For the last two decades nearly movement of my body has made me cough.
It started with lullabies. My son’s favorite was Sweet Baby James, though he called it, “The Young Cowboy Song”. There is a young cowboy / who lived on the range (cough, cough). My son would reach one small hand to my face and say, Don’t sing, Mommy, it makes you cough. By age three and a half, he had taken over the bedtime story reading, telling me, I will read to you; you won’t cough so much. I don’t know if he remembers that; and I’m sure he will roll his eyes, even if only metaphorically, when he reads this. Oh, Mother. But it’s true — and this is about me, not him, so stuff it, Patrick. In the nicest of ways.
Today coughing has become a way of life for me. I cough when I eat, when I drink, when I walk. I cough when I stand to speak in court. As many doctors as I’ve had in twenty years, is the number of theories about my coughing. Joe Brewer, in whom I put a lot of faith, opined that the right side of my throat had become so weak that it no longer functioned. Thus any motion which involves my throat will cause me to gasp, and in my gasping, I cough. My pulmonologist, he of the six-months-to-live, said it had to do with my asthma. And one doctor said, Just eat more slowly. Oh-kaaay.
It’s well known by friends and enemies alike that I cannot walk and talk at the same time. Or walk and breathe simultaneously, come to think of it. I go through life engaging my brain: Eyes open, eyes closed; breathe in, breathe out. Plainly put: If I do not tell myself to inhale, I might not do it. I frequently awaken in a state of panic, struggling to pull air into my lungs. Sleep studies have shown that my breathing slows so far at night that I do not actually get enough oxygen to bring my body to restfulness.
For me, then, coughing is like a visit from AAA: It jump starts those reflexes which for many others, are done completely without thought. And what is the point of telling you this, other than babbling to hear my own voice, to read my own words?
It is just this: When you hear someone coughing — honking — playing loud music — talking over the crowd in a Starbucks — tapping on the table — please, think of my coughing and repress your first urge — which no doubt, would be to snap at the person. Give them instead a charitable thought. Their annoying habit might be keeping them alive.