The following post is part of the on-going “I went to the Doctor” series, which details first hand experiences of Christian Scientists and former-Christian Scientists who sought medical care or treatment outside of Christian Science.
Today’s post Coughing, coughing, and coughing from Untreated Allergies is by former Christian Scientist Rogue Sheep.
The coughing started one summer in elementary school. The details are a little fuzzy at this point. I remember being on family vacation and I had developed a really bad cough. I would cough uncontrollably for minutes, feeling like my head was about to explode, and always needing to spit up phlegm. Sometimes I coughed so violently that I ended up throwing up.
When we got home from the trip, I was still coughing. I stayed home for the first month of school because I couldn’t stop the coughing and throwing up. I thought my eyes were going to burst out of my head.
My parents had been trying to treat it with Christian Science, but finally they took me to a doctor. I was diagnosed with Bronchitis and given this pale purple liquid medicine. It tasted awful, I always put up a fight, and generally just coughed it back up. They gave me a choice between relying on Christian Science treatment or taking the medicine. Because I loathed the medication, we turned back to Christian Science.
When I finally stopped throwing up so much and just had occasional coughing fits, I went back to school. I remember having to step out of the classroom to have my honking coughing bouts and I’d run to the bathroom to spit out the extra saliva and phlegm. Eventually the cough cleared up.
But as the years went by, I kept getting these really bad coughs, usually after a cold, and the coughing lasted at minimum 3 weeks. I was always carrying around tissues to spit in, or I’d hide in the bathroom or go outside to cough my brains out. This was a problem I was constantly praying about yet was getting no relief. The cough and chest congestion usually just ran its course and yes, 3-4 weeks later I was “healed.” Funny how that happens. My chest and stomach would be exhausted from all the coughing and sleep was pretty evasive. I eventually just learned how to sleep through my coughing (which I’m still capable of doing as an adult, much to the dismay of others). I can’t tell you how many cough drops I consumed in my teens, it was one of the few “material remedies” that was ok to use. I now despise the taste of most cough drops.
I stopped practicing Christian Science right as I was getting into the working world and I was still getting these bad coughs after a cold. I still had to run outside my office so no one would hear the full extent of my coughing. It was embarrassing. And my co-workers started noticing too. I can tell you this: when you work in a quiet office with non-Christian Scientists, nobody likes to be around you when you’re coughing. If you sound like you’re coughing up a lung and just getting worse, it’s important to take steps to show you’re not a big contagious mess. I couldn’t just stay home because these coughs happened so regularly and lasted such a long time. I remember my co-workers would ask if I’d gone to the doctor yet. Sometimes I would lie and say yes because I didn’t want them to know that I was scared to go to the doctor despite having gone to Urgent Care once before.
So I continued to do a lot of self-diagnosing and self-medicating. I spent countless hours reading labels at the drug store. I had given up on most herbal remedies and I think I tried almost every single variation of cough syrup and cold remedy from the shelves. Mucinex DM became one of my saving graces, but it still wasn’t perfect. Finally I started going to those walk-in clinics at CVS and Walgreens (though I don’t see them around much anymore). They were close to work and they felt a little more approachable than Urgent Care. I remember one doctor prescribed me a cough syrup, and it actually worked! It was amazing. Something finally brought me relief for at least a few hours at a time.
At this point I still hadn’t taken the step to find a primary care doctor. When you go to Urgent Care or clinics, it’s often different doctors each time. In hindsight, I wish I’d found a doctor to go to on a regular basis much sooner. I had been so afraid that a primary care doctor would judge me for having no medical history or they would want to talk about more than my cough and end up finding some heinous disease hidden in me. Silly, I know. But by going to different clinics on my as-needed basis they really only assessed me in that moment and could treat symptoms, not root causes. They couldn’t really review my history of this coughing because my records were here, there, and everywhere at clinics. A primary care doctor might have been able to help me cut to the chase sooner.
During a routine visit unrelated to one of these coughs, my doctor recommended over-the-counter allergy medication to manage my allergies to cats and dust, among other allergens. Little did I know that managing my allergies would have many more benefits.
I’ve since realized that most of my “colds” that led to the coughing were actually started by nasal allergies and the nasal drainage that ensued. By managing the early sniffly symptoms of allergies with Claritin (Loratidine) or Claritin-D (Pseudoephedrine, you have to buy this from the pharmacist), I’ve dramatically reduced the number of these “colds” that progressed into Bronchitis. Imagine that! Relief from years of suffering and hiding in bathrooms so I could cough. I used to bank on these coughs happening at least 2-3 times a year. At the time of writing this, I haven’t had one of these bouts in at least 3 years. It’s amazing how much time I wasted being sick.