Monday, November 3, 2008

I Cough, Therefore I am?

Okay, I have CF. That means I cough. And I also have a life. That means I tend to leave my apartment and go out in public. So, logically, I am sometimes going to cough in public. It's certainly not my favorite thing to have happen, but it's life, and I deal with it. In the long run, there are a lot worse things than the occassional coughing fit, even if that fit does come in the office, or the supermarket, or even (horror of horrors) the elevator.

Unfortunately, some people seem to think that coughing in public gives automatic license for them to know every little detail of what's going on with my health. Don't get me wrong - I understand the impulse. I'm actually very sympathetic to the germaphobes, because I tend to be a little cautious about going near people who appear sick as well. But the difference is that I typically try to handle things discreetly, without bothering the cougher/sneezer/whatever, and certainly without calling any unnecessary attention to the situation. Most of the time I'll just quietly remove myself from the area around the possibly ill person, and if possible I'll do so in a way that looks natural and not offensive. Hey, it's just being polite as far as I'm concerned.

As an experienced cougher I am NOTHING if not polite about my public cough. I cover my mouth, if possible I cough into my shoulder, and I'll purposefully turn away from people around me if I can. But still, the looks and comments come flying. The other day a secretary at my law firm commented that "everyone on the hall is wondering what's going on in here" because of my coughing. She went on to jokingly accuse my co-worker of strangling me. Um...awkward. Other comments are more general, "nasty cough you've got there", "you should be at home in bed!", or my personal fave: "you know, if you stop smoking now that cough will probably go away. You're young enough!" Ouch. Nothing more annoying than being accused of a lung-destroying habit when you devote hours every day to keeping your lungs HEALTHY. But by far the worst comments are the ones that actually imply that I have no right to be out in public because of my cough. Without bothering to remove THEMSELVES from the situation, some people seem to think they have every right to pointedly instruct me that I need to stay away. I typically respond as politely as possible, but I'm not above shaming these folks with an equally pointed comment about CF being genetic and not contagious. Unfortunately with most of the rude ones, this information doesn't seem to make much of a difference.

There are all sorts of articles out there about how chronic coughers are seriously prone to depression. I believe it. On the other hand, I try to remember that the people who stare, or comment, or downright insult just because of my cough are really just expressing their surprise that someone who coughs like I do can still do everything they can. They're stunned to see me (or hear me) coughing in the office because they know that despite that cough I'll still make the meeting this afternoon, and that while my cough might come and go, my attitude stays pretty consistently amazing. They stare and they comment because they quite simply do not understand.

So yeah, I'm tooting my own horn, but I think it's appropriate for all cystics to look around every so often and realize how amazing it is that we do all we do. More and more I meet CFers who are working, or raising families, or running marathons, or just out living really awesome lives. And all this despite, or maybe even because of, the coughing.


  1. Its funny the comments we get about coughing. Little story..the other day I was at the store, the casier had a German name and underneth his name he had whatever,Germany listed. So I asked if he did that b/c everyone asked where he is from and he said yes. We'll at the same time I started having a minor coughing fit which lead him to making a "oh you have a nasty cold" type comment. I said "no, I have Cystic Fibrosis, maybe I should wear a name tag that says that?" He then just said "oh sorry, have a nice day."

    So anyways great post ;)

  2. I know how frustrating it can be to have people stare, but I love your attitude about it. You are so right, they stare because they are surprised to hear that cough come out of someone who looks so healthy.

    My personal favorite - "Oh, I just got over that last week. You should try taking some Robitussin."

  3. Hehe!!! Yeah I agree...people are amazed that little old "uses" can hack out our lungs while still completing daily tasks. I know some of my co-workers just stare at me when I will be trudging away and hacking. I'm used to it so I don't noticed but they do hehe!!!