Pneumonia - The Old Person's Friend?
June 15, 2019 10:36 AM   Subscribe

Anything that helped you or a loved one survive after a severe bout of pneumonia?

I'm 75 years old, some physical issues (post polio syndrome) but good health for my age. Last Monday morning at 4:00 woke coughing, unable to breathe, called 911. Admitted to the hospital Monday morning, diagnosis pneumonia, released Friday evening, still on antibiotics. Will be talking to my regular doctor on Monday (hopefully).

My family and friends are wonderful, but don't really know what will help. I'm frequently distressed, agitated, confused. I have never felt like this in my life.

I have always heard that pneumonia is the old person's friend. I have been kept alive, but no one has actually helped heal me, and no one knows what I need now or in the future. Without antibiotics I would have died. That would have have been okay. How I am now is not so okay.

Any thing you have to share is welcome.
posted by kestralwing to Health & Fitness (18 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Please know that agitation, depression, and anxiety are very likely to be temporary and that you can and will improve and feel better, but it sounds like you need help right away. Please, at a minimum, contact a friend or family member and tell them that you cannot be alone.

Do you have someone with you at all times? That seems necessary. Can you ask a family member or friend to come be with you right now? This question worries me for your well-being and I do not think you should be alone.

If you cannot find a family member or friend to sit with you 24/7 it might be time to go back to the hospital, perhaps by ambulance if you are unable to drive.

You might wonder why are you feeling like this. These are common side effects of steroids like prendisone, which are commonly given for breathing trouble. Albuterol is also given for breathing trouble and can cause agitation. Similarly, pneumonia itself can cause temporary mental health issues that can be really scary, but are temporary. These are "side effects" but they are scary and real, so please do not hesitate to get help.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 10:59 AM on June 15, 2019 [19 favorites]

My family and friends are wonderful, but don't really know what will help.

Please ask them to come and sit with you even if you aren’t feeling up to company or you worry it will impose on them. They want to help and one way they can help you is so you can talk to them about these feelings. They will be able to help you navigate confusing thoughts right now.
posted by sallybrown at 12:27 PM on June 15, 2019 [2 favorites]

Incentive spirometry! Seriously. That inhaling toy thing they gave you in the hospital.
posted by 8603 at 12:45 PM on June 15, 2019 [4 favorites]

Not a medical practitioner but as I understand it pneumonia will take a while to recover from fully. You are still far from recovered.

Please don’t stop taking any of the meds you were prescribed without talking to your doctor. I get that the symptoms you’re experiencing are distressing and that some may be side effects. But just because you were released from hospital does not mean the infection is fully cleared and you don’t want to allow it to come back. By all means call any out of hrs/emergency medical services for reassurance or guidance, if you feel your symptoms worsen.

And yes, ask a friend or family member to stay with you. They don’t need to know how to heal you, they just need to help you feel more comfortable or be able to call an ambulance if you deteriorate. You’re still unwell and you still need care, perhaps not hospital care but care nevertheless.
posted by koahiatamadl at 12:46 PM on June 15, 2019 [3 favorites]

My 72-year-old spouse had pneumonia last spring. It took him a long time to recover, and he was still short of breath and discouraged for quite a while. Because I had been through a similar experience with my mother years before, I got him out of the hospital as quickly as we could, as soon as they would let him out. It still took a while for him to shake it, even though he worked out daily at the gym and was very fit when the flu turned to pneumonia. (Heck, I (67) just had the flu and I was knocked butt-over-teakettle).

Being in hospitals engenders, especially in older people, a kind of confusion that is called "hospital delirium."

To recover, he did his best to go back to his normal routines, and also drank more water than he had before he went in, and I helped by telling him it was normal to be a little confused and reminding him of what my mother went through. Respect your body and your brain and treat both of them with courtesy and rest as well as restricted activity.

