So I am stuck at home and I am bored. My mind is active and I want to go out and about and do things, but as soon as I get out of bed and walk the length of this poky apartment I start wheezing like a little old lady who has been munching on the cancer sticks too long. I have to remind myself to take it easy, to not rush things and to make the most of this restful time by reading and blogging and surfing the net. (Unfortunately, I can't watch TV because ours blew up on Saturday night, so I can't even be comforted by the likes of Richard & Judy, Oprah Winfrey or three-year-old episodes of Neighbours -- a blessing in disguise, perhaps?)
I have been sick since Wednesday October 25, which is three weeks ago now. It first started with aches and pains, mainly in my legs, and a raging fever, followed by a dry cough and a headache. I took the Thursday off work, hoping a day's rest might cure me before we headed off on our week-long trip to Venice on the Saturday, but it didn't really help. If truth be known, the only reason I dragged myself into work on the Friday was so I could collect my Puma trainers which were lying underneath my desk (don't ask -- ever since I took up cycling to work the office has turned into a veritable wardrobe, I have trousers, shirts and shoes lying everywhere).
On the Saturday of our trip I woke up feeling horrendous. I still hadn't packed my suitcase. In between bouts of coughing I remember throwing in underwear, a handful of tee-shirts and some trousers. At the very last minute, and completely on a whim, I added a bright red fleece, normally reserved for winter cycling, and two scarves. Thank goodness I took those items with me, because I lived in that fleece, the only really warm item I packed*, and those scarves for the next week!
Equipped with painkillers and a giant bottle of cough medicine, the first few days in Venice weren't too bad. Sure, I had no energy and my upper body ached from the effort of coughing every two minutes, but I could put up with it because I was on holiday and I was supposed to be having fun!
It was on the Tuesday, when we were wandering around the Jewish Ghetto, that I really started to feel that I was getting worse and not better. It was something about breathing in the damp air that made me feel that my insides were collapsing. I wanted to lie in a warm bed, preferably my own, and sleep until I could sleep no more.
Foolishly, I thought some alcohol might help. A small beer might relax my chest or at least numb the horrible feeling in my lungs. We sat outside a small cafe in Cannaregio, ordered beers and watched a steady stream of passersby parading along the Strada Nuova (the main shopping street). Most of the children were dressed up in Halloween costumes and we had fun laughing at some of their ridiculous costumes. The distraction was great while it lasted. But later, back in our studio apartment in Dorsoduro, just a street away from the beautiful Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute, I broke out in a fever and began to feel especially rough.
In the evening, having not eaten very much all day, T thought a hot whiskey might perk me up. So we rugged up against the chill night air and walked along the very exposed and windswept Zattere Quay, which faces onto the Guidecca Canal, until we found a little restaurant that looked suitable. Into this warm dining room, with its sunshine-yellow tablecloths and its harried waiters, we ordered whiskeys, plus pizza (for T) and vegetable soup (for me). The whiskey was shudder-inducing, but the soup was divine, salty and thick with green vegetables just like the stuff my mum used to make. I could feel it doing me good with every spoonful I slurped down.
The following day, Wednesday, was not good. The fever was in full swing (I'd had to change my pyjamas in the middle of the night, because I'd woken up drenched in sweat) and the continual coughing had completely worn me out. I stayed in bed all day, only getting up for a late lunch in a cafe around the corner from the flat, followed by a short walk around the neighbourhood. I headed back to bed and sent poor T out to do some sight-seeing on his own.
On Thursday I felt even rougher but I was determined not to waste any more time in bed. There were so many things I wanted to see, but just didn't have the energy or inclination (queueing up with hundreds of other tourists to see St Mark's Basilica had absolutely no appeal, ditto for climbing the Campanile, even though both were on my list of things to do this time round because we had not done this on our last trip in 2002). A little bit of island-hopping seemed manageable, because all I had to do was sit on a vaporetti (waterbus) and watch the world float by, right? Wrong.
The vaporetti, especially the Number 1 which glides around the Grand Canal, is busy no matter what time of day or night you catch it, and riding it is far from relaxing because it is so damned crowded -- a bit like London Underground's Picadilly Line. We only had to travel a few stops to catch our next connection, but I felt like death warmed up by the time we got there. At that point I was more than happy to have a coffee in a cafe near St Mark's Square and do as little as possible for the rest of the day. But then T spied a large boat heading to Burano, one of the islands in the lagoon, so we climbed on board with a handful of locals and enjoyed a relatively slow one-hour cruise north in gloriously warm winter sunshine.
