Kevin Tao

Pneumonia as a Way of Life


People often ask me why I cofounded Recoveralls. To me, coronavirus is personal.

For as long as I can remember, I've had yearly battles against bronchitis and pneumonia. I've had bronchitis/pneumonia at least two dozen times in my life. It's interfered with my career, my social life, my relationships, and my hopes and dreams.

I will always remember the worst case. It was a week before my 19th birthday. I close my eyes and I am instantly transported.

It was 6 am. Chicago was in the deepest, darkest part of the winter.  My fever was 104.5 and I couldn't breathe without coughing and wheezing. 

I overhear my parents arguing downstairs. My mother was very concerned, saying we needed to take me to the hospital. My father was in complete denial.

He said I was faking it. He said it's not so bad. He said I deserved it. He said it's nothing. He said I'm acting sick on purpose. Normally I would have raged against his illogical rants, but today I lacked the strength to fight.

With the perspective of looking back, I empathize and understand that denial is the first stage of grief.

Then I was in the car on the way to the ER. The icicles on leafless trees, and the greyish blur of concrete suburbia.

I am sitting in the ER waiting room. I considered my quickly approaching death. Surprisingly, I am not feeling sad or angry. I am just resigned. More acceptance than anything else.

I close my eyes and wonder if anyone knows I'm sick? Would anyone care if I die? I think about my crush. My cute classmate who studies biomedical engineering with me.

She's the only person who ever wants to study with me in the library. She's an athlete and the picture of health. And she's hopelessly out of my league. My eyes start to get blurry and watery. I say her name softly under my breath, and it gives me strength to hang on.

When they connected the IV drip, I felt like a little bit like Wolverine. The needle was my lone adamantium claw.

The next week I spent hospitalized on the knife's edge of life and death. I survived to my 19th birthday.

Being so close to my own death by pneumonia gives me a weird perspective.

For the past 12 years I didn't know what it all meant. But now my purpose has crystallized.

This is my time to fight.



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