What Whooping Cough Feels Like

Once again, vaccination is in the spotlight.

Let me just say from the outset that I’m 100% in favour of vaccination – I’m had just about every jab there is (with the exception of the HPV vaccine for reasons which have been discussed with my doctor). In my opinion, vaccination saves lives.

I’ve never understood why parents choose not to vaccinate their children. And this is why: I had whooping cough as a child. It was fucking terrifying. And I don’t understand why parents wouldn’t try to prevent it in any way possible.

I guess I can sort of understand why parents may not vaccinate against ‘typical’ childhood diseases such as chicken pox and measles – until a few years ago, I always thought that they were just an itchy and annoying childhood disease. Now I know better, but I can understand that not everyone reads as much as I do (nor is everyone related to three nurses and a medical researcher – which is how I found out that chicken pox is a bit more serious for some people!) But that still doesn’t explain why some parents won’t vaccinate their children against diseases such as whooping cough, polio and diphtheria.

I got whooping cough when I was 10 years old. I’d been vaccinated but a girl in my grade 5 class hadn’t. She caught it and she brought it to school.

Thankfully, my whooping cough was pretty mild. During the day it felt like I had a mild case of the flu. However at night I’d be sleeping peacefully then suddenly lurch awake, unable to breathe. I’d sit up in bed unable to do anything but cough. Tiny, quiet, uncontrollable coughs would expel air from my lungs but I couldn’t inhale. I’d just keep coughing and coughing and coughing and I’d start to panic . My chest would feel like it was on fire, my eyes would burn, my head would throb. Sometimes my vision would cloud over and I would almost pass out.

What felt like minutes later, I would get that huge intake of air (the “whooping” sound) before the coughs started again. Eventually I’d vomit and suddenly the coughs would stop and I’d be able to breathe normally again. I’d be sweaty from the exertion and covered in sick but able to breathe in sweet, clean, cool air.

Air is under-rated. You don’t realise how important it actually is until you’re deprived of it.

The coughing fits would happen once or twice a night and after a week, they went away. That was a mild dose of whooping cough and I was a very healthy and active 10-year-old. Imagine if I hadn’t been vaccinated, or had been an elderly person with emphysema, or a newborn baby. Having had whooping cough, I can see how deadly it can be.

Vaccination, to me, is a no-brainer. I believe vaccination jabs should be given to every person on earth*. We have the tools to stop many horrible diseases and eradicate them completely – why aren’t we all using them?


{This post has been partly re-written and edited – the original version was published on Kiki & Tea in 2012.}

* Obviously there are people who, for legitimate medical purposes, can’t be vaccinated. They are the reason herd immunity is vitally important. But that is a topic for another time.