Pneumonia for Dummies

Susan Lerner

Susan Lerner

Drive oldest daughter, recently recovered from pneumonia, back to high school. Return home and feel chill seep into bones. Chant softly: I will not get sick, I will not get sick.

Muscles cold and tight? Wrap yourself in fleece and toss back two Tylenol. Scratchy throat? Carry water bottle to class; it’s practically winter – everybody’s throat’s dry. Sit in Starbucks and fine tune questions for next week’s interview with Richard Rodriguez. You’ve been dreaming about meeting this intriguing author for over a year. Savor latte – two weeks of sandpaper-throat swallowing await. Go home and pass out on couch. Wake four hours later, just in time to say goodnight to kids. Wonder why it is so fucking cold. Ache as muscles shrink-wrap over bones. Dig in back of drawer to retrieve wool socks. Burrow under the covers. Chatter teeth.

Wake up warm! Whip off comforter and greet day with renewed vigor. Stride through kitchen luxuriating in toasty, loose muscles. Towel off face and notice healthy color on cheeks. Light bulb moment: Take your temperature. 103.

Delude yourself that you can outrun fever; it’s a matter of will. Pull fleece over pjs and drive older kids to high school. Return home and give younger son strict instructions to wake you in half an hour so you can drive him to middle school. Wake up forty minutes later, yell at son, and get back behind the wheel.

What is that sound? You, moaning. Curl under blanket like a shrimp. Icicles sprout from between your toes, or so it feels. How is it possible to be so fucking cold? Tunnel feet into daughter’s fake Ugg boots, the ones she calls fuggs, and pine for the pink-cheeked warmth of early morning. Click on TV. Nuwave portable oven cooks chicken breasts to perfection, employing conduction, convection, and infrared. Nuwave is now on sale – not for $99.99, not for $89.99, but for two small payments of $39.99, including shipping and handling. Shiver in blanket-cocoon until it’s time to pick up kids from school. Lay in bed each night convinced you’ll wake up well, that you’ll be able to interview Mr. Rodriguez.

Greet each morning by forcing two Tylenol past puffed-up tonsils, pulling on fleece, and driving kids to school. Once home, collapse on couch and turn on TV. Valerie Bertinelli, still looking like the teenager she was in “One Day at a Time,” sparkles. She and Eddie Van Halen made such a cute couple. If you were married to Van Halen you might have had the chutzpah to name your son Wolfgang, too. Valerie smiles and introduces Cindy Crawford who smiles and introduces Jean-Louis Sebagh, the French doctor who invented Meaningful Beauty New Advanced Skin System. You want to moisturize, hydrate, protect, and rejuvenate like Valerie and Cindy. If only you could sleep. Like Sleeping Beauty, you would wake up healthy, rejuvenated, and moisturized. Study Crawford’s beauty mark. Count back – you haven’t changed clothes or showered in three days.

Ice tentacles through joints. Say “Uncle,” fumble through medicine cabinet and grab crust-topped, five-year-old half-bottle of Tylenol with Codeine syrup originally prescribed for daughter’s oral surgery. Swig. Robert Wagner pitches Light Relief, a gadget that shoots light into tissues to relieve aches and pains. You love Robert Wagner. And that thing with Natalie Wood – how tragic! Seriously consider ordering Nuwave oven, Meaningful Beauty New Advanced Skin System, and Light Relief. Look down at fuggs – you haven’t taken them off since you put them on four days ago. Your torso is covered in a prickly, cold sweat. Itch. Lift shirt and look at gut. Streaks of tiny blood-red dots cover your pasty belly rolls. Fever? 103. Suck it up and cancel interview. Have a good cry.

Don face mask the nurse hands as you sign in at doctor’s office. Strip. Rustle paper gown as you tremble. Ask doctor about chest x-ray, telling him that daughter recently recovered from pneumonia. Your x-ray reveals substantial pneumonia in left lung. Doctor prescribes nuclear-strength, mega-priced antibiotic. One pill a day for twelve days at eighteen dollars a pill. Do the math.

Get mad that you are not only missing out on interviewing Rodriguez, but also his reading. Begin a meltdown. Bicker with husband, claim you are fine. Arm yourself with cough syrup, Tylenol, eighteen-dollar antibiotic and drive to reading. Succumb to guilt over the possibility that you could infect a couple of hundred undergrads, and sit on floor at back of auditorium. Pop gummy bear-textured, cherry flavored throat lozenges as Rodriguez enchants. Take notes, taming your hand against palsied shivering. Return home bone-frozen.

Lie on couch and watch family enjoying their new no-veggies, all pizza diet. Turn on TV. Best-selling author and investor Dean Graziosi’s no-fail method of turning over real estate sounds terrific. You want to be rich, too, so rich you could move to Florida, where you’d never be cold again. Flames lick at throat. Chest feels caved in, as if doctor is standing on it.

Call doctor. Inhaler and ’round-the-lock narcotic cough medicine prescribed. Thank God for narcotics and the doctors who prescribe them. Throat is torched. Yell at kids in new scratchy Minnie Mouse voice.

Press remote. Bowflex Treadclimber has a unique technology, burns more calories than any other cardio machine. Maybe Bowflex would burn off thirteen-year-old, post-pregnancy muffin-top.

Wonder if two weeks of swallowing nothing but narcotic cough syrup has melted any of those stubborn pounds. Phone rings. Answer and surprise yourself as new voice has dropped several registers, and now sounds like Kathleen Turner-Brenda Vaccaro hybrid.

Day fifteen. Healthy or not, you’re sick of being sick. Peel off pjs. Pull off fuggs. Shower. Take kids to school and return to your class. Author John Green will be visiting. No interview scheduled.


Susan Lerner is an MFA student at Butler University, where she is a reader for Booth: A Journal.

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