He was back to normal at home and at work by the time our kid got married a month or so later, though still frustrated with the physical aftereffects on his breathing, but earlier today both of us were at the gym and we both worked out for almost an hour.
posted by Peach at 1:01 PM on June 15, 2019 [9 favorites]

I've had pnemonia multiple times mostly as a child and young adult. The medications cause lots of feelings. LOTS OF THEM. Agitation, restlessness, confusion, irratibility, anxiety, on top of what normal feelings being sick has. These medicines also help you breathe which is needed.

I get hit by these side effects hard. I have managed, when the side effects been severe, to get a prescription for benzodiazepines to take, but I think that was half luck because the clinic I'd gone to for a school excuse was pretty certain i was suicidal (I wasn't, I also knew these symptoms well but that didn't stop me from crying or shaking or having little tolerance for change and disruption) and I'd had an established therapist at that clinic who vouched for my baseline state. It hasn't happened sense but it really did address the side effects. Please note there are reasons to not do persribe that, and most doctors will be hesitant but it is okay to call and explore if something might be helpful for you.

Just having someone around to talk you through what I call "medication thoughts" and "I can't breathe thoughts" (having difficulty breathing increases anxiety!) Can be so so useful.

Take gentle care. Breathing is something your always doing, and when it is harder to breathe it takes lots of energy to do.
posted by AlexiaSky at 1:23 PM on June 15, 2019 [1 favorite]

Please call in your friends to sit with you. Please live. Without antibiotics so many people would have died - my brother-in-law aged eight who had a bone infection. Me, aged 25 who had a retained placenta. Me aged anything from 2 to 35 who had severe asthma. Take all the medicine. We are in the 21st century and we can live. All the best wishes and hopes to you. I'd come ad be with you if I could
posted by glasseyes at 1:51 PM on June 15, 2019 [4 favorites]

Yes to all of the above. Pneumonia takes a long time to recover from - expect to feel flattened for weeks even after you are weaned off the steroids. And feel better asap!
posted by leslies at 2:00 PM on June 15, 2019

Seconding hospital delirium on top of the meds and the infection itself, which are both still having a strong effect. You need someone to stay with you to help keep you grounded (and taking meds on time, and eating properly) until you have your own feet back under you. The crucial thing is getting back to your normal as quickly as possible; if you always have eggs on toast at 8am for breakfast, have someone make you eggs on toast at 8am every day. (If you're confused and disoriented, don't cook for yourself, not even toast.)

Hospitals are basically for critical care only; they want you out as fast as possible to cut down on the chances of secondary infections and delirium. There's still a lot of recovery to go once they send you home, with as much help as you can get.

Best case would be someone who could live there for a bit, in case you get disoriented or have a medical crisis in the night. But even just someone there during the days would be a big help.
posted by current resident at 2:35 PM on June 15, 2019 [1 favorite]

I'm younger than you, but immunocompromised and generally crappy healthwise, so adjust your grain of salt accordingly. Although I'm normally happy being alone, while I recovered from pneumonia it was pretty great having a family member with me 24/7 because I was pretty much weak as a half-drowned kitten for much longer than I expected.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 3:09 PM on June 15, 2019 [3 favorites]

If you can walk alright, then try 20 transits of your living space, twice per day. If you were in a hospital they would get you up to walk. You might be entitled to some home care, a daily check in, with spirometry and or chest physical therapy. Be sure to drink plenty of liquids, orange juice, water. Don't be shy about coughing stuff up. Get plenty of protein, your immune system needs this to marshall your defenses and heal. If you have ginger in your house you can make tea with powdered ginger, honey and lemon. If you are too weak, you can have a healthy pizza delivered, eat some and put the rest in tthe fridge for later. You can eat toast and peanut butter.

You can call senior services for your county and ask them what is available for someone in your situation. You might could get meals on wheels. Talk to your county. Call social services at the hospital you discharged from. There is something called Discharge Planning, it sounds like there was not much of that. Home care might come out of that.
posted by Oyéah at 5:11 PM on June 15, 2019 [5 favorites]

Even being a generation younger than you, pneumonia had me feeling much the same way, a bit like an invalid in a Victorian novel waiting for death and like I'd never be able to feel strong again. It's the medication, and it's also the fact that not getting oxygen quite like you're used to is exhausting. Any company you can get is good company. Any sunshine you can get is good too; I had family move my bed so I could nap in the sun like a cat for half the day and that made me much more cheerful than lying in the dark.

