix anything that was wrong with me had failed. My fears of doctors sticking sharp objects into me were pushed aside by my slightly greater fear that there was something genuinely wrong with me.

And indeed there was. My worried doctor pronounced right away that he thought I might have a minor case of pneumonia. Soon, those fears of mine of doctors sticking sharp things into me became true. My first experience with an IV had me grimacing the whole way thorough.

The clinic I visited was recommended to me by all the expats I had met so far here in Malaysia. Foreign patients are their specialty. This place has become my home away from hotel. The good doctors there have been slowly filling me with small puncture holes and with medicine. I have shown signs of improvement which gives rise to optimism, but still, I believe I have hit a temporary travel limit.

The mind’s connection with the body is obviously such that changes to your body affect changes to your mind. Do enough nasty things to your body and some of that abuse is likely to manifest itself in your thought patterns.

Where once an extended conversation with a charming cab driver about his indomitable passion for karaoke would have had me grinning the whole day, now that conversation is somewhat one-sided because I have to cough and wheeze my way through it. Where once the kids at the markets playing with their toys would have found a new playmate in me, I pass by because I’m on my way back to the hotel to sleep. Where once a sunset would captivate me and send me trotting off to find the best angle to photograph it, I can only watch from my hotel window because I don’t have the energy to haul my gear to a good vantage point.

This miserable attitude has no place in my luggage. I would much rather my spirit be lifted by all of the extraordinary experiences of travel, but when your body doesn’t enjoy the journey, your mind tends to follow along.

With that knowledge in mind, I am doing everything I can to heal this body of mine and with it, my attitude.

And soon, I will be heading home. After more than 13 months of being separated from my family and friends, we will be reunited. My head will rest on a familiar pillow and my lungs will breathe their native air. I have my fingers crossed that the air of my home will trigger a memory of health in my lungs and they will once again function normally. Barring that, I will rest.

I will rest knowing that all of this will soon just be another adventure tale to tell. I will sleep with the knowledge that as my body heals, so will my head. And after my convalescence is complete, I will wake up with itchy feet, wondering where I should go next.

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