Several years ago my wife, Joni, contracted a bad cold, and despite steam treatments, lots of fluids, rest, and Vitamin C, it moved quickly into her chest. After two solid nights of constant coughing and an increasing tightness in her chest, we didn't wait any longer. I rushed her to the hospital—just in time. The emergency room x-rays showed that Joni's lungs were seriously congested.
The next day, tests revealed that both lungs were filling with fluid. Her physician diagnosed Joni with double pneumonia and ordered extra breathing treatments.
Her diagnosis scared us. Quadriplegics like my wife have no chest muscles and limited lung capacity. For them, even normal breathing is a challenge. Many don't live through pneumonia, let alone double pneumonia. The fact that Joni has lived 38 years as a quadriplegic, outlasting life expectancy statistics, alarmed us more. We knew her situation was tenuous.
But Joni was a trooper. She followed doctor's orders, kept up with her medications, and kept coughing, no matter how tired she felt. Those nine days in the hospital were extremely difficult for my wife. And I have to admit, they were difficult for me.
I felt pretty helpless, unable to do much except pound on her back to break up the phlegm or sit her up to press firmly on her abdomen so she could muster a good cough. I stayed at the hospital every night. I slept—if you could call it that—in a chair next to Joni's hospital bed. I had to be there. I should say I wanted to be there. It's not that I didn't trust nurses to help, but Joni couldn't push any buttons and she sure couldn't call out. I wanted to be there so she'd have someone to be her "muscles" whenever she needed help coughing—which was about every 15 minutes. We went through the quick-get-up-to-sit-her-up routine sometimes 25 times a night (the nurses laughed and said they were going to charge me with "wife abuse"). It wasn't easy. For Joni or for me.1