Here's Why It's Taking Whoopi Goldberg Weeks to Recover From Pneumonia, According to Doctors

The View star's condition was way more serious than you might think.

Whoopi Goldberg made a surprise appearance on The View this morning after nearly fatal case of double pneumonia and sepsis kept her off the show for more than a month. The 63-year-old snuck out on set on Thursday and stunned her co-hosts, causing the audience to break out into a chant.

After the warm welcome, the co-host revealed more about her health scare. "This was like, really bad," she said. "The scariest moment was my doctor saying to me, 'You do realize how close to death you were?'"

Last Friday, Whoopi had hinted at the severity of her condition in a video clip shot in her home."I am okay, I'm not dead," she said at the time. "And yes, I came very, very close to leaving the Earth. Good news, I didn't."

The talk show regular last appeared on air on February 6, and her absence initially fueled rumors that she would step in as an Oscars host at the last minute. Unfortunately, co-host Joy Behar confirmed on February 20 that Whoopi was way too sick to appear on their own ABC show, let alone the Academy Awards.

Fast forward several weeks later and Whoopi herself confirmed that she's still recovering from the brutal illness that almost took her life. "I still have a cough and that's the last thing to go apparently," she said on Thursday.

A long recovery time is actually extremely common in cases like hers. Double pneumonia is an infection that inflames the air sacs in both lungs. Bacteria, viruses, or fungi can all cause the inflammation and lead to symptoms like chest pain, coughing, fatigue, fever, and shortness of breath, according to the Mayo Clinic. The disease can become life-threatening in high-risk groups like adults over the age of 65, children under the age of 2, and people with compromised immune systems.

Your body normally releases chemicals into the bloodstream to fight an infection like this, but in sepsis, those chemicals actually trigger a response that can damage organ systems and dangerously lower blood pressure — sometimes fatally.

Doctors traditionally treat pneumonia with antibiotics (if it's bacterial), cough medicine, and fever and pain reducers. Sepsis typically requires antibiotics and IV fluids as well. Hospitalization is necessary in severe cases, but even after checking out, patients need lots of rest and plenty of fluids.

Full recovery from community-acquired pneumonia (meaning cases caught outside a hospital setting) takes an average of 21 days in adults over the age of 50, according to a 2015 study published in Patient Related Outcome Measures. Another survey of 535 patients found that 64% still experience at least one symptom six weeks later.

Why so long? First, respiratory infections cause your body to produce a lot of mucus as a line of defense against the problematic germs — and your lungs don't do a very effective job getting all that stuff out after the fact.

"For recovery, mucus clearance from the respiratory tract and deep inside the lung is important, otherwise it will impair gas exchange," says Harihan Regunath, M.D., a Pulmonary Disease Specialist with University of Missouri Health Care. "Basically you have to cough it up and spit it up or else it has to dissolve by the white blood cells engulfing it and digesting it and clearing it. It’s a very slow process."

And by slow, he means slow — up to three months depending on the severity of the inflammation, and age can slow things down even more. "Recovery in younger people is a lot easier than recovery in older people," he says. "Older people have age-related immune decline, so their immunity isn’t as good as a 20-year-old."

That decline includes both a decrease in the number of protective cells overall and the speed of the immune response itself, the National Institutes of Health state. Older people are also more likely to suffer from pneumonia complications (such as sepsis), according to the American Lung Association, so it's important not to rush the healing process.

So as Whoopi eases back into her job on The View, we're wishing her a safe and continued recovery.

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