Pneumonia: Episode one

Writing nonfiction has always come easily to me; even the most mundane events have inspiration buried inside them, which is why I cherish challenges to make events like workdays inspiring. Sometimes, however, the scene cuts itself short, and there’s no “angry blob monster” strategy to negotiate a nonfiction author’s writer’s block.

With that, I give you a piece about my college years. Critique, comment; give me somewhere to go aside from the obvious, a path my brain seems adamant not to take.


I lay down on the cement, which feels warmer than my body. I breathe in deeply, as deeply as I can, and my lungs begin to itch terribly. I exhale quickly, fearfully, but I waited too long. The cough comes, horrible and fluid.

I bask in the sunlight in deep fall. It’s fall, isn’t it? I close my eyes because my head is spinning, taking the sky along with it. I breathe again. I avoid the cough, barely.

Baylor’s doctors told me I have pneumonia. How long ago was that? I open my eyes and look around; I’m at Baylor Student Learning Center, home of their medical team. I moan as my head swells. Tears well up in my eyes.

My head hurts so badly. I tried to break it on the cinder blocks of my dorm room. It woke me up, the pain. I coughed and coughed and coughed, my diaphragm yanking my body into a fetal position. And then I turned to look at the entrance of my dorm room with that damn two by one foot vent. The never ending blast of cold splashed right on me, blew onto my bed unavoidably. Damn it to hell, my nemesis.

Turning back to the window, I shivered under my comforter. My head never settled down, never stopped spinning, never stopped aching. I had class today, my last class before Thanksgiving Break, before going home to my family. I banged my head against the wall instead.

I wanted to fracture the skull, the see pieces of it sliding down the beige blocks. I wanted to see the cold, malevolent wall painted in my blood and bone. I didn’t even manage to bruise myself, didn’t even chafe the dry skin. I was too weak.

Colt had come in and asked me why I missed class. I groaned, got up, and vomited in our sink. Or did I dream about vomiting in the sink? He asked me if he could take me to the doctors at the SLC. That was after I said I couldn’t drive there, couldn’t even walk there.

He had dropped me off at the entrance, but he didn’t wait around. If he had stayed, he might’ve hit rush hour traffic in Houston, four hours away. I opened the door and climbed out and off he went like a bullet in his sporty silver Civic.

Oh, my fucking head. I grab it with my hands, I shut my eyes tightly, I rub my temples, but nothing helps. Athena. Zeus. Oh, God, I’m about to pass out.

A female voice speaks over me: “Do you need some help?” It seems all consuming. It pounds inside my fevered head. The cement is cold. The sun is weak.

I open my eyes. It’s the nurse who had me wait two hours to see a doctor. “Grandparents,” I mumble, “coming.”

“What?” she asks.

I cough, regaining some strength. “My grandparents are coming.”

“Do you need a ride to the hospital?”

They had told me in the doctors’ office that they couldn’t drive me to the hospital, that it made them liable if something happened on the way. I couldn’t drive, though, can’t drive now, passed out on the sidewalk.

I pull out my cell phone and call my grandparents. This confuses the nurse, but she stands there politely. My grandparents don’t answer; I get their machine. It’s been forty-five minutes since they said they were on their way, though. I’ve made the trip from the college to their house before; it’s fifteen minutes, tops.

I struggle to put the cell phone away, pushing it forcefully into my pocket, and lift my hand to the nurse, which induces more pounding in my head. My hand only lifted just over a foot off the ground before it flopped back, limp with exhaustion. What’s happening to me? Fear sets in, and adrenaline starts to pump.

With effort, I sit up. My coughing nearly topples me.

“Do you need help?” she asks me again.

“Oh, God, yes.” My voice shakes. I’m on the verge of tears.

“Do you remember what the doctor said you had?”


Just then, my grandparents pulled up in the driveway. The nurse pulled on my arm, trying to get me up.

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Author: Greg Freed


22 thoughts on “Pneumonia: Episode one

  1. I die a horrible death and write this from beyond the grave, where I haunt my old lover until he realizes that his life is all a sham. Oh, wait, that’s Wuthering Heights. Here I **SPOILER ** get a shot of penicillin and live to tell the tale, lolz?

  2. I had pneumonia and sepsis in the summer of 2007. It very nearly killed me, but when I tried writing about it, all I could think of was the gorgeous doctor who rushed me into ICU and whom I never saw again.

  3. Greg, I’ve never had Pneumonia, but after reading your article I’m finding it very easy to “feel” what it’s like to have. Your writing is great!

  4. How long did you suffer from Pneumonia Greg? Did you have to wear a kind of tarpaulin bowl around your head? I did and I remember people coming to visit me and as I had this strange helmet thing on and tubes going into my stomach through my mouth, I was unable to speak. Plus I was in a lot of pain and even the doctors thought I was unaware of my environment most of the time. But I was aware of everything and I remember hearing the most interesting stories from my visitors and the staff – from gossip to confessions, and I remember one couple having a bit of a domestic too!. So anyway… I was thinking, you could use the idea, to create stories about your protagonist’s family – things he never knew and things he would never have known, had he not become ill.

    …Just a thought…

  5. My sister was hospitalized with pneumonia twice. It isn’t something to mess with! Next time go to the freakin hospital before you get that sick, Mr. Genius! That is my criticism. You could discuss the dynamic of your relationship with your grandparents. What took them so long? What happened when you were in the hospital. The smells, sounds, being completely out of it…

  6. Greg, I have my first critique to add: Your overuse of commas and semicolons distracts from the flow of your writing. After reading each of your pieces I think it’s safe to say this is a trait you carry throughout your work. I understand the desire to provide the reader with a definite rhythm of the thoughts flowing from your mind onto paper, but in my own humble opinion this creates an inevitable turbulence. I’d venture to guess that the sentence structures are not grammatically correct, either.

  7. Wow that’s quite the tale sir. I remember visiting someone I know when they were that sick and it scared me near to tears.
    I’m curious though, did you mean for this to be sort of a stream of consciousness or is that just how it came out? I can easily follow the flow of it but I think it would be easier and make more sense (and not make me want to bang my head against a wall) if it was just sequential.

  8. I like your way with words. I’m no good at commenting on grammar or other technical aspects of writing but this piece does strike me as being noticeably fragmented, if that makes any sense. I think that maybe sometimes, prose should be rough and unsteady though – sometimes, that is it’s ideal state…

  9. I remember you telling me this story when we came back from Thanksgiving break. Sorry i didn’t stick around. I do like the writing though.

  10. Again the alien feeling of critiquing sets in. I was a writer, a review and such of videogames, for a website before the Internet bubble burst in 2001. But I was glad to let it go…


    I do like the sense of pain and delierium. I’m trying to remember what it was like for me when I had pneumonia, and exactly when that’s what I had. It can be a system reset to be sick, a deep refresh, but it’s also a reminder of just how much spoiled we are on good health.

    Seeing one’s own body as the enemy is an uncommon feeling… at least until old age. Perhaps some way to put that perspective a little more under the microscope would work. A villain, a competitor, a tourmentor. The body at war with the mind, a larger symbolic conflict.

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