Listen to Me, What Do You See?

Dear Medical Receptionist,

I need to say something.

Yesterday, I accompanied my husband to a medical visit. When we sat at your registration desk, I asked if you had a surgical mask for me to wear, as I had Cystic Fibrosis and didn’t want to catch any germs. I put it on, and waited patiently while you processed my husband’s records.

As I sat there to the side, I coughed. It was a single cough. I didn’t think anything of it, because coughing is a relatively spontaneous activity, not to mention you probably hear people coughing all the time, since you work in a hospital.

So it caught me off-guard when you remarked, “You sound good!”

I realize that there was some awkward silence as your computer was doing its thing, but couldn’t you talk about the weather? I know, I shouldn’t care. It’s not a big deal. I hear this all the time, so I shouldn’t be surprised.

I just want to understand. Do you think that I’m not aware of my cough? I didn’t think that you were worried about “catching” what I had, because I was wearing the mask that you gave me. So tell me, what purpose does it serve to comment on my cough? I’m sure it was just a spontaneous reaction, but I need you to know this.

Why did your comment bother me?

  1. It’s embarrassing. I try to not feel self-conscious about my cough, but when someone else talks about it, they just bring more attention to it. I know it sounds gross, and I’m sorry. But it was only a single cough. One inhale. I wasn’t hacking up a lung.
  2. It’s rude. I didn’t hear you making comments like “nice limp” to the guy on crutches, so what gives you the idea that it’s okay to comment on my cough?
  3. It’s unprofessional. Even though you aren’t a doctor or a nurse, you are in a professional medical setting, where I expect you encounter all sorts of medical issues. Did you forget that you were processing paperwork for my husband, the patient, not me?

For the rest of the time as we sat there, I tried to stifle any additional coughing, which we all know actually makes it worse. By the time we finished checking out and walked towards the doors, I had a coughing fit.

I try my best to let go of the little things, but sometimes it’s the little things that we need to protect most. I can’t expect you to have known this, but because CF has already taken so much away from me, I would appreciate a bit of dignity. I try to be seen as more than my disease, but things like this make it really hard.

Thanks for listening.


One thought on “Listen to Me, What Do You See?

  1. Toni –

    Excellent article. I remember when we were in school together I struggled with my own allergy related health issues and was very self conscious about my coughing. I understand your point exactly. You may remember me spontaneously bailing out of class due to uncontrollable coughing fits. I am still very conscious of it even after I have get my underlying health issues under control.

    It reminds me that we all need to be fully engaged with what we say and how we say it. We must understand that our words take on a new life once they cross our lips and its not always the life we intended for them. We all need to chose our words carefully to in order to be more caring, positive and encouraging.

    Toni keep up the great work you are an angel and a true gift to the world.

    Love to you.
    David Verespy

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