For a minute and a half when I wake up in the morning, my chest feels normal and I can almost take a normal breath. The minute I sit up and try to take in anything resembling a deep breath, however, sharp pains in my chest cut it short, reminding me that plenty of gunk is still lodged firmly in my lungs. I’ve walked this path a few times before – – for some reason, despite having never smoked, my lungs are prone to pneumonia—but Friday was the first time I ever felt unnerved by the landscape.
Friday morning was spent mostly resting as any physical exertion left me wiped out and gulping at the air. I rested on the couch until it was time for a family walk around the house and, after our daily ZeroK, was wiped out for the rest of the afternoon. By the late afternoon, it was increasingly harder to breathe in, and I considered calling the doctor to see if there was anything I do should do in the face of worsening symptoms.
But I didn’t call him.
I took my pills and drank my tea and remembered my research of this illness. Dr. Google and actual doctors had told me that worsening symptoms might indicate a need for hospitalization, oxygen, or IV antibiotics.
Any other week, I would’ve called him, but this is not any other week.
This week I know that, nationwide, hospitals are struggling to find beds and masks and things to help people with a much more serious illness breathe. This week I know that calling for help might make me one more drain on a system that’s already overtaxed at the beginning of what appears will be a challenging spring. I don’t want to be in the healthcare system, but, even more I don’t want to be one more stressor on it.
So now it’s Saturday morning, and I’m still gulping as I write or talk, still trying to decide if I should call or wait until my next appointment on Monday to let the medication have more time to work.
Most of the time when I’m sick, I won’t call the doctor. I’m a doctor’s kid and grew up hearing admonitions to not worry about most aches and pains or even fevers. I know, however, that pneumonia can become quite serious, even in 2020.
What’s also serious, is the reckoning that the entire country is having with managing scarcity in an emergency and with our healthcare system. No one who has been in a grocery store in the last two weeks can have avoided the sight of empty shelves, sometimes rows of them. Panic has spurred some people to buy more toilet paper and pasta than could be consumed in a lifetime, leaving others to search for substitutes or simply go without.
Over the last few weeks, I’ve seen a number of people pointing out that a pandemic highlights the need for a strong system that is more equitable and accessible. Having lived in Germany and experienced their robust public healthcare system, I tend to agree. This week, however, I’m also reckoning with the role individual choices may have in making our current system in Bennington, Vermont less accessible to others simply by using increasingly scarce resources.
I don’t know that this is a bad conversation to have.
For years I have worked at a company with excellent health insurance and, especially where the kids were concerned, had no reservations about calling and getting that appointment or heading to the emergency room or urgent care. This week is not just about what we can afford for our family. It, like the choice to buy all the boxes of pasta or a just one or two for our family, is about what my choice may take from someone else. It’s about making sure that making that call is truly necessary.
For now, for better or worse, it’s keeping me from picking up phone.