I disappeared from the ongoings of society in November while I sat bedside to my husband as he fought off an infection. He went from some sort of bronchitis, to pneumonia, to coughing up blood in the ER with an abscess in his lung.  Now that normalcy has somewhat returned and I’m gazing at the wasteland of social media, I fear that our society is quite likely to be facing a similar scenario if we don’t stop and take a deep breath.

Literally, a deep breath could change things. My nurse-friend told me most pneumonias develop because people stop breathing deep. A deep breath makes them cough, and they don’t like to cough, so they stay shallow. When breath doesn’t move things around in the lungs, then infection festers.

For JJ in particular, this infection made him sick. He started to get better.  He finished the antibiotics, but the infection, the pneumonia, wasn’t completely gone. The best I can understand – because I deal with the philosophical, not the biological – the cells in JJ’s lungs got scared. They saw the infection, something that is not supposed to be there. So these little white blood cells multiplied and joined forces. The drew together tightly, and then formed the abscess. These cells thought it was protecting the body by surrounding infected cells.

But guess what happened. Inside this cluster a new infection began to develop, this one resistant to the antibiotics. It didn’t even need oxygen, so it didn’t die as the white blood cells believed it would – it thrived. It grew to the size of my 5-year-old daughter’s fist.

The doctors were pretty stumped as to the cause of this abscess. Sometimes a foreign body could cause it, but the bronchoscopy showed nothing but “bread and butter pneumonia”, something a normal 35-year-old man ought to be able to fight off, with the help of antibiotics.

So what went wrong?

To personify it, I think fear made the news in his lungs one day. Those healthy little cells saw that things weren’t as they ought to be and freaked out. Instead of trusting in the good work of tried-and-true medicine, JJ’s body inadvertently went into crisis mode.  Batten down the hatches! Seal all the borders! Nothing in or out! His body turned its own cells against itself.

The pneumonia wasn’t the heaviest threat – another round of basic antibiotics would have finished it.  The problem was the growing infection inside the abscess.

If JJ would have taken deep breaths and opened his airways, his bronchitis probably wouldn’t form a pneumonia. And if his white blood cells would not have closed up, his abscess probably wouldn’t have formed. In essence, JJ’s dis-ease came from closing, shallowing and tightening. The remedy was opening, deepening, breathing.

Fear won’t heal us. Not in our bodies, not in our society.

Instead, let’s take a deep breath. Even when it makes us cough. Even when it’s uncomfortable. Let your breath move around on the insides. Let it keep things moving instead of stagnant; let yourself be full instead of shallow.

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