I had been sitting in the waiting room for just a few minutes when I first heard the cough. It was the unmistakable sound of a strong, “juicy” toddler’s cough—the kind every parent and teacher know. Into the clinic waiting room walked a young mother with a 2- or 3-year-old boy who was coughing up a storm. The poor thing just couldn’t stop. And as I looked around me, I saw the sideways glances of the other patients in the waiting room. Some shifted in their seats. Others sighed loudly as if to say, “Get that kid out of here!” They acted the way people do when they witness a toddler’s tantrum in public.
But I was different. I remembered my early days as a parent. I thought about the sleepless night this mom was going to be having later that evening. I thought about how the little boy must have been so scared and uncomfortable because he couldn't catch his breath. And I felt sympathy for the mom who was feeling the burning stares and muttering comments of the other people in the waiting room. She signed in at the desk and then took the little boy outside to wait…all alone.
Does this sound like a situation you’ve experienced? Have you or your loved one ever coughed in public and felt like folks were starting at you or judging you? I would bet that many people with COPD have experienced this even before “COVID times;” but maybe it’s worse now that we are in a pandemic.
I have had this experience, too. I usually try to step away from others if I feel a cough or sneeze starting. Or I’ll say something like “I’m not sick, it’s just a tickle” or “I’m not sick, it’s just my asthma.” But why should we feel we have to share that kind of personal health information with strangers? Shouldn’t that information be private?
In today’s COVID era, a cough can scare others. They think we’re going to get them sick, which can be a real danger in some cases, but not all. And somehow, some of us have lost our sympathy for others. Not every cough is COVID and not every seemingly “healthy” person is COVID-free. So how do you cope with coughing in public?
I don’t think there’s one good answer to that question. I think that we have to take the action that we feel comfortable with. You might want to share your COPD story with others around you. Or you may wish to keep that information private. My excuse of “it’s just a tickle” may work for some folks, as it doesn’t reveal any personal health information but still tells others that you aren’t sick. (Hopefully, they actually believe us!) If you have enough warning that a cough or sneeze is starting, you might be able to step away from other people or leave the room. But we all know that some coughs and sneezes can catch us by surprise, and we certainly can’t isolate ourselves every time they happen!
What tips and tricks would you recommend for coughing in public? And if you’re a caregiver, family member, or friend of someone with COPD, we would love to hear from you, too. Let’s share our ideas and see if we can come up with some creative ways to cope with our coughs.