The vast majority of people, including me, get permanently better, truly back to 100%. It just takes longer than expected, when you are used to illnesses where once you feeling better sitting, you can walk up a flight of stairs.
posted by tchemgrrl at 6:33 PM on June 15, 2019 [2 favorites]

Damn you seem tough!
One thing my dad loved and I got into after he died was hot toddies: boiling water, some honey, some lemon juice, a dash of whiskey or cinnamon as desired, maybe salt or butter or ginger. The main point is soothing hot beverage nightly as needed, to taste. Hope you find some help here, good luck!
posted by SaltySalticid at 7:37 PM on June 15, 2019 [1 favorite]

i had pneumonia at 35 and I though I wasn't hospitalized, it it me so hard I was scared of not making it. I felt like a wreck for several weeks afterward, with shortness of breath and feeling generally miserable and weepy. I too thought this would be my new normal but it wasn't.

My advice
- get plenty of rest but do not lie down all the time, lying on your back is bad for lung ventilation
- eat well
- have someone keep you company

Also, found this study which admittedly is from a few years back but it says full recovery can be as long as six months but things improve within 28 days and the likelihood of full functional recovery does not depend on age.
posted by M. at 3:43 AM on June 16, 2019 [1 favorite]

Being sick sucks. Pneumonia especially. My mom (68? at the time) had a severe pneumonia. In hospital, on oxygen for a few days. She did fully recover! took time. She was basically a year before she was back to 'as she was' (just a year older). Don't be frustrated if it seems to be a slow recovery. She did participate in an outpatient 'recovery from illness' type program where she went 3 morning a week and did group physiotherapy, endurance building, etc, and this did really help her. I had to remind her to get up and WALK DAMMIT a lot in the beginning. Moving, even gently and slowly, is helpful. Focus on deep breathing. Given that you have post polio, it may be worth asking to be referred to a respirologist. There are treatments which may improve your breathing. If there is any suspicion of sleep apnea or underlying poor ventilation as a consequence of post polio, now is a great time to get it aggressively investigated and treated. (IANAD but I learned all this from dealing with my mom).
posted by Northbysomewhatcrazy at 9:21 AM on June 16, 2019

Anecdotally, I've had pneumonia once, and I thought I was going to die, and it left me with lingering depression and anxiety. It did go away eventually. I think your body is just trying to recover.
posted by Dressed to Kill at 6:34 AM on June 17, 2019

I was hospitalized 8 years ago at 45 years old with pneumonia which morphed into empyema requiring lung surgery. Hospitalized for 9 days (mostly in ICU) and out of work for 3 months.

I felt incredibly weak from the lack of oxygen and probably should have blown into that tube with the little ball much more than I should have. The surgeon told me afterwards that I was close to death. That actually helped explain the feelings of depression, anxiety and milder symptoms of PTSD that I experienced post-hospitalization.

It took about 2 months to feel close to my physical baseline and 3 months until I felt more emotionally stable.

What helped? Friends who touched base via Facebook, cards, calls and texts. A few people dropped off food so my family didn't starve. One friend took me to the doctor appointments and another friend dropped off my daughter at school every morning. The visiting nurse gently told me to get back into my pajamas and rest instead of trying to be the housewife with sutures while I recovered. When I felt some energy come back, I took advantage of the $5 matinee movies at 11 am with the other retired and unemployed people and went out to lunch once a week.

Take care of you.
posted by IndigoOnTheGo at 4:32 AM on June 18, 2019

So many thanks to everyone who took the time to write these answers! Mr K has printed them out; we share them with friends and family, and I reread them as needed. I'm in tears as I write this; I needed help, and a community reached out to help me.
posted by kestralwing at 4:13 PM on June 20, 2019 [5 favorites]

« Older The debt mountain is gone. What next?   |   Covering or repairing cat damage to couch Newer »

You are not logged in, either login or create an account to post comments