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Open Talk: Most Embarrassing Coughing Fits

This entry is part [part not set] of 19 in the series What CFers Do

DisappointedToday was the coughing fit of all fits: publicly. I didn’t even have the “luxury” of having this grand mal fit at someone else’s house. It happened at church, thankfully after the service and while waiting for a meeting to start. Here’s what happened.

My best friend’s dad came over with his camera for us to take to California with us, so I was sitting there opening the case with Beautiful to my left, my mom-in-law in front facing us, and my bro-in-law and his girlfriend on my right. There was a note on the camera that said he’d switched the camera out of shooting in RAW format, so I was going into the menu to do that immediately. I didn’t remember it until later, but Mom2 was telling me about the photos on the server for me to look at and we were in the middle of a conversation about photos for the new website.

Then I had one of my coughs that sends the world black, my tongue numb, and everything goes away. Everything.

It came on without warning, no pre-coughing or anything. Blackness.

The next thing I knew, Jose, one of the elders and a family practice doctor, was over my right shoulder, Beautiful was back on my left, and Mom2 was having a clear freak-out along with her about what just happened. What did just happen? “You dropped the camera on the lens,” they said. “You weren’t answering us and you were shaking like you were having a seizure.”

“Okay, answer me this, what is her name?” Jose asked me pointing at Mom2 after I insisted that I was alright, though I freely admitted to flat-out blacking out. “Mary-Lynn,” I replied. “OK, he isn’t disoriented, which is one of the main symptoms after a seizure. Can you walk to the kitchen with me so I can test your gait? A lot of people behind you are concerned for you and I just want to be sure you are really okay.”

I have rarely ever been that embarrassed in my life. Certainly never at my home church where I’ve been since I was 16 and most people know I have CF. At that point, I still didn’t know what had happened other than blacking out and dropping the camera. “It’s not like I fell,” was all I was thinking until we started for the kitchen and then I started thinking, “what did they see? Why is that person smiling at me now?”

I’ve never felt so at the mercy of my damaged body before in my life. I had lost complete control of everything, making me extremely glad I didn’t have to go to the bathroom at the time.

In the kitchen, he took my pulse and blood pressure. Both were elevated, but within reason for such a coughing spasm. He would have been concerned if I had lower blood pressure. His O2 meter hadn’t come to life because it was too hot from being in the car, but since I was carrying on conversation fine, he let it be.

What really happened

So on the way home, Beautiful told me what I did. We were talking and I started coughing, but really badly. She was shaking my shoulder asking me if I was okay, but I didn’t respond. She shook harder and yelled louder. Still no response. That’s when the freak-outs began because people look to her to know if things are OK. Things were not OK. She got up to go get Jose, and the others rushed with her. They were only gone 10 seconds, but I’d gone into a slouch back with my head looking up and my tongue out and my arms down at my sides in stiff-fashion, still coughing hard and my whole body was shaking.

Then it was over.

I hope that never happens again. Ever.

Has anything like that ever happened to you?

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  1. Nothing to be embarrassed about, Jess. Mom2 was freaking because of her deep love for you and B. Several of us came pretty quickly for the same reason. Feel the love and care for you, bro. I remember a while ago, as the babe and I we leading a marriage class, watching Terri J. being carted on a gurney to an ambulance for a ride to the hospital. She was wheeled by the class window and we all saw it happening.  Very unnerving. I was freaked and rattled for the rest of the morning.

    • I definitely felt the love. I just don’t like being the center of attention that revolves around CF. The applause for the new website was awesome, though. 😉 Thanks for having your cell phone open to dial 911, though, just in case.

  2. Erin Taylor says

    Not so much a blackout, but I have fallen victim to severe migrants a time or five haha… Not just a bad headache tho. I’ve been sitting there totally fine, at dinner with my husband an some friends and I started coughin bad-again out of no where. Next thing I know I can’t feel ANTHING from my waist down. Totally numb. And not the prickling kind of numb, Im talkin epidural numb. A few second later I cant see anything in front of me, only in my peripheral, and what I CAN see is on a delay. It’s the most uncontrollable feelin in the word and lasts about 15-20 minutes. At first I thought it was only gonna last a few seconds. After it went on a few minutes my husband had to literally carry me out of the restaurant until it stopped. O could barely get my breathe and was having a panic attack caus I didn’t know what was happening. Finally it stopped, but then I had the worst all-consuming headache ever. Absolutely humiliating. It happens occasionally and I have no warning. It can be scary cause it’s happened while I was driving once. Luckily it was just in a parking lot and barely moving. I had to literally lift
    my leg and push it down to stop the car. I just thank God I wasn’t drivin down I4 or somethin goin 70mph! Ive gone to a neurologist and he thinks they are brought on by the severe stress the coughing fits put my body under and the lack of oxygen to the brain, evenif it’s only for a moment. I thought I was havin a mini stroke!!! He said I didn’t, but still. Not a cool thing to go through. It’s awful to have to go through that in front of other people. Parties, work, dinner, in the car…..CF has no mercy.

