Tuesday, July 30, 2013

The cough

What thoughts run across your mind when you encounter someone coughing and coughing away in public? The other day I’d stopped at a little hole-in-the-wall restaurant to grab something to eat before grocery shopping. It wasn’t a diet friendly place, but I figured the harm of the extra calories wasn’t as bad as going to the grocery hungry and bringing home things I shoudn’t eat for an entire week.  

As I sat down there was only one other family in the restaurant. It seemed to be a set of grandparents, their daughter, and their teenage granddaughter. The grandfather started coughing. It was the kind of cough it almost hurts to even hear. It was a deep cough and sounded as if his insides were rattling. His family was leaping up to get him napkins to cough into. Every time he tried to take a full breath, the coughing would start again. 

My first thought was to reach for my hand sanitizer. We had been at the counter ordering at the same time. The last thing I need is some sort of respiratory infection. Shamefully, my second thought was to wonder if the man was okay. I could tell he wasn’t choking. It was a different kind of cough. His family seemed to be on top of the situation though. My third thought was to feel badly for my first thought, and badly for this poor man struggling so. 

I could relate. 

It’s a desperate feeling to not be able to stop coughing long enough to really catch your breath. It’s embarrassing to have a coughing spell in public. Ironically enough, the more anxious you get because you can’t breathe, and because everyone is looking at you, the worse things get. It doesn’t feel like the natural thing to do, but when you’re having a bad coughing spell, you’ve got to try to relax. 

The coughing fit went on for 25 minutes. The man went through an entire dispenser of napkins coughing up something into them. When it finally subsided, the poor man was almost in tears. He was apologizing to his family. They reassured him and told him it wasn’t his fault. 

He kept saying how embarrassed he was. I wanted to go over and tell him that I’ve done the same thing and that I knew how he felt. For the past few days I’ve wondered if that’s what I should have done. I didn’t at the time because I thought it might make him feel even more awkward. It might make him feel the way I do when attending a meeting or church and start into a coughing fit. 

You’re so aware of how disruptive you are. Nice little old ladies offer you cough drops or to get you some water, but you know neither is going to make any difference. You’re not coughing because you’ve got a tickle in your throat. The kindness is well meant, but it always makes me aware of how much everyone is noticing and how much my cough is disturbing everyone else. 

I'm still in two minds about what I should have done. 

1 comment:

Mary Beth said...

It's a tough call Heather. As someone with PF I've been in that situation too many times to count. Fortunately in my daily rounds I'm often around people who know me, know my lousy lungs and understand. At times though it happens when I'm in the middle of Target or someplace else where I'm surrounded by strangers. People tend to two extremes. Either go to great lengths to ignore the coughing or come up to you offering Kleenex, tissues, cough drops etc. My guess is that you probably did the right thing because he had family with him and they seemed calm and able to cope. Had he been alone I would have been tempted to try to do something or reassure him that someone else has been there and "gets it". You never know exactly what the right thing is but I always tell myself I can't be wrong if I'm being kind.