In a new interview, Merle Haggard reveals the true severity of his recent battle with pneumonia.
"I'm really lucky to be alive," the 78-year-old explained in a new interview with Rolling Stone Country. "It could've gone in another direction had I messed around a little more. I'm just hoping I'm fully able."
At first, Haggard thought the illness was just an irritation from the conditions of being out on the road. "I was coughing all the time. I thought, 'These damned old buildings have got something in them.' I just didn't recognize it as what it was," he said. "I always felt better after I'd work because of the exercise that it gave to my lungs. When I play, I feel better when I come off."
The country legend was admitted into the Eisenhower Medical Center in California for eleven days after the pain became too much to bear. "I had a double case of pneumonia about the size of grapefruit on each side," he says. "I had a pain that went all the way around from my belly button all the way around to my back. I asked the doctor, 'What was that pain?' He said, 'It was death.'"
Haggard says the severe pain was like nothing he had experienced before. "It was like suffocating, like having a pillow in your face," he says. "It's a terrible thing; people die from it all the time."
Although he is still feeling the effects of the illness, Haggard says he's already hard at work planning a new album with longtime friend and collaborator Willie Nelson. All in all, he's simply thankful for the chance to get back onstage and perform for his fans.
"I really sincerely thank everybody for the prayers. My wife is taking care of me. I've lost a lot of weight," Haggard revealed. "I'm going to appear different onstage, I'm afraid, but she's fed me well and stayed on top of me like a great nurse. I have no idea how I could do it without my family. I have to give them all the thanks for it."