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Memes and My Chronic Cough

Updated on August 10, 2020
Lee B profile image

I was a retired teacher and live-aboard in Seattle. Now I'm back to teaching in a remote area of New Mexico.

I Love Memes

Memes are hilarious. As I was doing research for this article, I frequently laughed aloud. Really clever thinking went into the creation of some memes. Memes can get the viewer thinking and can present new ideas in a nonthreatening way while making you laugh. Memes simplify larger, complex issues, and that is, sometimes, a good thing.

I Hate Memes

Memes are an ideal vehicle for propaganda. They oversimplify complex issues and lead the reader to think there are simple solutions to issues that have plagued mankind, well, forever. Memes can polarize people when they believe issues have simple solutions. It is easy and tempting to think that the "other side" is preventing the problem from being solved when there is a simple solution.

An extreme example
An extreme example

To illustrate my point, I'm going to tell you the story of my cough.

I've had a chronic cough for 20 years. Everyone who knows me, knows I cough. I've overheard people refer to me as "the lady who coughs all the time." People ask me why I don't go to the doctor or just take some cough medicine. Trust me. I have, I do, I am. Here is my story.

One evening in early January of 2000, I was on the treadmill at the gym--running, running, running--and feeling great, when I started coughing. The coughing was so intense and sudden I didn’t have time to stop the machine but was, fortunately, able to jump up and put my feet on either side of the moving tread. The next day I felt so sick I missed work, and the day after that I went to the doctor.

Throughout my life, I’ve had people tell me I looked “so healthy” even when I wasn’t. The doctor agreed. She told me I had a cold and hinted that I was being a big baby. I was so miserable I begged for an antibiotic, telling her my snot was green. (It was, but I’m sorry you had to read that.) She finally relented and gave me a week’s course of antibiotics. Within two days I felt so much better I called her office to gush and thank her for treating me. I was back at work but still coughing a lot.

Within three days of taking the last antibiotic pill, I was miserable again. I couldn’t then, and still now, can’t really describe how terrible I felt. It was so much more than just being tired. It was like a weight crushing the life out of me. And I was coughing a lot and hard. I went to the doctor again, a different doctor.

At first, I was getting the same old runaround: “You sure look healthy. It’s just a rhinovirus (cold). You’re overreacting. No, you don’t need an antibiotic.” But then the nurse picked up my hand and held it in front of the doctor’s face. My fingertips were all dark purple. I hadn’t even noticed this because I wasn’t getting enough oxygen for my brain to function normally! Needless to say, I was prescribed an antibiotic (still had green snot). I also got a chest X-ray showing a bad case of bronchitis, a prescription for prednisone, and two different types of inhalers. After the first huff of an inhaler, I felt like Dorothy when she opened the door to Technicolor in the Land of Oz. I felt so alive!

Prednisone makes many people feel very tired, but it was the opposite for me. I quickly caught up at work—I had missed two weeks. My house was immaculate. I read several long books. Most nights I didn’t sleep at all. I lost 10 pounds in 3 days. I felt fabulous, though I was still coughing.

After about a week, I started to feel bad again. That night I noticed a slight rash on my chest but didn’t think much of it. As the night wore on, I felt worse and worse. It felt as if there was a knife in every one of my joints. I had heartburn so intense I thought I was going to breathe fire. It hurt so much I couldn’t stay still and started to walk up and down the stairs just to do something, hoping to tire myself out enough to be able to sleep. At this point my husband took me to the emergency room where I was dosed with three different and increasingly stronger pain killers before I could sit still. My symptoms were determined to be an allergic reaction to either the antibiotic or the prednisone. I stopped both immediately, of course.

That night was over 20 years ago. I eventually recovered from the bronchitis without antibiotics, although it took several months. I missed a lot of work that year. And I kept coughing. I’m coughing still. I’ve pulled muscles in my back and stomach, coughing. I’ve projectile vomited, and hmm…never mind, but, you know, REALLY hard coughing. I’ve tried every kind of over the counter and prescription cough medicine. Most prescription cough medicine contains codeine. Codeine dries out throat tissue and ultimately makes a cough WORSE with long term use. Also it’s addictive. It ain’t heroin but I assure you, withdrawal is very unpleasant.

Over the past 20 years, I’ve tried every avenue of conventional medicine: tests, prescriptions, specialists. And I’ve tired hypnosis, acupuncture, and MANY other alternative treatments. For years now, no one has been able to recommend a treatment I haven’t already tried. Nothing has worked, not even a little.

In the end, the cause of my cough was best described by a gastrointestinologist who was evaluating a swallowing test and an esophageal manometry he had ordered for me. ( Acid reflux is a major cause of chronic cough. I didn’t have it then. I do now.)

“Doctor,” I asked, “why do I cough all the time?”

“You have a hyper-sensitive gag reflex,” he replied.

“But Doctor, WHY do I have a hyper-sensitive gag reflex?”

“Because,” he said, “you cough all the time.”

“So what do I DO about my hyper-sensitive gag reflex?”

“Stop coughing.”

So that is the story of my cough. Why do I tell you this long-winded story about something that is completely unrelated to problems in the world?. My cough, when all is said and done, is chronic and annoying, but not serious. But it’s COMPLICATED. Lots of situations contributed. I’ve left out many details from the narrative about my allergies. I am also what my husband calls a “twitch.” I have tics. The cough is one of them. But that’s not all it is. It is physical and psychological both. Treatment involves many different elements—which I’m still exploring.

It's Complicated!

If my stupid cough is so complicated and unsolvable, what about the real problems of the world, the really complex issues? Poverty, violence, government corruption, out of control viruses? The list goes on and on. The solutions, if there are any, are complex, long term, frustrating. Never simple.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

© 2020 Lee A Barton


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