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Roisin Gorman's open letter. . . on coughing


Many people are frightened to cough in public now because of the pandemic.

Many people are frightened to cough in public now because of the pandemic.

Many people are frightened to cough in public now because of the pandemic.

Coughing is the new public farting in a post-Covid world, except your wind won't pass on a potentially deadly virus.

I've got a handle on the flatulence, mostly, and although my family has imposed a strict lentil ban, the coughing has become a bit of a tic. Weddings, funerals, plays, I've accidentally and with complete mortification ruined them all with an unstoppable bout of unexplained spluttering.

And since a vigorous throat clearing is now enough to get you taken down with a Dettol fire hose, even the thought of going back to public events is enough to threaten a throat tickle.

A theatre show looms next week - a bit of culture once a year whether I need it or not - and the cough medicine was bought before I thought about the outfit.

The British Medical Journal reported last year that under the new social etiquette of the pandemic coughing and sneezing are now 'significant, dramatic, anxiety-provoking events'. Never mind everyone else, how do they think the cougher feels? The first public hacking bout I had was at a wedding where the vows were drowned out by the barking donkey in the heels.

It sounded like a passive aggressive comment on the state of the newlyweds' union. I might as well have shouted, 'I'll give it six months'. Even the screaming baby gave me dirty looks.

According to BBC radio presenter Petroc Trelawny, the upside of Covid is that people now cough less in public because they know it's the equivalent of shouting 'fire' in a public space. That's all very marvellous, but what about those of us who have no control over some raucous lung removal?

At the funeral of a dear family friend, I was gripped by a bout which came out of nowhere. The desperate attempts to suppress it turned my face purple and felt like my eyes were threatening to pop out. At least I looked grief-stricken for the few moments before I legged it to the nearest shop for medicine and water, leaving the family to mourn in peace.

At a mate's play in an intimate theatre the same thing happened, but since we were nearly sitting on the stage there was no escape.

She was acting her heart out as the starving mother of a doomed family in the Irish famine, while I was a few rows back sounding closer to death.

After the show she asked if we'd heard that bloody woman coughing. I have never admitted it was me.

At a yoga class I was gripped by a coughing fit during the opening shavasana sequence when everyone is tuning out of the world around them, if only Typhoid Mary at the back could keep it down.

As I made an embarrassed exit the lovely teacher assured me it would simply be part of my fellow yogi's experience - but I know when a class wants to ram something up your chakra.

I've been on the other side of a chronic cougher and know that sympathy wears off within seconds.

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My lovely husband has never met a slice of toast which doesn't make him splutter uncontrollably and after I've suggested drinking water, or the earth-shattering 'stop eating toast', I'm all out of ideas. Concern also tips over into comedy when you watch someone swearing at a slice of bread.

So, let me apologise in advance for any coughs which ruin my fellow theatre-goers' night. At least I won't be back again until next year.


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