William’s Story (Whooping Cough)

You are never too old or too educated to learn something new. In my case, that learning came the hard way. Last year, I had such a severe cough that I could not catch my breath and would even pass out. I coughed so long and so hard that I cracked several ribs. The coughing was so persistent that I could barely sleep. I was lucky if I got a half-hour of shut eye between coughing spasms. Occasionally, I coughed so hard I literally fell out of bed. The pain from coughing was so bad I felt like someone took a sledgehammer to my chest.

I thought these coughing fits were because of the work I was doing on my son’s house–no doubt aggravating my asthma. However, the persistence and severity of the coughing led me seek additional medical input. It took me three months to recover.

I was shocked to learn that I had pertussis, also known as whooping cough. Whooping cough? Kids used to get that before the vaccine. In fact, I had not been vaccinated against pertussis since I was a child. What I didn’t realize at the time was that immunity wears off over time, so I was vulnerable to pertussis once again.

Adolescents and adults are supposed to get a booster shot to raise their immunity. And I can tell you that the vaccine works. How do I know? My wife, a volunteer in the neonatal intensive unit, was vaccinated – she was required to get the vaccine to work there. Of course my wife was very close to me throughout my illness and despite the fact that pertussis is highly contagious, she did not cough once. She was spared the difficult and painful experience.

Now, in large part because of my experience, my institution requires all employees be vaccinated against pertussis. And that’s a good thing. Anyone – doctor, parent, grandparent, caregiver, who comes into contact with infants should be sure they are up to date on their immunizations… to spare those too young to be protected through vaccination and to spare themselves a very painful and debilitating experience.

William James Cochran, MD
Pediatric Gastroenterologist and Vice Chair
Geisinger Health System-Janet Weis Children’s Hospital
Danville, PA