Shot at Life World Pneumonia Day. Colofrul photo of three adorable little Black girls

Yesterday was World Pneumonia Day, a fact that I’d overlooked until it was too late in the day to write the post I’d intended to write. And it’s something I really wanted to do, not just because I’m a Shot@Life Champion – although they did provide me with some facts about pneumonia – but because I’ve been so personally affected by pneumonia. It nearly claimed my life before I’d even had a chance to start living it.

Shot at Life World Pneumonia Day. Colofrul photo of three adorable little Black girls

Born with Pneumonia

I came into this world on November 17 just about 35 years ago, and I almost didn’t make it past my first night. As a matter of fact, one of the nurses told my mom, “We didn’t think this one was going to make it,” the first time they put me in her arms, which was a few days after I was born. My mom had been very sick after delivering me, too, so they hadn’t told her how sick I was. They told my dad and my grandma not to tell her how sick I was. But she tells me she still remembers one of her brothers walking into the hospital room, eating pistachios, and commenting about how they had more tubes in me than she had. A first-time mother, she was understandably upset.

Being born with pneumonia at a time before hospitals had any sort of NICU was not ideal. But the hospital I was born in specialized in mothers and babies, so it was probably the best place I could have been born. I spent the first few weeks of my life in an incubator. I was hooked up to all sorts of things, and my grandma cried and begged them to put a diaper on me. They hadn’t put on one me because I was so sick. I think I was being fed by a tube, and by the time they got me around to drinking, I refused the formula they gave me. My mom said the stuff I would drink was some of the most vile stuff she’d ever smelled.

My mom got discharged from the hospital before I did. She’d had to have a C-section, and some of the streets she had to travel to see me every day were cobblestone, which really messed with her healing incision. She said she’d heard the bells at church one night and wondered why the bells would be ringing when it clearly wasn’t Sunday morning. It turns out that it was Thanksgiving, and she hadn’t even noticed because she’d been so worried about me.

When I was finally allowed to go home, they discharged me straight from the incubator I’d been living in.

And that was the beginning of my very difficult infancy, for which I’m so sorry about putting my mom through. I was not an easy baby, and that had started on day one.

Pneumonia: Round Two

I don’t remember how old I was when I got pneumonia again, but I know I was in elementary school. I have a vague recollection of being carried into the hospital exam room – I think it was at a hospital, because it wasn’t my pediatrician’s office – and being laid down on the table and quickly undressed so the doctor could listen to my lungs. I had double pneumonia. Being a child, I thought that it was called double pneumonia because it was the second time I’d had pneumonia, and if I got it again, it would then be triple pneumonia. But as it turned out, double pneumonia just means you have it in both of your lungs, so triple pneumonia would be quite impossible.

I spent what felt like weeks living in the tent in my bedroom. I had this big blue tent that sat on and zipped up over my bed. The tent made it look like my bed was a car. I slept a lot, and I drank the nasty medicine they gave me. I probably made a big fuss about it every time, because I still make a big fuss any time I have to take foul-tasting medicine. I’m allergic to penicillin, so my antibiotics are always dreadful things. I remember feeling warm all the time, so I know my fever was probably pretty high. I wasn’t allowed to zip my tent up all the time because of it. There were probably many Popsicles and bowls of ice cream, and whatever else I wanted. I know there was ginger ale.

Of course, I had no idea how sick I was at the time. As a kid, you know that you feel awful when you’re sick, you always get better. But the adults always had this look on their faces. I wonder if the doctors had been grim about the possibilities, or if it was just because they all remembered my first bout with pneumonia. They were all really worried for me.

My grandma brought me a present – it was a Precious Moments nativity set. So it must have been near Christmastime. I loved it so much. I played with the figurines in my room sometimes. I wonder what sort of conversations Joseph and Mary were having with the shepherds. It probably would have been amusing to anyone who overheard. I still have that nativity set around here somewhere in a box. But I do remember thinking that Grandma seemed like she was about to cry when she gave it to me.

I Was Lucky – Pneumonia is the Leading Killer of Children Under 5

If I had been born elsewhere, I probably wouldn’t have survived my first few days of life. In 2012 alone, 1.1 million children worldwide died of pneumonia before the age of five. In the U.S., 60,000 people die of pneumonia each year, but 99% of pneumonia deaths happen in developing countries. It’s a matter of air quality, adequate medical care, proper nutrition, sanitation, and so much more. These are Big Problems that humanitarian organizations are trying to help solve, but it takes time and resources – and children can’t wait. It takes years to get even a single village up to better living standards. The pneumococcal vaccine can help prevent bacterial pneumonia and meningitis while communities are in the process of getting cleaner water and safer cooking stoves and all the rest of it.

You can donate life-saving vaccines to kids in need through the UN Foundation’s Shot@Life program. In fact, if you’ve ever wanted to thank me for anything I’ve written that may have helped you, my birthday is this coming weekend, and I would be grateful for any donations made in my name. I’m a twice-survivor of childhood pneumonia, and I would be so happy to know that other children were protected from this dangerous illness.

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