Monday, January 3, 2011


Boy, did I ever take breathing for granted.
Yes, I knew that we have to breathe in order to live. Yes, I knew in general terms that good breathing is essential to good health. But man-o-man, through my recent bout of pneumonia, I learned a hard lesson about what starts to go wrong when you don’t breathe right.
Apparently, normal oxygen levels in your blood range from 95% to 100%. At these levels, everything is hunky-dory.
But when it slips down to the 94% and below range, bizarre things start to happen since your red blood cells can’t get any oxygen anymore. Mine went down to 93%. So what happened to me?
Lungs with Pneumonia
Well, I had the typical symptoms of shortness of breath, chronic coughing and fatigue… but I’ve felt these things before from simple flu viruses.  The two main (and scariest) things this time (that I had never experienced before) were disorientation and panic.  
I was powerless. All I could do was sit upright on the edge of the bed, leaning forward slightly. I stared at nothing in particular, and found that real time for me (what the philosophers refer to as “ontological time”) became suspended. I was living from moment-to-moment, not in the sense of nirvana, where you’re “at one with the universe,” but moment-to-moment as in living from paycheck to paycheck: no security and lots of fear because you’re pretty much at the end of your rope and you wonder whether or not you will survive.
I had little sense of my surroundings or of others around me. If you had asked me what I needed, I wouldn’t have been able to tell you, other than I needed to BREATHE.
It was downright scary.
Now that the pneumonia has released its tight grip on me, my oxygen levels are back up to a normal range. I’m still tired and cough a bit, but at least I’m not surviving on short breaths any more. Most importantly, though, the disorientation and panic have retreated.
But my recent experience has made me hypersensitive to miniscule fluctuations in my breathing. I find myself constantly monitoring my “ins” and “outs.” I wonder how long this heightened awareness will last.

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