By: Sue Anganes
For the past two months our family has been battling pneumonia. It hit my son Charlie over Labor Day weekend. Charlie’s high fever wouldn’t respond to Tylenol and his horrible coughing left him exhausted, so my husband took him to Lowell General Hospital’s ER at midnight. After some aggressive treatment, Charlie was back on his feet again (although still very weak) in about a week’s time. He was registered to compete in a triathlon in Western Massachusetts which, unfortunately, was now absolutely out of the question due to his horrible, lingering cough (which the doctor said could last a month or more).
Exactly three weeks after Charlie’s visit to the ER, my daughter Tessa became very sick. She also had a high temperature and cough. I took her to the doctor’s office and she was diagnosed with pneumonia. I wasn’t surprised that she also had pneumonia, but I wondered why she and Charlie were the only ones who had it and why it took three weeks for one to catch it from the other.
I was very busy the week that Tessa was sick. My son, Ray, had appointments in Boston on Monday and a physical therapy appointment on Tuesday. I babysat my two grandchildren on Wednesday and Thursday while my oldest daughter, Cassie, was at work. Throughout the whole week I was feeling a bit sick, running a low-grade fever, and had a slight cough. The mom in me said, “Keep going, you won’t get sick. Friday you can have a rest.” Well, by Friday I was in bed. A friend brought me some chicken and rice soup, which I ate for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. When I woke on Saturday morning, I got dressed and told my husband, ”Take me to the hospital!”
Lo and behold, I had pneumonia too. If I had been smart, I would have seen my doctor earlier in the week and gotten treatment sooner. However, we moms are all “supermoms” and are never supposed to get sick, right? The result of my stubbornness was that I spent almost six days in bed. By day three I decided it was a least time to brush out my hair and take a shower. My hair, which was in a braid had basically turned into a rat’s nest. It looked like I had a 1960’s beehive style going on at the top, and just matted fuzz along the length of the braid. I had turned from “super mom” to a “super wreck.”
My husband shopped and cooked. The kids cleaned, and my son, Ray, vacuumed (that was amazing in itself). The laundry got washed and folded and the dishes were washed. I was truly thankful for all the help.
But…When moms get sick and can’t get up and around, normal things become amplified into enormous aggravations. When I was finally sitting up in my chair, I could see dust and dirt in the corner of the room. On any given day of the year, dust and dirt is probably always in that same corner of the room, but while I wasn’t able to get up and vacuum it myself. I thought it would drive me crazy! Suddenly, the refrigerator was a wreck and needed to be cleaned out. The pile of shoes by the front door (which is always there) became a mountain in my eyes, and I dwelled on it until it, too, drove me nuts. The towels were not folded how I folded them, and the kitchen table was cluttered with boxes from grocery shopping. Everything felt out of control to me because I wasn’t physically able to help with anything. After all, it was still a physical effort just to take a shower in the morning. I felt like I was going a bit wacky and I’m sure to the kids, I was. To their credit, they did not point that out to me, but I’m sure I could hear them murmuring amongst themselves in the other room. I did get scolded once by my daughter for ripping all the sheets off my bed and putting them in the wash. I just couldn’t stand being in bed all those days with the same sheets!
With three of us at home with pneumonia, and in various states of recovery, I was wondering if the ax would fall again. Well, it did. Eleven days after I started my antibiotics, Teddy got a high fever and started coughing. Because the others in the household were working or studying, I took Teddy myself to his pediatrician. I didn’t wait at all to seek treatment for Ted; I knew the result of this infection, and I wanted to catch it as soon as possible to prevent the worst. Ted was brought into the exam room, and after the nurse took all the preliminary info and left the room, I put my head down on the exam table and rested. I still felt so wiped out. I’m sure Teddy and I looked like quite the pair! They put Teddy on antibiotics and he actually started bouncing back to health sooner than the rest of us. In the mean time, my married son and his wife were both put on antibiotics for the same reason: pneumonia! They were unfortunate enough to catch it while visiting us.
Two months after Charlie got pneumonia, my oldest daughter, Cassie, got a high temperature and started coughing. Unfortunately, it was right at the start of the hurricane. The next morning I drove her to the doctor’s office because she was unable to do so herself, and she was also diagnosed with pneumonia. My heart really went out to Cassie because she has two young children at home ages three and one year, and with her husband working in Boston, I knew it would be impossible for her to care for them by herself while she was so sick. It was hard enough for me when I was sick, and I have much older children and adult college students at home who can fend for themselves. When moms with young children get sick, it’s impossible to care for the kids without some assistance.
My daughter Tessa and I stepped in and cared for the little ones for two days while Cassie’s fever was high and while she was waiting for her antibiotics to kick in. Our hearts melted a couple of times when three year old Amelia’s eyes welled up with tears and said that she missed mommy. Little Elias occasionally said, ”Mumma,” but he was generally distracted by everything going on around him. Even though I routinely babysit the kids a couple of days a week while Cassie works, Amelia was a little more clingy than usual, and seemed to miss her mommy more. I think she knew there was something different going on, which upset her. We tried to reassure her that everything was going to be fine.
It has been a long two months for our family. I don’t think I have ever been as sick as I was this time. It made me think about how difficult it would be to have a chronic illness as a mom to young children. I was fortunate to have something treatable, and also have family members to help me out. I hope I will never take my good health for granted again.