I may have mentioned before, I have a bad chronic cough. I have had it all my life. I can go all day without coughing, and then I get a hunk of phlegm on the back of my throat and I just have to cough, and often it takes me five or six coughs to get it clear before I am fine again. These are not little dainty coughs. These are earth-shaking put your hands down on the counter, lean over and hope you don’t pass out coughs.
It is rare that I don’t have someone come over and ask me politely “Are you all right?”
That was before Corona.
I am at work at the hospital and headed to lunch at noontime. In the elevator, I feel a cough coming on. Just before the door closes, a leg sticks through, and it reopens to admit a young nurse. I smile at her, doing my best to hold my cough in. It is only two floors. I hold my breath and then I hold the door for her and as soon as she is by me, I bolt to the corner of the hallway and cough into my arm, and for a moment, I am alright. A close one.
The cafeteria is crowded like a watering hole on a scorching day. I make my way through the throngs to the salad bar, still feeling a bit of an itch in my throat. I get a plastic bin, and no sooner have I put two leaves of lettuce in it, than I feel the urge to cough come roaring back. I drop the salad tongs and retreat to the coffee machines, and try to collect myself. But no matter how hard I fight it. I can’t hold it in. I cough once hard into my shoulder.
The cafeteria falls quiet.
It is like a herd of deer has lifted their heads. Not a movement.
Could a wolf be about?
I move quickly several steps to my right, and try to hide behind a man carrying a tray with two cheeseburgers and a large order of fries on it. I cough again. There is a fluttering through the room. The cheeseburger man bursts forward quickly, and I am left naked in the open. Heads swivel, searching for the perpetrator. Two women eye me. One whispers to the other. I see a man point toward me, eyes narrowing. They are all focusing on me. I fear someone will shout “There’s he is! There’s the cougher! He’s going to kill us all! Stone him! Stone him!”
If I take another breath, I will cough uncontrollably. My eyes will water, my face turn purple! I can’t let that happen. I still hold the salad bin in my hand. I calculate if I can make it to the register. Not a chance. The lines are too long. Still holding my breath, I turn, put the bin with the two leaves of lettuce in the garbage and flee back out the cafeteria entrance. I flee down the hall, then into the elevator, which thankfully is empty. I go back down the two floors to the basement, and flee down more long halls until I am safe in my basement office where I sit in my chair trembling.