In Burano, a small fishing village adorned with brightly coloured buildings, we had lunch and then went for a stroll. The wind in the more exposed parts of the island whipped right through me, making it painful to breathe, and as much as I had originally wanted to visit neighbouring Torcello I just didn't feel up to it. My bed was calling again.
I don't remember much about Friday or Saturday, except we took
things easy. The plane ride home on Saturday evening was horrendous. I
was sitting by the window and could feel a breeze washing over me that
did not originate from the overhead air vents but seemed to come from a
gap between the wall and ceiling. By the time we landed at Gatwick, I
was shivering with fever and every bone in my body was aching. The
journey from the airport to home was a very long one indeed!
When I eventually sank into bed, propped up by three pillows (did I mention I have not being able to lie down ever since I got this bug, purely because lying down means I drown in my own congestion and cough like there's no tomorrow), I felt an enormous sense of relief that I'd finally made it home in one piece. I had been longing to sleep in my own bed all week!
I won't bore you with the details regarding the difficulty in acquiring a doctor's appointment on the Monday (sometimes I wonder why we pay national insurance), but when I finally got to see a doctor at around 9.45am I was in a pretty bad way. He diagnosed me with an unspecified chest infection and asthma, wrote me a prescription for some kick-ass antibiotics (that they normally give to people who have Anthrax!!) and an inhaler, and told me to come back in two weeks because he wanted to check whether the asthma was a symptom of the infection or something entirely separate that would need longer term care.
The rest of the week was spent in bed. I coughed a lot, slept a lot, read a lot, experienced many fevers and, despite lacking an appetite, I craved, of all things, apple pie and chicken noodle soup!
I went back to the doctor on Monday. I saw a different GP this time, a younger, less imposing chap, and he seemed flummoxed by my condition. "I don't understand why a fit, young 37-year-old should come down with pneumonia**," he said. "Pneumonia?" I replied. "Well, yes, I'm pretty certain that's what you've got because the congestion is very low in your lungs whereas if it was bronchitis the congestion would be sitting up much higher."
He told me I'd obviously caught a very bad bug, but the course of antibiotics, which I'd finished the day before, would have killed it, so there was no need to issue a repeat prescription. He simply told me it was now up to nature to take its course and he would expect me to start feeling an improvement over the next few days. He signed me off work for another week, and told me to come back for a chest X-ray if I was still feeling bad in a week.
I think the only good bit of news to come from this visit was the fact he made me step on the scales, something I've not done in years. I'm pretty sure on my last trip to the doctor in November 2001 I weighed around 84kg, this time I was 69kg! I'm probably the only person in history to go to Italy and lose weight. Even so, I suspect, when I'm in full health I'm around the 72kg mark, which is largely due to the cycling keeping my weight on an even keel and nothing whatsoever to do with what I shove in my gob!
Anyway, today I feel remarkably better than I have in a long time. The cough is still there, but it's turned into a productive one and no longer hurts my lungs or back muscles. I still wheeze when I talk or move about, but I don't feel like I am catching my breath every time I get out of bed to go to the loo. I also feel rested, probably because last night was the first uninterrupted night's sleep I've had in three weeks.
With any luck, I'll be fully recovered by the week's end. And then I'll be whinging that I don't have enough time to read or blog or relax or do all the wonderful restful things I have been doing for the past 10 or so days!
* I did wear a snow jacket, just in case you think I'd be stupid enough to go on a winter holiday without an appropriate coat!
** I've since discovered on the NHS Direct website (which must be a hypochondriac's dream site) that 1 in 100 people get pneumonia every year in the UK, but the majority are more than 70 years old! You are more likely to get it if you are over 65; you smoke; you are a heavy drinker; you already have a lung disease, such as asthma or cystic fibrosis; you have, or have recently had, an illness that has made your body's natural defences against infection weaker, such as flu; you take medicine for an illness such as AIDS or cancer, which has made it harder for your body to fight off infection; or you are an intravenous drug user -- none of which applies to me.