North: Pneumonia Is Not Our Friend

Jim Henson created the Muppets. In late 1989, he sold his company to Disney for $150 million.

In early 1990, he began experiencing flu-like symptoms. On May 15, he got really sick. Wikipedia reports:

That night, Henson’s wife Jane, from whom he was separated, came to visit for the last time. Hours later, on May 15, Henson was having trouble breathing and began coughing up blood. He suggested to his wife that he might be dying, but did not want to take time from his schedule to visit a hospital. Jane later stated that while Henson’s Christian Science upbringing “affect[ed] his general thinking”, it did not have any influence on his postponement of medical treatment, and still later told People magazine that his avoidance was likely due to his desire not to be a bother to anyone. . . .

Two hours later, Henson finally agreed to go to New York Hospital in New York City. By the time he was admitted shortly after 4:00 am (EST), he could no longer breathe on his own, and an X-ray revealed he had abscesses in his lungs. He was placed on a mechanical ventilator to help him breathe, but his condition deteriorated rapidly despite aggressive treatment with multiple antibiotics. Fewer than 24 hours later on May 16, 1990, Henson died at the age of 53.

He could have afforded the best care on earth. But on May 16, 1990, life’s inescapable trade-off between time and money ran out for Jim Henson.

My mother told me half a century ago that pneumonia is called the old man’s friend. She was correct. It still is.

Pneumonia is called the old man’s friend because, left untreated, the sufferer often lapses into a state of reduced consciousness, slipping peacefully away in their sleep, giving a dignified end to a period of often considerable suffering. (Source)

My mother died three weeks before turning 98. Her mind was gone, but she was a good breather. But she had always been skinny.

Her parents died at 81. She beat the demographic odds.

My father died at age 90. His mind was still functional. He liked to eat. He was not obese. He had never been skinny. His parents died at 81. He beat the demographic odds. He also beat the gastronomical odds.

I think they beat the demographic odds because my mother bought Adelle Davis’ Let’s Cook it Right (1947) in 1949. The physician she took me to recommended it. He was Francis Pottenger, the first well known dietary physician. I got well in 18 months. I have stayed on his diet, and I have not been sick often, my gall bladder being the one exception (2002).

I get the flu once every three or four years. My strategy is to go to bed and stay there. The flu takes about 48 hours in bed, minus any time writing my four articles a day, or 8 short ones for two days. I take aspirin to break the fever.

I get one cold a year. It is mostly an annoyance. I take a gram of vitamin C every two hours. I sleep if I get sleepy. It may take a week to shake it. I had a cough three years ago that lasted over a month. I did go to a physician then. No cure. It persisted for two weeks more. That was the worst, ever. I don’t think it was a cold. I think it was a virus.

I do not take antibiotics. I did after my gall bladder operation, but that was the one exception. I did not take them for more than the first prescription. I did not ask for a second. I took them mainly because I worried about staph infections from the hospital. Those scare me.

I got a cold on December 20. I was flying to California to visit relatives.

It kept getting worse. It was not a killer. I had no fever. But I was congested in my nose. I had chills. I got sleepy.

I started coughing in the early morning of December 21. I could not sleep well.

By late December 24, I was wiped out. I stayed in bed from then until the morning of December 26, when I flew home.

My daughter had caught it first. She gave it to my wife. She also flew to California. By December 24, she was seriously sick: a constant hacking cough.

My cough escalated on December 28. I could not lie flat without serious coughing. I could sleep only in a chair. I had a cheap reclining chair for reading, which is of course for napping. (Always read standing up or sitting up straight.)

By noon, I was worried. My wife is leaving for China next week. What if the cough got worse? At noon, she said she was taking me to a walk-in clinic. I agreed. Normally, I would not. This time, it was more of a stagger-in clinic. I consented.

There, I found that I had a fever: 101.2 degrees. That is high for me. I am normally a 97+ degree person.

The physician said I am healthy for age 74. She was concerned about the cough. She ordered an X-ray. Her assessment: beginning pneumonia in one lung.

That had been my fear. I had told her that I had come to find out if it was serious. I was looking for “there’s a lot of this going around.” She thought otherwise.

She prescribed a steroid shot and an antibiotic shot. I was not going to argue. The word “pneumonia” promotes my cooperation. Call me a coward. She also gave me a voucher for a new kind of inhaler. I could get it free. I had never used one before. This one uses fine particles of a powder, not fine particles of a liquid.

By evening, I was better. I still had a mild cough on my side, but I could sleep. My congestion was much reduced by the next morning. It felt like the tail end of a cold. But this had been no cold.

If I get a cough so bad that I cannot sleep well, my body cannot heal itself. At this point, I start looking for conventional treatment to control the coughing.

I held off until my cough escalated. Then the memory of Jim Henson motivated me to go to a walk-in clinic. In retrospect, I am sure I made the right decision.

Pneumonia at some point removes our ability to make decisions. This is supposed to be a benefit. You had better make the decision to treat it while you still can. At least have a signed medical power of attorney. When the hospital says you’re terminal, have them send you home. Make room for the next victim. He may make it.

Who knows? It may be me.

Written by Gary North and published by Specific Answers ~ December 30, 2016.

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