I’ve never been a very regular poster, but I have now been away for an unusually long time. There are several reasons for that, but I would like to talk to you today about what is probably the most important and relevant one: I was sick. No, not like “we need to talk” sick thankfully, but bad enough that I want to get this off my chest.
If your idea of terrible is something like cancer, you may find this as whiney, but if your idea of terrible is the flu or the spring allergy, strap in, this will be a helluva ride.
Part I – INTRO
Whooping cough is not some secret killer that no one knows about, so don’t panic just yet. If you’re a fairly healthy adult, it won’t kill you, it will most probably not even place your life in any real danger, but it will steal (at least) two months of your life and won’t give you much in return.
It comes by as a normal cold. You feel a bit sick for a while, nothing more special than any other year. You start coughing progressively worse, into something that looks and sounds a lot like bronchitis. About a week in though, if you’ve ever had bronchitis before, you realise this is nothing like that.
You worry about it being serious, but you’re not running a fever and your cold symptoms seem to get better so it’s definitely not pneumonia so you relax and decide to sit it out a bit more.
The cold symptoms go away, the intensely productive cough continues and gets worse.
This is probably where you would go online and research your symptoms. This is probably where, identifying the very specific sound you’re making, you realise you have whooping cough. This is probably when you will go see a doctor — always a good decision. Unfortunately, the doctors can’t help, most won’t diagnose it correctly, and the Internet – while it will point you in the right direction – will destroy your hopes by telling you your worst fear: there is absolutely nothing you can do and it’s not going away soon, it’s just getting warmed up.
Part II – FREAK OUT
The cough dries up, but it continues and gets worse.
You feel fine in all other regards, but the cough continues and gets worse.
Not believing the Internet, you try every single legally sold cough-suppressant known to man and you observe how all of them have absolutely no effect over the cough. You try high humidity, low humidity, cold water, hot tea, lots of honey, no sugar, lozenges with menthol, lozenges without menthol, strepsils, steroid nasal spray, and they are all equally worthless.
The cough continues and gets worse.
And the cough itself! This isn’t the kind of cough you get with the flu. That bronchitis cough? That’s a walk in the park in comparison. This is the kind of cough where you run out of breath (the gasp to breathe in is what gives it its name). This is the kind of cough that makes you throw up. This is the kind of cough that teaches you what a laryngospasm is, at 4 in the morning (teaser: you’ll have an instant understanding of why water-boarding is so effective for torture and it will scare the hell out of your life partner). For some people this cough causes muscle strains, hernias and broken ribs. For children it can be deadly.
This cough makes your nights so bad that you’d rather stay awake. Insomnia may kick in.
You only wish I was making this up. The cough continues… and gets worse.
PART III – DRAWN OUT BREAK-UP
About two months in, right when you start getting used to waking up coughing several times a night and you start thinking that anytime you don’t feel like suffocating or throwing up is a lucky run, it starts slowly getting better. The cough gets progressively lighter and more rare. Slowly (very slowly!) it gets better and you can have a chance at going back to your previous life.
I had two months of hell. Third month in, I am still coughing, but a lot lighter than before. The only frustrating lingering symptom at this point, other than the cough itself, is that my voice is still quite affected, but hopefully not permanently.
Up to you what you want to take away from this experience and post, but I took two things.
First, an unexpected shot of humility.
When you get into sports and nutrition and all that healthy lifestyle jazz, you develop an illusion of invincibility. You do things that make you feel healthier and you DO feel healthier. You feel stronger and fitter. You know that you are actively working against things like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, cancer and that gives you a certain feeling of strength. But you forget that you’re still so vulnerable to so many things. You start thinking that you’ve evolved into some super-human beyond all viruses, bacteria and “normal folk” diseases. You’re unfortunately wrong. I got slapped in the face with reality. It smarts.
Second, a not at all unexpected shot of rage.
Why rage? Because we have a little miracle thing called a vaccine. Further more, you yourself, were vaccinated against whooping cough. Yes you were, as a child. So was I. Unfortunately, immunity doesn’t last all that long for this bugger. It would need boosters about every 5 years to keep your immunity up.
But no one talks about it (be warned, ranting starts here).
I haven’t heard a single damn thing about whooping cough until it hit me this year. Not a word. Not a PSA, not an ad, not a single thing. Everywhere around me everyone talks about the flu, the flu, the flu, OMG THE FLU! I couldn’t care less about the bloody flu. A bad flu will cause me to spend a few days in bed playing video games and watching old Star Trek: TNG shows, and one day which may really suck. BOO HOO, cry me a paracetamol river. Whooping cough stole two months of my life! Remember the paralympics? That’s when I got sick. It affected my work productivity, postponed my personal projects, limited my social interaction (to an absolute zero for the first month), made me miss personal and business commitments, kept me out of the gym for two months (and away from any cardio still to this date) and do NOT get me started on how much money it cost me in (mostly useless) medicine. No, this is not a good time to talk to me about the flu vaccine; I want to hear why we’re not doing periodic whooping cough vaccines. Why want to hear about why I’m not hearing about it. (end rant… for now)
Vaccines are a good thing. They are a life-saving good thing. The whole anti-vaccine movement worries me a lot more than any of the political and military issues you hear discussed on the news every evening. It worries me more than global warming. It’s another sign of the masses losing faith in science and the scientific method. It’s a brewing disaster. But if we are to fight against the rumours and gain public trust for vaccines again, we need more promotion for the really important ones and less emphasis on seasonal flu.
I’m not yet sure how I will channel this rage into productive positive action against this thing, but be sure that I will. In the mean time, I’ll share some of the knowledge I have for people who wind up on this website by chance looking for help:
– This website may be the most comprehensive and useful page on the net on the topic of whooping cough. There are many others, but this will do fine as a primary source.
– If you have good reason to believe your child has it, I strongly advise you take early action. An adult can ride this out at home, a child needs a lot more serious help. Don’t wait until it gets serious, go see your doctor now and try to get it verified.
– If you are pregnant, talk to your doctor about the possibility of having a whooping cough vaccine to give some protection to your baby from their first day into the world, until they are old enough to get vaccinated themselves. It’s not my idea, but it sounds damn good to me.
– If you would not like to go through all of the above yourself, get a damn pertussis vaccine booster.
Oh yeah and one more thing. If anyone tells you that whooping cough has been eradicated, you have my permission to punch them in the face with a bucket full of cough syrup. It hasn’t. Trust me on this one.