Being offered cough drops on a fairly regular basis from random people is probably an experience I have in common with many other CFers. In high school, (since I'm 99% sure menthol-laced cough drops were illegal on school premises) friends and classmates would occasionally offer me peppermints or hard candies to suck on for my throat (usually accompanied by some sympathetic comment of "wow, you STILL have that cough, huh?"). In college, while working at the front desk of my dorm, a sweet foreign exchange student gentlemen from Singapore brought me a bag of cough drops and some un-identifiable asian "cold medicine" tablets that he swore made ANY cold/allergies/illness go away within 24 hours and was convinced I must need them. I've had piano teachers, friends' mothers, and work colleagues come hunt me and my cough down when they're within earshot and give me a wink while they silently slip/force a cough drop into my hand. In law school, I've had nameless classmates sitting next to me reach into their bags in the middle of class, then whisper "I have cough drops" as they offer me a smile and a handful of Halls. The cake, though, might be in class tonight when the girl sitting in front of me, to whom I've never spoken and about whom I know nothing, turned around and, without making eye contact, plopped a cough drop on my desk, then turned back around to continue taking our quiz. Umm….thank you?
In all honesty, my initial gut-reaction whenever this happens is to feel both sad and offended. There's a part of me that cringes on the inside anytime my cough is acknowledged as something noticeable or abnormal. Trying so hard to stay healthy and be "normal," only to have someone point out to you that there is something obviously wrong…well, it can be a tiny bit of a soul beating.
However, I absolutely realize that 99% of the time it is done out of kindness - people see what they perceive as a "suffering" and think they have a small way to make it better. (Or they really want me to stop making all those distracting coughing/throat clearing noises so they can concentrate on the class material! Either way, I guess I can't really blame 'em…) And so, that initial gut-reaction of negativity has been trained to almost immediately give-way to the thought "They're just trying to be nice. Now either accept or decline the cough drop, and either way, remember to SMILE and be GRACIOUS."
Over the past year or so, as I've really started to better embrace and accept the CF-patient part of my identity (and also since I've met and married the love of my life who accepts me exactly as I am, CF and all, which has given me way more confidence than I ever would have imagined) little things like the cough drop offers tend to roll off a lot easier than they used to. The last two times it's happened, though, have caught me off-guard, because when they're offered I honestly am not aware of any coughing noises even going on! The next-to-last time, it was right before a sinus surgery, and all I can figure out is that I must have just been clearing my throat a lot in class; tonight, I had to run across the parking lot and up a stair case with my heavy backpack to make it to class on time, so I was huffin' and puffin' and coughin' a bit when I first sat down. All that had passed, though, by the time our quiz was passed out, and as far as I was concerned I was just sitting there quietly when the cough drop "drop and run" occurred. After the quiz was over, friendly cough drop girl turned around and asked "You were the one that was coughing at the start of class, right?" That at least made me feel a little better that she was referring to a legit coughing fit and that I wasn't subconsciously making a lot of weird noises in class that I wasn't aware of!
So, bottomline, yes, it hurts my feelings a little bit, but I understand and am grateful that people are just trying to help when they shove a cough drop in my face. It's also taught me to consider how many times I might accidentally hurt others' feelings by innocently pointing out something that's a little "off" with them and be completely oblivious to the fact that I'm calling attention to a very sensitive aspect of their life. In the end, though, we're all human, and we're all going to put our foot in our mouth at some point, whether we realize it at the time or not, so I think a little grace all around is needed here.