Written by Angela Kelly
The first time I had pneumonia I had just given birth to our second child, a beautiful baby girl. I was diagnosed with pneumonia on November 12th, 2013. I will always remember the date because after I found out what it was, I googled “pneumonia” and learned that it was World Pneumonia Awareness day. The irony was just too much for words. And ever since then whenever I think about pneumonia I can’t help but instantly get the lyrics to Alanis Morissette’s “Ironic” stuck in my head for the day: “It’s like getting pneumonia…on world Pneumonia Awareness Day…”
It was post-partum bacterial pneumonia, and it came on fast and hard with shaking chills and a 103-degree fever. I had a cough that I was taking antibiotics for when I went into labor. The morning of November 12th, I heard crackling and bubbling from my lungs as I rocked my new baby, but in the exhaustion, I couldn’t piece together what the sound meant. That same morning, both my new baby and my toddler were also coughing so I took them to my daughter’s one-month follow-up appointment.
At the time we were living in Northern California outside of San Francisco and had a wonderful pediatrician. Halfway through the appointment he stopped me and asked how I was feeling and asked if his student doctor could listen to my lungs. He also then grabbed his stethoscope and listened to my lungs and told me that I was seriously ill and to head immediately to the Emergency Room. My husband couldn’t make it back from work in time to meet me at the ER, and I was fading fast, so I decided to go to the Urgent Care next to our house. I had a burning fever by the time I arrived at the Urgent Care and ripped off my sweater once I was in the exam room, waiting for the doctor in only a nursing bra. She administered a giant shot in my butt, and it was by the grace of God that I somehow made it back to my car and home without passing out. It took two courses of strong antibiotics to clear the infection, and it took me a looooooong time to get back to myself (over three months).
So this time on February 6th when I heard the bubbling and crackling I was pretty concerned; especially since antibiotics will very likely cause me to experience a reoccurrence of C. diff. I was sick for six days before I went for a chest x-ray, with three days of low-grade fever (100F). My general practitioner sent me to Urgent Care due to the high volume of flu cases. Once my chest X-ray showed pneumonia, the Physician’s Assistant told me that I should begin antibiotics immediately—like that night. I panicked, my face got hot, and I saw black dots. I called my general practitioner (who is one of the kindest people I have ever met), and he prescribed me Bactrim and Dificid. I drove to the pharmacy and stood in line with my mask on, only to be told that my insurance had denied the Dificid due to its steep price tag of $4000, and they didn’t have any anyway. So, they sent me to a different pharmacy twenty minutes away, at night, with pneumonia. Once I arrived at the other pharmacy, the pharmacist told me it was up to my insurance, and they had said no. She then asked how many pills I wanted to buy out of pocket at $200 per pill.
So, I went home with just the antibiotic and called my general practitioner who came up with a plan; if my fever spiked or I couldn’t breathe, then I should take the Bactrim. And if I had to take the Bactrim and I started having symptoms of C. diff, then I would immediately test and begin Dificid (which my insurance will only approve with a positive test result).
I also called my cousin Dr. Dude, who is an angel on Earth and generally awesome in every way. He is the rock-climbing, microbiome savvy, 35-year Emergency Room veteran doctor who guided me through my family’s C. diff outbreak. You can find his blog here: http://doctordude.blogs.petaluma360.com
Dr. Dude advised me to give my body a good, long chance to heal before thinking about antibiotics, as quite often pneumonia can be viral. He told me to watch out for breathlessness, but to hold off on the antibiotics, drink lots of fluids, use albuterol to open my lungs, and wait.
And—guess what—it is seven days since my chest X-Ray, and I’m back to running 30 miles a week! No, just kidding, I’m moving between the couch and my bed, but I haven’t taken an antibiotic, and I am getting steadily better. Does this mean you should ignore pneumonia? Heck no! Pneumonia KILLS people, but should you run out and take an antibiotic for every presumed sinus infection, cough, sore throat, and ear infection? NO. Full stop.
AT LEAST one in three antibiotic prescriptions are unnecessary, so do yourself (and the world) a big favor, and don’t push for unnecessary antibiotics. I am praying for healthy friends and family and an end to this yucky flu season!
Read more from Angela Kelly at www.gutsymother.com.