I hate coughing.
I realize that NO one enjoys that nagging holder-on at the tail end of a cold. After the virus has meandered through your system, pausing at your (sore) throat, lingering in your (yucky) nasal passages and your (pounding) head, you’re finally up and around, back to work. It is then, that the cough begins. And not a polite little cough, either. A loud, long room-clearing hack. You see everyone around you averting their faces and edging away, lest they be contaminated by whatever it is you’re spreading.
This was my life for more than a month last Fall. The intensity of my fits of coughing finally lessened, but it was still always waiting in the wings for me, the moment I entered a concert hall, or anywhere silence is an expectation. We went up to NYC one night, to see Fiddler on the Roof. This is a special production, performed in Yiddish. It was also directed by the legendary Joel Grey, and features the young actress and singer Rachel Zatcoff, who attended my church as a child and has remained a friend. We’d read the rave reviews, and were excited about the show.
As if on cue, during the first number, my throat started to tickle (the warning sign). I had brought along an entire bag of cough drops, which I tried to discreetly unwrap. By the time Rachel and the other singing “daughters” were launching into “Matchmaker, Matchmaker,” I was in active noise suppression mode, with a lot of swallowing and throat clearing. To no avail. Every time I’d finish one lozenge, I would immediately begin to cough, and have to pop another into my mouth (I think you’re only supposed to take one an hour; my rate was more like one every five minutes).
The first act ran nearly two hours. Between wheezes, I tried to enjoy what really was a fabulous production, but when intermission finally arrived, and I estimated another hour of show ahead, I asked Steve if we could leave. I felt terrible; we’d been looking forward to a great evening, and hoped to chat with Rachel outside the stage door afterwards. Instead, as the curtain rose on Act 2, we were on the New Jersey Turnpike, miles and miles from Anatevka. I coughed all the way back to Oreland.
I perfected my cheery “Don’t worry! I’m not contagious anymore!” upon joining any gathering—but no one believed me. I grew up with my mom’s asthma and my dad’s chain smoking, so they both coughed a LOT. I remember being terribly irritated by them and their constant hacking. Why couldn’t they stop? I’d think. So rude!
Sorry, Mom and Dad. I understand now. You just couldn’t help it. Neither could I.
As soon as this last cold symptom disappeared, though, I was right back to my old hyper-critical self, giving coughing people the evil eye, and keeping my distance.
After all, it’s just a matter of self-control, right?