Twelve days before my youngest son’s first birthday, I found myself lying in the hospital with tubes stuck in my side, an oxygen mask strapped to my face and none of the blank memory so many movies convinced me I would have should I ever find myself in one of these emergency medical situations. Instead, I was fully awake and fully aware of everything happening in, to and around me.

Prior to my arrival in the room that would become my home for the next 11 days, I was sick on the floor of the bathroom in my home. I will spare you the details but suffice it to say I had never felt like this before and pray to God that I won’t again. I made two trips to the emergency room before being admitted. First, I was diagnosed with the flu, given an IV of fluids for a bit, then sent on my merry way. On my second trip, I was finally sick enough that something was clearly wrong with me beyond the flu.

Turns out I had H1N1.

One fun thing I learned while in the hospital is that developing pneumonia can be a side effect of having the flu. Since I already went all in on the flu with H1N1, I figured why not go all the way with pneumonia, so I not only developed pneumonia but complicated pneumonia! Essentially, this is extra bad pneumonia and, combined with H1N1, it meant for a few days I could barely breathe. Tubes inserted in my side to drain my lungs revealed so much fluid, or something, built up on them it was becoming dangerous. I had a few spots where fluid had built up, solidified a little and could not be drained even after scraping (an exercise I would not wish on my worst enemy). So I required surgery. “Or you will slip into a coma because of the way some of these things have developed and positioned themselves on your lungs, near your heart.” I underwent surgery a few hours after that conversation.

Any time someone entered my room, they were required to wear the hospital version of a hazmat suit. My visitors were limited to staff till well after my surgery when they could be certain I was no longer contagious. Even then, it was a risk for my wife to visit and an even greater risk for me to see my two sons. What started as a physical battle morphed into a mental and emotional war. Days felt as long as years. The better I felt, the more anxious I became to stand on my own, have some privacy and, more than anything, go home to my family.

I can only sympathize and empathize with everyone potentially and directly impacted by this national health emergency. I had to walk through the process of imagining what my sons’ lives would be like without me (Would they remember me? Know how much I loved them?), how my wife would do all on her own (Would she move to her parents’? Who would watch the boys when she wanted to go for a run?) and all of the milestones I would miss (Or had already missed, which, in this case, meant the Baylor-Oklahoma blackout game at Floyd Casey and my youngest’s first Halloween.). There is absolutely no question that staying home is the right thing to do.

The scars on my body remind me of this traumatic experience. Years later, I still occasionally have dreams about it: There I am again, stuck in the hospital, alone and with no sense of when or if I would get better. Some will pass, some will get better, but for everyone touched by this virus, it’s an experience they will carry with them for the rest of their lives. I was fortunate. Not everyone will be. Stay home.

Smith Getterman is director of Sustainability & Special Projects at Baylor University.

Load comments