Rants, Raves, & Random Thoughts

Shameless self-promotion of my writing skills or lack there of.

Friday, May 27, 2005

More than just a smoker's cough

I would like to take a minute to talk about pertussis or whooping cough. It is a bacterial infection of the respiratory system. This includes your breathing tubes as well as your lungs. It was dubbed whooping cough because when children contracted the illness they would have intense coughing fits and in between coughs, they would make a “whoop” sound when they tried to catch their breath.

Literally thousands of kids once caught pertussis, which can actually be a deadly illness. In 1906 two French scientists, Jules Bordet and Octave Gengou, discovered the pertussis bacteria. It didn’t take long after that to come up with a vaccine to prevent it. Today, children receive a series of five shots, which protects them from this awful sickness.

Why, you might ask, am I talking about something that has been all but eradicated? Well, we will get to that in a moment.

About two months ago, two of my coworkers come down with what they thought was a cold. Most of the symptoms wore off after a week, but the cough persisted. A week or so later, another coworker was struck with this illness. A month ago, I came down with the cough. It was strange in that for the first week, I showed all of the symptoms of a cold, but eventually all I had was the cough. It didn’t slow me down much at all. I had little or no fatigue, just this nagging cough that varied in frequency and intensity. Slowly but surely, it started to affect various aspects of my routine. I couldn’t jog for more than a half a mile without coughing up a lung. I couldn’t sleep through the night because I woke myself up coughing every few hours. By last Thursday, my cough had gotten so bad that I felt as though I were going to pass out before I stopped coughing. During a particularly nasty coughing fit, I had a stabbing pain develop in my right side. I was hoping that it was only a pulled muscle, but I feared that it may be something much worse.

At last, I heeded my wife’s pleas and scheduled an appointment with our doctor. He couldn’t see me until Monday morning. As the weekend progressed the pain in my side grew in intensity. By the time that I actually made it in to see the doctor, I was sure that I had ruptured something in there. Dr. Koenig asked me a series of questions and performed a thorough examination.

“You have whooping cough.”
“What? I was vaccinated as a kid against that.”
“Yes, I am sure you were, but there as been a recent resurgence of pertussis and it is predominately in adults.”
“But I was vaccinated.” I repeated.
“Yes, apparently in certain people, the vaccination is no longer effective. It is often misdiagnosed for this very reason. That and the fact that it manifests itself differently than it does in children.”
“How so?”
“Adults, for the most part, don’t seem to have the tell-tale ‘whoop’. They just have the persistent severe cough.” He explained as he wrote a prescription.
“I also think you broke a rib.”
“From coughing?” I asked incredulous.
“It happens more often than you might think. Coughing is a very violent act for the body to perform.” He nodded as he spoke. “I am sending you over for X-rays just to be sure.”

So, to make a long story short…I have contracted an illness that by all rights, I should have been protected against. Lucky me!

What pray tell is the moral of this story? I’m glad you asked. It is quite simple; if you develop a lingering cough, get it checked out as soon as possible. It may not go away on its own and worse, neglect in this area can lead to a broken rib.


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