I once thought that pregnancy and motherhood were a cruel hoax. Think about it. Just when a pregnant woman is at her third-trimester-induced, sleep-deprivation limit, she goes through the ordeal of giving birth only to care — with all her heart, soul, mind, and strength — for an infant who requires her services around the clock. As in 24-7 for 7s on end.
“There ain’t no tired like new mom tired,” I told my pregnant daughter just last week (because I believe in encouraging those with morning sickness).
But that was before I got sick. Now I know better.
“There ain’t no tired like coughing tired,” I told myself then.
Illness with a cough is a cruel hoax. Just when you need sleep more than ever, sleep becomes ever so elusive. You lie down. You begin to relax. You cough. You dramatically sit up or stand or clutch the nightstand and desperately cough until you retch and tears flow or the cough is somehow satisfied (or not). Exhausted, you lie down. Begin to relax. Cough. Sit, stand, clutch, desperately cough until you produce something — perhaps just tears — and feel the inferno that is your lungs scream, “Dante never mentioned this circle of Hell.” Then lie down to try again. Exhausted. Desperately seeking rest. And then the cough begins. Again and again.
You begin to dread bedtime. It is easier to not sleep when it is light outside and the rest of the world shares your misery of wakefulness.
Last week, in the middle of one of those long nights of coughing, I dozed long enough to dream that I was trapped in prone position and died mid-cough because I couldn’t sit up to hack out a lung or two. A coughin’ coffin, as it were.
I hate being sick.
I was so sick that I didn’t shop on Black Friday or Saturday or Sunday. Not even online. On Cyber Monday, I stayed home from work — and still didn’t shop. On Tuesday morning, I checked my work calendar, saw that I had an interview to conduct and went to work two hours late but still an hour before the interview to prepare. Surely, the extra two hours of not sleeping went a long way toward bolstering my health and making me healthy enough to return to work. (After all, if I were still teaching, I’d have gone to work, right?) I got to work and got the evil eye. Sure, it was disguised as concern, but the message was clear, “Get away from me, you germ carrier.”
“Really,” I said. “I feel fine now. I am so much better. I’m not contagious. It’s just this lingering cough…”
I could tell my protestations fell on deaf ears and so headed for my office space.
“If only I had an office of my own,” I thought, “I could close the door and cough to my lungs’ content without bothering a soul.”
(Apparently, the ears deaf to my protestations were not, in fact, deaf, and the thick, wooden bathroom door is not sound proof. Also, it is not an office space.)
Returning to my office space (that I share with seven other cubicles only slightly filled with employees on this particular day), I coughed and then apologized — when I could speak again. Attempted soothing hot tea — and then coughed and apologized. Attempted Halls mentholated cough drops (the ones that don’t taste like candy) — and still coughed and finally apologized to myself. I couldn’t do it.
I logged out of my computer, conducted the interview with Clorox wipes in hand (no handshake required), and then made my way out the door, disinfecting surfaces as I walked. By the time I got home, I was hopeless.
Would nothing stop this cough?
I knew my body enough to avoid cough medicines at all costs. (They make me nauseous and loopy and keep me wide awake. If I wanted to stay awake, I could cough without feeling nauseous or loopy. No help necessary.) My usual standbys — Sudafed during the day, Benadryl at night, mucus relief pills every four hours, plus the natural remedies — only made things worse. Coconut oil and Vitamin C had failed me. Ginger tea with honey and lemon helped but didn’t cure. Time as the healer of all things was taking its own sweet time. Meanwhile, my cough prevailed — and with every burning of my lungs the cough seared its memory into my body.
I was losing hope.
In the spring, I had had a similar illness that had left me with laryngitis and a lingering cough, but not a cough as bad as this one. My doctor had prescribed the coveted cough medicine with codeine — and I had tried it that night only to find it a cough suppressant with intolerable side effects that lasted twelve hours. Instead of making me drowsy and inducing sleep, it made me jazzed.
My friend Michelle told me she had similar side effects and so took the medicine — just a fraction of the dose — during the day.
For some reason, Michelle’s words came back to me now; I mentioned them to my husband who encouraged me to try the medicine.
The next coughing fit convinced me I had nothing to lose. I figured if I could just get the non-productive coughing to stop, my lungs could calm and heal. I took a quarter teaspoon of the cough medicine — one fourth of the prescribed 12-hour dose — and found relief. It suppressed my cough, made me feel slightly jittery but not enough to prevent me from napping that afternoon, and I discovered the power of hope.
Of course, as if on cue at bedtime, my cough returned, and so I took another quarter teaspoon — but the smaller dose effectively controlled the cough and allowed me to sleep. The days following included small doses of the drug that gave me large doses of hope. The coughing plague was coming to an end.
There ain’t no tired like coughing tired, but there is no sleep like that offered with hope.
Hope that illness will end. Hope that health will return. Hope that nights will offer dreams rather than nightmares, that days returning to work will offer welcomes rather than evil eyes.
I returned to work on Thursday morning, cough controlled by microdoses of medicine. By the weekend, I needed no medicine.
On Sunday, I went to the grocery store with my husband. The week before, I had barely completed this chore before returning to the car and having a coughing fit, desperately holding onto the car door as I coughed until I cried. This Sunday, I was healthy. Not 100 percent, but so much better than I had been.
And then I realized that while there “ain’t no tired like coughing tired,” that “new mom tired” that my daughter will be facing lasts a lot longer than a week or two.
And though “new mom tired” is so worth the effort, I am glad to be on this side of both of those kinds of tired.