Pop Culture and the Big Noo

My friend and Lost Dog writer Bill Cameron suggests I rename “The Big P” to “The Big Noo,” lest I give the impression that pneumonia travels to the urinary tract. So in honor of Bill, I wanted to share some impressions along my road to recovery from you-know-what.

It takes too damn long, number one. We’re used to things that feel like bad colds or viruses lasting a week. Pneumonia, from the combination of the illness itself, which is debilitating, and the antibiotics (and I was on two of them, since I like to do everything in a big way), lingers like the smell of old beer in a college dorm room.

Consequently, I’m in the frustrating stage when I want to resume life as usual and can’t, because I’m weak, and feeling weak makes me irritable. No one likes to feel mortality pressing in on them, especially when your career is writing about it. Besides, I like to get into the holiday spirit, do my patriotic duty, and go shopping.

So what to do? Well, I was able to work on my new novel a little yesterday, and that made me feel better. And I’ve been watching TCM. A lot. I’m an old movie fan, and my next series is set in ’39, so what better way to pass the time if I can’t write?

Now, during my film festival, I noticed something both scary and funny … The Big Noo was mentioned or depicted in over half the films I watched. Seems like every time the RKO Radio signal buzzed out morse code or the MGM lion roared, some character would mention pneumonia … with one of those looks that says “I hope you’ve got life insurance.”

Irene Dunne compared it to typhoid. Ann Southern kept kids out of the rain so they wouldn’t get it. Lew Ayres, as Dr. Kildare, tried to cure it. Everywhere I turned, pneumonia. The Big Noo, indeed.

This sort of brought home how lucky we are, even in an age of diminishing antibiotics. And it made me stop fretting and slow down. Pneumonia was spoken of in my grandparents’ era as if it were the Plague. Next to “consumption” (TB), it was one of those illnesses feared most throughout the 19th century–remember, Kate Winslet may have survived the Titanic, but she barely survived the Big Noo in Sense and Sensibility.

Even in 1949, the year of one of the greatest Christmas songs ever–Baby, It’s Cold Outside–you don’t get away from it:

There’s bound to be talk tomorrow–
(Think of my life long sorrow …)
At least there’ll be plenty implied!
(If you caught pneumonia and died–)

You get the picture. The Big Noo loomed prominently in the pop culture of the past. I’m gonna give it the respect it deserves, and quit treating it like a virus. Maybe when NOX DORMIENDA comes out next July, I’ll run a contest for the most Big Noo citations in pop culture … and next year … well, I’m getting a pneumonia shot!