For those of you who catch it and may be short of breath:
- Drink coffee. Caffeine is a bronchodilator that works for a few hours. It can help you a little bit and make you feel more comfortable.
- Patting your ribcage – percussion therapy – can help you loosen up mucus and get rid of it. It’s called “coupage” in the veterinary sciences. (Thanks, J. It helps a lot.)
- Listen to your body. Sleep on the side of your body that your body tells you to sleep on, which will likely be on the right or on your belly.
How do I know this?
I caught viral pneumonia in 2017, or rather, it caught me. There was a virus at the end of 2016/start of 2017 that even forced the British Queen to take it easy for a while.
I noticed at some point that the people around me seemed to be recovering whereas I was not really getting better and had very little energy. It puzzled me. I ran a fever of up to 38.6 degrees C and it was only when I read in an online newspaper that you weren’t supposed to be running a fever with this thing that I realized that I was probably “developing complications”.
One evening, I noticed that I became antsy very soon when I was on my left side and turned around to sleep on my right side. It may have been the following morning when I woke up with sharp pains in my ribcage (in my side, only on the right).
In hindsight, it was as if my body was thinking to itself and tried to say to me “No no no no! There is something going on in the right lung and I don’t want whatever it is to get the chance to end up in the left lung.” Weird? No.
24 March 2020: It’s meanwhile dawned on me that my body was probably (also) telling me that sleeping on my right side made it easier for me to get more oxygen.
Try to sleep on your belly if you find that you’re now constantly waking up. Sleeping on your belly gives your lungs more room to work. It is called “prone position”.
The brain gets lots of input from all over the body. We’re just not consciously aware of it. Sometimes, the brain tries to convey a “warning” to our consciousness via physical signals that we’re not really aware of either. I mean, what does “I became very antsy” mean? I don’t know. For whatever reason, I just really did not want to sleep on my left side. I had no idea at that point that something was going on in my right lung. (My respiratory system has always been my weak spot. I suspect I may have some scarring in that lung from previous colds or something like that. I have meanwhile learned that I always have to work at helping that lung stay clear. It is like brushing your teeth.)
Thanks to the internet, I knew what to look out for and my case proceeded by the book. There was little if anything my GP could have done unless I developed a bacterial infection on top of it, but that did not happen. (Your temperature will usually be a good guideline.)
Now, this Covid-19 thing is new and I don’t want to compare what I had to this new disease, but I did learn from what I had back then.
I felt that I should share it. This new disease is causing a lot of uncertainty and makes people feel that they have no control.
I’ve read that this is why people are stockpiling. Because it is something that they can do. Makes sense to me.
I figured that sharing what I learned in 2017 might also give some people a feeling of control.
Why did I get pneumonia?
It appears that notably or perhaps only my right lung has a tendency to fill up with goo. That makes you vulnerable to pneumonia.
(I’d had a slowly increasing lung problem for years, with my body not even always getting enough oxygen; I had noticed minor changes to the tips of my toes, was often tired and my bloodwork was very slightly off, among other things. The pneumonia helped me identify and put a lid on a few things. I found out that I am slightly allergic to wheat, for example. It irritates my throat, among other things, but it depends on the state that the wheat proteins are in. The flour on flour-dusted bread is particularly bad for me – I have to remove it – and some really yummy breads make my throat scratchy. Overall, I avoid bread. I’d started avoiding bread decades ago and ate mainly rye crackers, but circumstances can sometimes cause you to eat more wheat. Wheat allergies can also cause an asthmatic response. I also seem to respond to barley, perhaps even more. If you seem to prefer rice beers over wheat beers, that may be because you’ve subconsciously learned that wheat is not so good for you if you’re allergic to it. Budweiser, for example, has a lot less wheat in it than some other beers. Many people who have hay fever also respond to wheat etc; that response is mostly restricted to the mouth and throat area and the sinuses etc.)