    • Interesting symptoms! Interesting in that the doctor suspected a vasovagal reaction to coughing so hard. It’s starting to make sense now, also knowing what Beautiful’s vasovagal reactions to her allergy shots are like.

      More ideas and stories welcome! Let’s expose what is out there.

  3. Katey Ballard says

     Wow! Sorry about that. i used to have horrible coughing fits like that before my transplant, but thankfully i never “blacked out” or something similar to what you experienced. I always hated though when it happened in public, especially school. It’s hard not to be embarrassed i think in that situation…but sounds like you had a good attitude about it! Glad you are ok!!! 

    • I always hate it in public, but this was my first public blackout and made us wonder the rest of the day when the next one was going to happen. Freaky!

  4. Wow! I wonder what the doc will say. Sometimes it looks like the veins in your neck are going to burst when you cough. Makes me wonder if you tense up so much that you cut off blood to the brain like what Erin described.

    I can see why you’d be embarrassed. But it’s sure nice to know that so many people love you.

    • That’s exactly what I think happened. My tongue goes numb sometimes and I’ve
      dropped things at home or fallen over… just never in public like that. At
      least every one of those times I’ve been aware that I was coughing before I
      went black. This was complete light’s out with pre-cough amnesia. It wasn’t
      until later that I remembered that I was talking to people. When I came to
      and everyone came to me, I thought I’d just been sitting by myself, but
      nope, I did it right in front of them.

      • That makes perfect sense. Guess you’ll need to be more on the lookout for that so you won’t be in a vulnerable position, like driving or standing on a ladder.

  5.  Wow, I’ve never heard of such an event! How terrifying.  I’m sorry this happened to you, and I hope it never happens again!  When you ask your CF doc about it, please update us! I would like to know what caused this.

  6. Dawnstevens says

    oh I’m so sorry…that’s awful. it is so disorienting!   i have those blacking/shaking episodes, too, often when alone and i just try to keep hitting my chest so i don’t pass out.  the worst one was in the car on the way to be admitted to the hospital – 3 hours away. My husband was driving, I went into a coughing fit (while wearing oxygen, no less) and then passed right out onto the floor. My poor sweet husband thought I’d choked to death and died.  I came around to him screaming my name and shaking me. When I came back to, I thought we’d been in a car accident…  so frightening…we were alone, which probably made it even scarier for my husband, who of course had to calmly and safely pull over to the side of the road. Then we had to decide:  turn back or keep on going.  We kept on going — as fast as we could — right to the ER, where my angel doctor was waiting for us.  I’m sorry you went through that and am glad you were surrounded by people to help and protect you.  😉   

    • Oh, wow, right in the car. Yeah, that’d be a freak-out zone for sure. I get your disorientation when you came to. I had no idea why I was there, but I recognized everyone.

      I do have awesome friends and family, that’s for sure.

  7. My mother is kinda having the same thing going on with her .Her eyes roll backwards or eyes widen and twiches a bit . One night i was asleep and next thing i knew was she passes out on my knees and started to twich on me . I had to push her off of me and then she just snapped out of it .She question me on what happen .   She is mostly having them sitting down. ( luck, i was with her for most of them ) She coughs a fit first and then does the mini thing and sadly its getting worse but she can stop them if she tries/gets it in time.
    do you know whats going on or what ? Because im only 15 and i need my mother .

    • My CF doctors (top 3 transplant clinic in the country) said it happens as the disease progresses and isn’t anything to worry about in and of itself. It’s just an extreme clamping down of the throat combined with not getting enough oxygen in the lungs (thus the brain) and we black out.

  8. i have had a few so far, for no reason start to cough so hard my back starts to hurt like many needles are poking it, blacked out once in a resteraunt , woke up with a crowd over me and my wife crying. She told me after that I started coughing and soon my left body was shaking, especially my left arm. I have had a few while driving, now I take the bus mostly. Went to doctor, EKG, blood work, chest Xray, physical. Doc told me blood sugar good at 105, blood pressure 135/85, everything seems good, could drop some weight tho.

  9. Jessi Sherriff says

    I had one jsuat the other day at work. I’m a lifeguard at a waterpark, and let me just say, you get pretty ashamed when people are more worried about the life of the lifesaver. Lol when I have mine I never black out though, I just vomit uncontrollably. I guess its different with everyone, but trust me, you’re definitely not on your own here!