I’ve been coughing for three weeks now, gross gacking fits productive of thick wads and plugs of mucous.

Lovely.

It’s a combo of postnasal drip and reactive airways, a cough triggered from above and below. I’ve learned that I better stay on top of the decongestants and inhalers, or it’s going to get ugly. The day I forgot to use my Symbicort before work, I muddled through my clinic with my rescue inhaler (always on me) and a ton of cough drops.

That didn’t save me on the train ride home, which is where I DREAD having nasty coughing attacks. So, of course, that’s where I had a nasty coughing attack, and, of course, the outbound car was packed with exhausted, irritable commuters.

I could feel it coming and I tried to breathe shallowly, swallow it back, clear my throat…

No use. I erupted into violent hacking, face flaming, tears streaming, boogers dripping, every breath IN a horrible high-pitched WHOOOP and every cough OUT spewing spit and particles. I started sweating under my down coat, the prickly heat making things worse, so I frantically unwound and pulled off my scarf, unzipped a bit so I could BREATHE. I was bent double, still coughing in forceful spasms, on and on and on…

Let’s admit it, it was the kind of wracking heaving cough where the TOP priority is on maintaining continence of urine and flatus.

Which I managed to do, but still. I was jammed in between two young, healthy, HORRIFIED businesspeople. Everyone stared and tried to move just a little bit further away.

The attack continued and I tried, best I could, to locate my stupid Albuterol inhaler in my purse, while simultaneously (and desperately) holding in the contents of my bladder and rectum. It’s like trying to pat your head while rubbing your belly, under duress.

One of the businessmen finally asked “Are you OK, can I help?”

I almost handed him my bag with the intention of croaking out Inhaler… Must… Find…Inhaler

But then he said “If you need me to, I can stop the train. Do you need me to stop the train?” and I was thinking, Does this guy think he’s Superman or something?

Then I realized he was pointing to the lever behind a little plexiglass door that says “PULL IN CASE OF EMERGENCY” above his head.

Oh, dear. I shook my head NO NO NO and dove deeper into my oversized purse that’s cluttered with kleenex and baby wipes and hair clips and HERE IT IS THANK GOD and I stuck that inhaler in my mouth and sucked in one, two, three, Hey, why not four? puffs for good measure.

Even though the fit subsided almost immediately, passengers were even more horrified, and the guy persisted: “Just let me know if you need me to stop the train, okay?”

I kept thinking What good is that going to do, buddy? After all, we were on the long stretch of a few miles between stops, where the tracks sit directly above a shallow bay, just silty sand and salt marsh. No roads. No ambulance would have been able to reach us.

I nodded. smiled weakly and quietly apologized but mostly tried not to talk or move or do anything that might trigger another fit.

When I got home and told the story, someone suggested: “Maybe he wanted to throw you off the train!” and we all laughed. “Yeah, that would REALLY cure the coughing. A miracle!”

I will never forget to use my steroid-and-long-acting-beta-agonist inhaler before work again, but to this moment, I am still wondering:

What would have happened if that guy had pulled the lever?