Covid, Bronchitis and a Miscellany of Pastimes

For three weeks I’ve been triply sick. The illnesses began with covid. A mild case. But, after four or five days, bronchitis set in. Next came a nasty sinus infection. All the good things I was doing lessened the discomfort only a little. Extra vitamins C and D, steamy showers, ivy leaf cough syrup, lots of rest, litres of hot fluids, echinacea capsules, oregano oil, Tiger Balm.

Me, fresh from a hot shower, pretending I’m not sick…the creases in my brow give me away

At the two-week mark, on the advice of the nurse on the heath-care hot line, I visited the emergency department of our local hospital. What a speedy experience that was! A prolonged cough rattled and wheezed under my tight-fitting medical mask. A concerned nurse whisked me off to a solitary waiting area. In record time she had me registered then placed in an isolated room. During the next two hours I was seen by a different nurse, a doctor, two x-ray technicians, then the doctor again. Between visits I read a few chapters of Anne Rice’s The Vampire Lestat.

The novels I am presently reading

The good news—no pneumonia. That possibility concerned me a lot. During three consecutive winters, I suffered with pneumonia. Each case lasted longer than the previous one. In the spring of 2012, a CAT scan revealed scar tissue in one lung. I got a pneumonia vaccine. Was told it would last 10 years. The emergency doctor said they now recommend one every five years. When my health improved I was to arrange for the shot. In the meantime, the viral bronchitis would have to heal on its own. Antibiotics would cure the bacterial sinus infection. Or, so the doctor said.

The week of antibiotics ended two days ago. My health has seen little improvement. Maybe the sinus problem is viral too? My wise yoga teacher suggested that I take the antioxidant NAC—N-Acetyl-L-Cysteine. Here’s what the label says:

NAC is a highly stable form of cysteine and is a precursor in the body to the critical antioxidant glutathione. [It] helps to reduce the severity and frequency of influenza-like symptoms in adults over 65 years of age.

As I am an adult somewhat older than 65 with flu-like symptoms, I researched several brands. I bought a “Bonus Size” bottle of the capsules. Three days and six doses later, I can almost breathe through one nostril or the other. I also began taking an echinacea-based tincture five times a day. When I had bronchitis in the winter of 2002, it held me hostage for six weeks. I plan to extricate myself much sooner this time.

So, how have I occupied these sick days?

1. Reading novels. Most just okay. One exemplary—I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith. The same author wrote One Hundred and One Dalmatians. I never knew that the Disney movie was first a book. I wonder did the firm studio do it justice? I will have to read the novel. The castle book is extraordinary. It boasts one of the most original narrators I’ve encountered in years. Young, clever, confused, honest, and at times hilarious. The eccentric characters are treated with vivid details and much good-will, the ordinary ones give balance and believably.

2. Reading non-fiction. My 91 year-old far-away friend regularly sends me hand-written letters. How happy I am that she never learned to use a computer. Words penned on paper are intimate. They speak to your heart. And, how much we can learn from their physical presence. Pat always uses thin, pale blue, letter-sized sheets. She’s been doing this for years. I wonder if her supply will ever run out. Oh, I do hope not. Few of her words are ever crossed out. However, there are sometimes carets inserted to add a necessary adjective. I think of Jane Austen writing entire novels on tiny sheets of paper in minuscule script. No delete, backspace, edit, cut, copy, paste. Maybe brains worked differently back then.

Pat never fails to mention the book she is reading at the time of the letter. The last was Edward Abbey’s Desert Solitaire: A Season in the Wilderness, copyright 1968. I wondered, would I enjoy it as much as I did Walden so many decades ago?I looked it up. Excellent reviews, especially with regard to the writing. The library system on Prince Edward Island has only one copy and there was a hold on it. I broke my rule about not buying any more books and ordered it online. Now I will have to discard one. That shouldn’t be a problem. Lately I’ve been eyeing a few that have lost their lifetime-of- pleasure promise.

3. Completing challenging crosswords. Two or three a day. Usually in bed at night. When the pen falls out of my hand and stains the sheets, I know it’s time to quit and try to sleep. By the way, I don’t use a pen because of extreme confidence. Rather, it is easier to see in the semi-light of the darkened bedroom.

4. Making soup. Mornings are best for serious endeavours. I have some energy then. I like to cook. I haven’t been able to taste much for weeks. Some say that’s a result of covid. Maybe. Or maybe it’s just that my sinuses are full most of the time. Homemade soups are equally time-consuming and rewarding. Yesterday I roasted russet potatoes, turnip, fennel, yams, celery, carrots, onion and a whole head of garlic with bay leaves, several sprigs of fresh rosemary (I over-winter a plant in my garage) and generous sprinkles of dried thyme. Organic veggie broth and more seasonings produced an exceptionally fine soup…so said my husband. I couldn’t taste it but the compliment rang true as Gilles is a mostly honest man. He wouldn’t lie to me just because I’m sick. Well, he may. Perhaps, when my sense of smell is recovered, I should cook with a clothespin on my nose and trust that end result will also be “exceptionally fine.”

Homemade soup…I ate mine without the yogourt swirl…no dairy for impaired respiratory systems

5. Watching NetFlix. We gave up cable TV three or four years ago. I have never missed it. Especially the commercials. I don’t know how to stream programs nor do I wish to learn. So, NetFlix is my only visual escape. I am embarrassed to admit that I enjoy Korean drama series. Gods and goddesses, monsters, high technology, fantasy, corporate corruption, little-known history, all with a predictable romance thrown in. A bonus is that I can mute the program and just read the subtitles thereby convincing myself that I am not a vegetable.

