16 May

The First Time I Had Pneumonia I Thought I Was a Medical Miracle

This essay came to me while I was feverish and unable to sleep at some point over the last week and a half. I woke up the next morning convinced that I’d written it, as I could remember the outlining, the main points, and the title.

Alas, I had not actually written it.

But, having remembered writing it in such vivid detail, I thought I’d give a stab at rewriting it and fulfilling a feverish prophecy, as such.

The first time I caught pneumonia I was somewhere between 1st and 3rd grade. I suspect 3rd, for reasons I’ll cover in a moment. But there’s a difference between US and Commonwealth school numbering, so I’m always getting it mixed up.

I was elementary school age for sure.

That morning I woke up feeling pretty horrible and tried to convince my mother that I was sick and didn’t want to go to school. Now, my poor mom, a single mother basically by that point, was the Attila the Hun of parents that forced you to go to school. Unless I had a compound fracture, major blood loss, a fever that was causing visible sweats, you were going. to. school.

To be fair, I was mobile that morning and deteriorated later in the day. She rowed me in our small fiberglass dinghy to shore and I caught the taxi that took me and a few neighborhood kids to the school.

I don’t remember much about the morning. I do recall slipping into a sort of daze. But I’m ADD and that wasn’t all that unusual for me. Most mornings featured me slipping off into my own little world in elementary school. It’s one of the reasons I never fully learned my times tables until college, or the order of the alphabet until late high school, or the order of the months of the year until my mid-20s.

I do remember staring at beams of sunlight outside.

See, one of the things I remember fondly about the Caribbean is that when I got sick I basically turned into a cat: I’d find a warm puddle of sunshine, curl up in it, and sleep. I’d lay out on the deck of the boat we lived on and sun. I even swam to shore when sick and just wriggled into the sand like a turtle and waited for the sun to bake the sick out of me.

All morning long, I just waited for a chance to get out in the sun as I started to shiver.

At recess I ran out with all the kids. But instead of heading to the grass to play soccer, I veered off next to the steps out of the building where the concrete was toasty and warm in the high sun. I curled up there, hugging the concrete, and then… just passed out.

I woke up because all the kids had come back inside, and class had started up and I’d gone missing. The teachers, standing on the steps and looking out over the field hadn’t seen me. A search had begun. I was found, passed out hard, feverish, soaking up sun.

If I recall right, it was the teacher a year or two ahead of us that shook me awake. They realized I was burning up and not doing well, so it was decided I would be driven home.

Now, this was where my unique living situation caused some confusion:

“We don’t seem to have a number for your mom.”

“We don’t have a phone.”

“Why not?”

“We live on a boat.”

“Oh, where is that?”

“Lance Aux Pine Harbor.”

“Can you get home if one of the teachers drives you there?”

“Sure?”

“How will we contact your mom then?”

“Shout.”

Which is how I, while out of my mind with fever and wanting to do nothing more than sleep, ended up navigating my teacher toward the harbor we were anchored at. I’m not sure they really believed I lived on a boat, there was a lot of adult humoring voice, from what I remember.

I was also a little bummed, because this teacher had what I considered a ‘sexy car.’

I don’t know what it was, but it was the first car I ever saw that didn’t have ANY RIM around the window. The doors opened, and there was just glass window over the door. Madness!

I’d wanted to ride inside a car that cool for so long. But instead I napped, and then woke up when asked where to turn.

But I got us there! Stood on the water’s edge and shouted until my mom rowed out to get me and the teacher filled her in. I was too tired to even be triumphant about being right.

I later trucked along with mom for a trip to get diagnosed. I think I was on antibiotics. Maybe X-rays? It’s fuzzy. But I do remember one thing. The doctor mentioned how serious pneumonia was, impressing on both of us how serious it was. I somehow, tired, got the idea that pneumonia was a killer and I completely failed to scale in my head how deadly it was. I thought it was like, Black Death deadly. Or Cancer deadly. Like, I was very likely to die.

I certainly felt shitty enough.

So when pneumonia broke and I got well again, I, elementary kid, was convinced I was a certified fucking medical miracle.

My school librarian explained it was quite survivable a few weeks after I came home. But for those two or three weeks, when playing soccer, or climbing trees, I threw all caution to wind.

Because I was just about fucking immortal, I knew, from having beat pneumonia.