Saturday, May 4, 2013

Turning Red-Faced: Explaining My CF Cough

I didn't have a constant and noticeable cough until I was in my mid-twenties, but now—healthy or sick—it's a daily occurrence.

In my younger days, I'd try to suppress my cough in public so I wouldn't look stupid in front of other people. As an adult, I just stopped caring because I decided breathing comes before personal aesthetic concern.

Sometimes my CF cough is like a natural disaster, easily predictable because the slow build up is there for all to see. When it hits, it wreaks havoc on any occasion—wedding ceremonies, holiday dinners quite movie theaters and quite restaurants— then disappears as quickly as it came.

My friends who know me best will look at me with mild concern, cocking their head like a dog who heard a funny noise until I give them the high sign that everything's cool. My family will outright ignore me unless I give them a reason to worry or the cough becomes more prolonged than usual. For the most part, they just let the chaos ensue without a flinch because they know I hate the attention.

But then, there are the people that stare. The strangers who glare but make no attempt to help. Sometimes they'll make a half-hearted gesture of concern, but I can see them trying to recall the Good Samaritan Law in their head, weighing the risks and benefits of helping this pitiful guy out. I don't blame them...I'm certain I've done the same thing in my lifetime, but it doesn't make it okay.

That's when I just let it fly... over exaggerating my situation, pretending to play the most violent game of charades known to man, smiling with sinister delight because I'm so tired of being stared at for something I can't control. I have no guilt over this because sometimes freaking people out who gawk like I'm a sideshow attraction is the only way to have control of an uncontrollable necessity.

People liken having CF and coughing to drowning, but I've never felt that way. If I had to describe it to a normal person, I compare it to something more choking. You know the feeling...the gag sensation and that involuntary panic you have when something goes "down the wrong pipe". You scamper around the table searching for a a glass of water to help you dislodge the offender or hope that— if you do collapse despite your best efforts—someone with graciously perform the heimlich maneuver on your prone carcass before you completely pass out of oxygen deprivation. Suddenly, the food moves through your esophagus, your face goes back to human form and you sit there embarrassed that it happened...regardless if you're by yourself or in a crowded restaurant. The CF cough is just like that, except instead of's mucus. At least for me, that's how it goes.

Until recently, I never realized how I looked when I cough. Perhaps I just forgot because I'm rarely in front of a mirror on those occasions, but I hadn't seen what I looked like when it happens in years. My face turns fire truck red, which is fitting because my entire face feels like it's engulfed in flames. My eyes turn bloodshot and my body trembles, convulses and contorts in an effort to clear this wretched, infected fluid from my lungs. I hated how I looked, I hated how it felt and I hated knowing that it will happen again...that happens all the time.

While I hate it, I understand it's purpose. As Dr. Abosaida from Blanks Children's Hospital so bluntly and eloquently put it during his presentation at CF Education Day:

"You cough, you live. You don't cough, you die."

I laughed my ass off while many of the parents in attendance listened in mild shock. I laughed because it was so simple, but so very, very true.

So I apologize ahead of time if I ruin our outing, our dinner or our matinee. I hope that my phlegm-purging hasn't hindered your theater experience or put a damper on your evening out. You'll have to forgive me...I'm trying to breathe...trying to live...and it looks @#$% ridiculous and frightening. You're welcome.

Peaceful Things,


1 comment:

  1. Sounds truly embarrassing for you... All the attention. Not being able to control it. Has to happen so you can live, but not being able to do it when all alone. The process itself..scary. The actual coughing. Unimaginable. Yet you live it daily. Wow


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