In my Southern Methodist upbringing I have been taught that life is full of lessons that we are meant to learn. Sometimes the lessons elude us, but there are times when the message is crystal clear. Such was the case at our house a couple of weeks ago when I developed what appeared to be a mild cold. Days one and two I marveled that this cold would be a piece of cake, which was a relief since I didn’t have time to be sick (is there anyone who does?). There was a bit of congestion, but not the hit by a bus feeling you get with a typical cold.
Day 3 the hit by a bus feeling started creeping in. For the next five days it got worse, along with a very raw throat. By day eight I was on the phone. When I was told my doctor couldn’t see me for another few days, I assured the receptionist that I would be dead by then. So I was worked in to see a Physician Assistant, who diagnosed me with allergies complicated by an upper respiratory infection.
After a few days on antibiotics when I began to feel human again, I began to piece together my lesson.
Of all the symptoms I could have suffered with this illness, the dominant one was a cough. Not a petite little ‘hide behind a tissue’ cough, but a ‘stab in the throat’ cough that caused me to cough until I saw stars. One time I coughed so hard I got chest pains, and I had vision anomalies that lasted several hours.
I began to understand a little more about my husband’s cough. Many times I had resisted the urge to suggest that he shouldn’t cough so forcefully. I learned that when you have to cough, there is no real way to temper it. If you get an irritation in your airway, the goal is to make it go away. It is not quiet, nor is it delicate.
I also learned that it can be quite irritating to have someone follow you around, asking if you are all right. I am guilty of that on a daily basis, and my husband has been kind enough not to become impatient with me over the years.
I learned that it really, really stinks to be sick. My husband feels crappy on a daily basis, yet he powers through to get to the next day. He does not complain unless I ask him specifically what is wrong. He has my complete admiration.
My husband learned something as well: it is extremely stressful to hear your loved one ‘cough up a lung’. Although he still has me beat in this department: I never threw up from coughing, nor did I ever pass out, which he does regularly.
Our assessment of why I got sick is that we both needed a tangible reason to put ourselves in the other’s shoes. It was very effective, and he began to see that he needed to be more proactive about finding the reason for his cough. Up until now, I have been the one being in touch with the doctor, following up, etc.
Last week he was given a new treatment regimen, requiring oxygen therapy when his O2 goes below 90%, which it has been for the last several weeks. He has followed it diligently, and the cough is slowly improving. Once again, we are feeling empowered and grateful. And empathetic.