It won’t have escaped your attention that people are coughing a lot more these days and I thought, as a lifelong cougher myself, it wouldn’t hurt to share a few tips for the inexperienced coughers out there or those who are coming back to coughing after a period away.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not making light of coughs. I am heartily sick of the one I have going at the moment. In fact everyone of the six of us currently inhabiting our house is at some stage of illness but everyone has been passing lateral flow and pcr tests so it’s not even Covid. To be honest it’s a little bit like online shopping where there is a famous new product taking the world by storm and we have ended up with some unbranded pirate version that basically does the same thing.
It pains me to see my kids struggling away with their chests rattling like the lottery ball picker and in the midst of all the snotty bleakness I wanted to offer them some kind of positive.
For instance the other day Number One son Jed was getting his breath back after a round of coughs and was taken aback to see my wistful smile.
“Can you feel it?” I said, nodding towards his stomach.
With somewhat understandable impatience he replied: “What?”
“What?” he asked again, thinking I had said ‘ass’ (although in my own personal nod to post-Brexit national pride I would only ever say ‘arse’).
“Can’t you feel it working your ABS?”
“Yeeessss I can,” he said, in the same tone I used to use to appreciate things he had drawn when he was five.
But look at it this way. If you have a cough for a week or even a month, double down on those spasming stomach muscles and that is a solid week or month of crunches. That should get you a washboard stomach worthy of the cover of Men’s Health. It doesn’t, but it should. I’m just waiting for someone who is better at it than me to prove my point.
Also, I have noticed young coughers go for it hammer and tongs every single time. When I think about my own coughing, I realise that I have a range of coughs to draw upon and I try not to pour energy into it unless it really feels like some kind of respiratory breakthrough is on the way. A dry tickle rarely gets more effort than whatever stale air happens to be milling about in my withered lungs.
If I’m in the right state of mindfulness I will turn my focus inward on the tickle and tell myself that I am the captain of my ship and my body does what I tell it to. I visualise the tickle as a tiny opponent in an arena that belongs to me and then I cough anyway because an irritating underdog narrative has emerged. We’re all on a journey and I am not a master of the zen of coughing yet. I do occasionally spend so much time visualising that I forget to cough and I count that as a win on points in the arena of me.
Seriously though, understand that you have the full range of options from clearing your throat to the Heimlich Manoeuvre (basically an assisted mega-cough) when you cough. Some rounds you have to box clever.
The other thing that will surprise you, if you’re not an experienced cougher, is how much pressure piles on when someone asks you if you are ok while you are coughing. Obviously you can’t reply. You’re coughing. This worries them even more. You’ll be fine if you can just focus on that inner tickle but what you end up doing is trying to make hand gestures that show you’re ok while also covering your mouth and trying to execute that one decisive cough to end all coughs. Nobody comes out of it looking or feeling good.
Obviously they want you stop coughing out of concern for your welfare and the traditional offer, particularly in formal situations, is a ‘sip of water’. This, however, has never stopped a real cough and if you’re wise you’ll take this as an excuse to go and find a bathroom. If anyone has a method of quelling a cough instantly that doesn’t involve horse sedatives and a taser please leave it in the comments below.
So what can you do to help someone with a cough? What can any of us do? Get vaccinated and wear a face mask.