Eye drops like latanoprost can also have a pronounced effect on the lungs (in spite of the fact that perhaps notably older male ophthalmologists are perfectly happy with ignoring this) and can for instance cause a chronic bad cough.
What can YOU do for your lungs?
1. Aerobic exercise. When I am extremely stationary for a few days, it throws me back because it makes it harder for my lungs to empty. (I later started taking n-acetyl cysteine, which helps me a lot because it thins the mucus and also helps calm down inflamed tissues, but if you don’t have a lung problem, don’t worry about that.)
2. Avoid foods that give you heartburn. You may not notice it at all, but it can cause a lot of irritation and slime production in your esophagus and all that can end up in your trachea. Take MaaloxPlus if you have to or to find out whether you might have this problem with acid reflux/heartburn. (It’s also sometimes called having a hole in your diaphragm or something like that, but you don’t really have a hole in your diaphragm, lol.) Exercising is also good for heartburn because it helps your digestion.
3. Take care to avoid foods that cause allergies. Those too may cause some irritation in your esophagus. They can also cause some swelling in your throat which can make it easier for bits of food and beverages to go down the wrong way, perhaps also caused by excess mucus (slippery slime).
4. Hint: If you sometimes have vague problems swallowing vitamin pills and so on, that may be because of some minor swelling (due to allergies/acid reflux) in that throat area, which could be due to such an allergy. Do you sometimes end up with weird “bumps” on the skin inside your mouth after you eat something? Well, that too could be a hint. And if it happens in your mouth, it likely also happens in your throat, right?
5. Stop smoking.
Percussion therapy (coupage)
This was a tip I got from a friend. It means clapping or patting hard on your rib cage with a cupped/flat hand to help loosen mucus. It works very well. If you do this regularly, you’ll get the hang of it and may even be able to hear whether your lungs are clear or not and you can also often feel the effect in your trachea. If you do this after you get out of the shower (the humidity of the shower is likely to help), then perhaps also blow out air very gently over a long period through pursed lips (akin to blowing long notes/tones on woodwinds), you may find yourself coughing up some goo, telling you that it’s working. Do it three times per day or so. See how it goes. You’ll learn.
Recovery during and after pneumonia
Yes, the pneumonia knocked me out for some time, as anything lung-related tends to do. (Lung-related problems can also make you very cranky because they make it hard/er for your entire body to function well.) Walking shorter to longer distances was hard for a while. When I started to feel better again and started sending myself on walks, I still would sometimes have to pause along the way. (I also used that as a gauge for how I was doing.) I’d sit down if I could or simply stopped and pretended to be busy with my phone for a little while. That was enough.
Already in an earlier stage, pneumonia means that you have to learn to pace yourself. You may have to learn to be gentle on yourself, be patient with yourself. Look after yourself well. Eat well. Nutritious food. Sleep lots, too.
Sleep whenever you feel like sleeping. Listen to your body. I sure slept a heck of a lot and kept needing to take daytime naps for a while.
Please note that I am not saying that you shouldn’t contact your GP or the like! By no means! But before your GP or another medical professional can assist you, there may already be little things that you can do for yourself and that you can continue to do afterwards, too.
For example, if you notice that you’re short of breath in the morning and usually have tea or orange juice in the morning, have coffee instead. It can help ease you into the day a little bit more gently.
These little things can really make a difference and are harmless in themselves (unless, for example, you have some kind of condition that means that you cannot sleep on your right side).
Fingers crossed. Most people who catch the virus seem to be barely affected by it.
Fingers crossed for everyone, also for everyone who does end up in intensive care, of course.
No, my GP still doesn’t know. In case you wonder. I’ll tell them if I ever need to because of medical circumstances. I did contact them via the website when I found out that I was not supposed to be having a fever; didn’t hear back, likely because they had just been taken over by a large firm, but I was not worried and as it turned out, had no reason to worry either.
Disclaimer: I am not a medical professional.