Sick of sick talk

I remember as a kid being alternately fascinated and appalled by the after-dinner chat among the women at my grandmother’s table. After the men left the room, to either play or watch sports, my female relatives would open up about all manner of bodily insults, from operations and kidney stones to the agony of childbirth.

It was scary stuff for someone in elementary school, and I made a vow then and there that when I was an adult, I would never talk about illnesses. Maybe I imagined I wouldn’t have any, or perhaps I expected to be stoic if I did.

Fast-forward a bunch of decades and here we are, my boomer friends and I, routinely sharing talk of maladies, from the mundane to the life-threatening. And we don’t mind doing it at dinner.

I get it—I really do. When you’re not feeling well or are facing a tough diagnosis, it’s hard to think about anything else. Your illness is your news, and so that’s what you talk about. The syndrome is so common that etiquette maven Miss Manners has weighed in on the subject.

She proposes that when people of a certain age gather, you “announce Medical Report early in the evening … That way you not only get it over with, but if someone goes on too long, you can say, ‘Oh, dear, I hope you’ll be better soon’ and turn to the next person.”

The thing is, I’m actually interested in my friends’ and relatives’ health and wouldn’t want them to hide anything from me. I want to know how they feel, the status of any chronic disease or the onset of any acute one. However, some of the more, um, personal details might be better shared one-on-one. No one wants to hear about blood and guts while the appetizers are being served.

Lately I’ve been the one doing the sick talk, thanks to a relapse of the whooping cough that beset me in the spring. I started coughing again in August and I’m just getting over it now. It’s not called the Hundred Day Cough for nothing.

Relapses are common in this strange disease that sounds so 19th century. I’m glad I didn’t know that when I first got sick. It was bad enough having it once; I wouldn’t have wanted to contemplate a second round.

So, rather than belabor the point, let me just say that yes, adults can and do get whooping cough. It’s not just a childhood disease. I know five adults besides myself who have had it recently. The paroxysmal cough stops you from breathing and makes you feel like you’re going to pass out—or die.

Almost everyone gets the pertussis vaccine as a kid. But immunity wears off eventually and at some point, you need a booster. Who knew?

For my part, I’ll never have whooping cough again. Getting it at my age makes me immune for the rest of my life. I’ll have to find something else to talk about at dinner parties.

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