6. Feeding the birds. Winter blizzards batter houses and trees and knock out power lines. I keep my three feeders full. I spill some on the ground for the mourning doves, jays and crows that are too big to fit inside the caged seed silos. It is so cold this morning that the chickadees and finches don’t wait for the crows to disappear before heading in for breakfast. Courageous creatures. Watching the birds is as rewarding as watching NetFlix.

Out-of-focus bird feeder frenzy…taken through a less-than-clean window

7. Necessary household chores such as laundry and vacuuming. Last week I spent two hours ironing. I forgot how much I enjoy watching wrinkles disappear. I wonder if there is a metaphor in that last sentence. Or a longing. Ages ago I considered writing a piece called meditations while ironing. I may still compose that. My recent happy experience with a steam iron was probably enhanced by my breathing in the hot mist.

8. Communicating with family and friends. Phone calls, FaceTimes, messenger, instagram, emails, postcards, real pen and ink letters, and this blog. Reaching out to others in a time of forced isolation feeds our need for intimacy. What I love best are the moments of shared laughter. Medicine for the soul.

9. Sleeping.

I have always been attracted to multiples of three. So, I’ll stop now. Maybe I’ll nap. Writing demands a lot of energy.

Smiling–A Panacea for a Pandemic

Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy. — Thich Nhat Hanh

Lauren and I


I disliked the book from its first line:

“This doesn’t feel right, patron.” Isabelle Lacoste’s voice in his earpiece was anxious, verging on urgent.

In spite of my initial response, I read ninety-nine pages. But, no more! I love the author, Louise Penny. I mostly enjoyed the first sixteen novels in the Inspector Gamache series. However, this one, I will not finish. As the saying goes, “Life is too short to drink cheap wine.” Likewise, life is too short to read bleak novels.

Pandemics can bruise our spirit, darken our outlook, wear us down. During this difficult time, it is important to take care of our psychological well-being. Read books that inspire, listen to music that soothes, walk in nature, associate with optimistic people and take time every day to smile and express gratitude. A positive attitude protects us, uplifts us, allows us to be our best possible selves.

My friend’s husband, Shawn exemplified positivity. While still a teenager, Shawn was diagnosed with dystonia. The Mayo Clinic website describes the disease as an incurable movement disorder in which muscles contract involuntarily causing repetitive or twisting movements.

I met Lauren, Shawn’s wife, at a local arts centre. We were both in our forties and Shawn six years older. Lauren and I are soulmates, kindred spirits, or whatever other term describes the heart-to-heart connection between two people. When Lauren introduced me to her husband of almost thirty years, his eyes mesmerized me. Large, bright, blue. His smile crinkled his entire face. When I asked Shawn, how he was doing, he replied, “Tickety-boo”. The thick padded neck brace disappeared. I saw only the joyful man in the easy chair. The intense pain, the debilitation, the surgeries, the injections, none of these were evident in Shawn’s shining eyes, lilting voice, and radiant visage.

I visited Shawn in the hospital a few days before his death. His body contorted, his face twisted, the morphine no longer sufficient to ease the pain, he smiled up at me and assured me he was “Tickety-boo.”

At Shawn’s celebration of life, Lauren gave to each attendee, a small, white, concrete bird. For eight years that symbol of Shawn’s luminous spirit has rested in my garden. It never fails to make me smile and remember that remarkable man.

Smiling makes us healthier. Frequent, unabashed smiling has been shown to reduce blood pressure, improve the immune system, and may even reduce the risk of chronic disease.

Melissa Norton, founder of Four Wellness Co.

My niece

My niece also exemplifies a keen enjoyment of living despite an incurable disease. Alison has a rare type of blood cancer that causes severe pain in all of her nerve endings. On “bad” days, she lies immobile on the living room couch. The smallest movement sends shock waves through her body. On “better” days, she accomplishes small tasks such as cleaning the bathroom sink, or the toilet, or the tub. On “good” days she cooks, shops or even attends a gentle yoga class. Chemotherapy lessens, but does not eliminate, the discomfort. Before her illness, Alison and her husband led active lives. Among other pastimes, they biked, kayaked, and hiked. Even though Alison can no longer do those things, she makes certain to rest during the week so that on designated weekends, she can travel with her husband to one of their favourite trails or rivers. Alex heads off alone on an adventure; Alison drives and meets him at his destination. Those are her “best” days.

When I asked Alison how she keeps such a positive outlook, she said, “With humour and with God.”

I thought about Lauren’s tribute to Shawn, where she wrote that the best part of their relationship was the laughter. I recalled Ruth, a wise yoga teacher, explaining the benefits of smiling. How the muscles activated send a message to the brain to release feel-happy hormones. Ruth said that if you simply could not smile, put a pencil between your teeth. The same muscles respond, the brain is tricked, stress is reduced and positive feelings ensue. I shared that advice with Alison. Perhaps she can use it on the bad days.

Ruth, the wise yoga teacher

Living through a pandemic is not the same as living with an incurable disease. The pandemic will probably become endemic; most of us will resume our previous lives. But, what Shawn and Alison taught me was that if they were able to stay positive and experience joy in their lives, in spite of intense suffering, than I, who am blessed with good health, can certainly do the same.

So, smile for yourself, share your smile with others and make today’s world a healthier, happier place.