In Chinese medicine, ailments of the lungs are associated with unexpressed grief. ~Caroline W. Casey, Making the Gods Work for You
In the last 4 and a half years of running since I returned from the Camino I've noticed a significant change in my health. I get sick less often, and when I do it tends not to hang on as long as my pre-running days. It's kind of nice. All those studies and reports about the benefits of exercise turn out to be true, to which I often hear two responses resounding in my head, the first being, "gosh darn it!" and the second, "well...like duh!" So much for 12 years of higher education.
What these reports don't mention are your chances of staying healthy while running and living with a four year old and a one year old at the same time. After four months of having done just that, please allow me to report that we can spare the tax payer's money, grants, or other funds that could be better spent on the Arts, for the scientific study of what all moms, dads, and temporary guests who run know: you are no match for the little germ carrying, disease incubating (love them as we do) munchkins who drool slobber into your mouth while spinning them like plates over your head, cough directly in your face when turning to snuggle with you in bed, sneeze into your lunch plate with such force as to blow dressed lettuce leaves into your lap (which you calmly put back on your plate and eat anyway), and, who, put their soft little paddies with freshly picked buggers and recent potty-hands that may or not have been washed on every thing and every part of you. I would, however, have it no other way, sigh as I must. There is equally nothing comparable to the bright, trusting, laughing eyes of a child on you, or the tender, cherubic sleeping head of a one year old resting on your breast while reading a story (I always read the story to the end even if they are asleep because I believe it still goes in), nor the way the four year old kneads your ear to a warm pulp when she wants to sooth herself to sleep, nor the incredibly earnest way the one year old mimics my lighthearted attempts to teach him deep meditation breathing which he brilliantly accomplishes with his own touches of exaggerated wheezing. My small price to pay for so much pure beauty in the space of four months time has thus far been two bouts of diarrhea, bronchitis (recently recovered), and this week a fresh, but mild cold. I'm willing to guess, but not willing to find out, that I would probably have better chances of staying healthy french-kissing several people with the norovirus than to successfully outwit the munchkins. And so, I have resigned myself to this temporary fate and console myself through the knowledge that they are strengthening their immune systems and hopefully mine too. In that sense, I suppose I should thank them. —I'll think about it.
But while I was coughing my way through the mild case of bronchitis in the last weeks, it triggered a lot of memories about the Camino, since that is where I was coughing last. I remembered the early morning starts and how it was worst then, Murias and Marc's voice calling, "I knew it was you Deb, I heard you coughing!," my aggravation at packing the extra bottle of medicine I had to carry, Marc telling the German couple to shut the window because I was sick, the day I walked alone in a half daze while feeling so bad... You may remember too that I went to the hospital in Lèon, and disobeying the very nice doctor's recommendation of two to three days rest, got up and went back on my way the very next morning. There was simply no way in Hades I was going to stay in the monastery in Lèon for another night, even if they would have let me. It had been a difficult place to stay, and in addition to being sick, Lèon was the place of the puzzling, inexplicably sudden and brutally cold exchange between Marc and I at the café on the cathedral square. On I went, coughing my way between humming tunes from Bizet's Carmen the next day. You know the rest.
When I returned home I wasn't having any left over symptoms of my illness. I had nearly forgotten about it in fact. I wasn't coughing, I had dutifully taken my medications, and other than the incredible sleep deprivation I had experienced and accumulated over the four weeks, I would say that I was otherwise very fit. Or so I thought. Then one day after I was well into my new running regime, I began noticing a little pain internally on the right side of my ribs. I thought it had to do with running since at that time I was having a little issue with side cramps which is normal for many runners. Following the advice of experts, I adjusted my running style and breathing, slowed my running down, and within a short time it went away. But then it would come back, and I would feel a little tired during the day, or as if I was about to get sick but then wouldn't. This went on and off for several months. Of course, the more I ran, the better I got at running, and since I'm somehow wired for individual tasks and accomplishments (gymnastics as a child, singing as a profession, drawing as a child, writing now), I kept increasing my distances because my body seemed to want it and because I was curious as to just how far I could run. Then, the little pain would come back and I would think it had to do with my running and since it stopped when I stopped running I didn't worry about it much. At some point the more serious cramping started when I wasn't running as well. It would come on suddenly, like a spasm, and the only thing that would stop it would be to immobilize my body completely, either laying down in a ball or sitting slumped in a reclining chair. I figured that had absolutely nothing to do with my running and went to the local doctor. She pronounced me as having a "Nerven Entzündung" or "inflammation of the nerves." My reaction was, "I have what? Did I say something wrong in German?" I repeated the conversation again and asked questions. I was given some tablets which I took until I finally read the possible side effects of the tablets which included something small and comforting like liver damage. Seeing as how I have a mysterious "freckle" on my liver that was discovered during another exam several years ago, and although I've read that the liver can regenerate itself, let's just say I'd rather not give it any reason to need to.
When I stopped the medication the spasms continued on and off, culminating in one slightly scary episode under the shower one day when the cramps were so strong I was having trouble breathing. For some reason the Pants was in the bathroom at the time and asked if I needed to go to the hospital. I squatted down in the shower, balled myself up, and in a few minutes it went away. After that, when the spasms would happen I would basically rush myself to either the bed or the chair, assume the position, and wait for the spasms to pass. After some days and weeks, this too went away except for a residual little noise I would feel on my side when I breathed in and out, but only sometimes. This little noise would come and go and my life went on in a similar fashion: my relationship crumbling around me and preparing to leave me, my running improving and arriving more fully, my eyes pouring out tears some times for entire days, my inner life growing ever stronger and more informed, and then one day the news that my grandmother had left us after a long life of more than 90 years.
I flew back to the U.S. for the funeral and during the visit I noticed that I wasn't feeling well. It felt like I had an under the radar, low-grade fever, tiredness other than jet-lag, and once again as if I was about to get really sick with something like a full-blown cold. Despite this, after saying goodbye and thank you to my grandmother's physical life, I kept running, and then at my Mother's suggestion I went to see a doctor.
The doctor took one listen to my ribs and said, "I can't be sure without taking an X-ray, which would cost a lot of money as an outpatient, but you have a lung infection, otherwise known as pneumonia."
She wrote me a prescription for some super-duper antibiotics and told me that if my ribs didn't stop making noises when I returned to Germany to have them X-rayed immediately. Thanks to her I never needed the X-rays, but changed my doctor, and since then take more care about keeping particularly my hands and feet warm when out in the cold.
It's the second time in my life that I've had pneumonia. Curiously, I got both in a similar fashion. The first time I was a young teenager on vacation trying to learn how to swing a golf club one evening and got chilled while doing so. Within a day or two the fever and symptoms started. On the Camino, it was the day after I had met Marc and Xavier. That next morning we walked up a small mountain in the dark and we felt the temperature suddenly drop the higher we climbed. My hands froze, I was shivering, and warmth and refreshment were a long walk off, mostly because nothing was yet open and Xavier never wanted to let us stop and when he did, he had to complain about how much time we were taking. Xavier got sick too, but got away with only a cold, which I attribute perhaps to his sheer stubbornness. I got the pneumonia on the Camino, my lungs and my life so close to my heart.