Friday, February 10, 2012

Medical Question: Pneumonia

Elaine asks: You've come highly recommended by quite a few author-friends and I'm hoping you can help me out with a medical question for my story.

I have a high school senior who comes down with a severe case of pneumonia weeks before her graduation. She is hospitalized in the ICU, pulls through, but doesn't make it to graduation.

Plot wise I need her to miss the fall semester of beginning college & have her family keeping her home during the summer for extra rest while she recuperates more fully. I'd like to know if this scenario is feasible-- that a case of pneumonia, if bad enough, could weaken someone enough that she'd postpone starting school in the fall and take it up again in the spring?

Jordyn says: Elaine—thanks so much for sending me your question. And thanks for the compliment! That means a lot to me.

As far as your question—there are a few issues with your scenario. In a previously healthy young adult, it wouldn't be that feasible for her to be sick so long. Medical treatment for pneumonia is antibiotics for 5-10 days. Then maybe residual cough, easily fatigued for a couple of weeks. This is of course if it is a one-sided simple pneumonia. So, considering those factors, if she were sickened in May I would think she'd be able to attend school in the fall.
Also, people are rarely admitted to the ICU for pneumonia unless they need to be intubated on a breathing machine. So, say she had bilateral (both lungs involved) pneumonia, had to be intubated, popped a lung (called a pneumothorax), needed a chest tube, etc. Again, these might sicken her for a couple of weeks but if she's generally healthy she should be able to overcome this, rest up for several weeks—back to school in the fall.

My suggestion would be this-- give this character a chronic illness that puts her lungs in a more vulnerable state (broncho-pulmonary dysplasia, asthma, cystic fibrosis) and the pneumonia got to the point where she had to be admitted to the ICU on a ventilator and she blew a lung which complicated her situation. Considering her history of chronic disease—it would be more feasible that she'd have a long recovery time and she'd take the fall semester off.

Asthmatics on the ventilator are very hard to manage and get off and often have a complicated course. Most often, they have to be medically paralyzed and sedated. The patient is high risk for developing a pneumothorax. This would be my pick.


Elaine Stock is a former RWA member and has presented several writing workshops. Presently involved in ACFW, she was a 2011 semi-finalist in the prestigious Genesis Contest in the contemporary fiction division. She is also active on several social networking groups. Her first short story was published on Christian Fiction Online Magazine. New to the blogging world, Elaine started a blog this past April, Everyone’s Story. Since then, the blog has been graced by an awesome international viewership that totally pings her heart. Everyone’s Story features weekly interviews and reflections from published authors, unpublished writers…and just about anyone who wants to share a motivating story with others that may lift their spirit. She has also been the guest of several other blogs, helping to further grow her presence on-line.
She and her husband make their home in an 1851 Rutland Railroad Station they painfully but lovingly restored.


  1. Thanks so much, Jordyn, for posting this. You'e helped me immensely, and I hope it will be helpful for others.

  2. Elaine,

    It was a great question! Thanks for letting me host it.

    1. And thank you for helping me immensely with getting the kinks out of my plot.

  3. I feel sorry for this character! It is amazing what you can do with a story when you seek the advice of professionals. Good lesson. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Jordyn's site is definitely full of helpful information, Sara. Hope you spread the word around ☺

      Thanks for stopping by.

  4. Sara,

    Thanks for your comment. It is important to consult professionals for these areas. I have to do that too for areas of medicine that are not my specialty. However, often times, you can increase the conflict and tension in the manuscript by having someone field these ideas and offer other suggestions that you may not know are even an option.

    And yes, I did kind of torture that poor character, didn't I.