The Coughing Samaritan

I was sitting on the train yesterday reading my book when I noticed that the tall thin man standing to the left of me was coughing repeatedly. Even at the best of times, coughing is among my least favourite human behaviours. It’s not that I’m particularly afraid of getting sick; it’s more that I think it’s unnecessary, inconvenient, and unjust for me to end up sick simply because someone coughed on me in public. Therefore, in these circumstances, I usually try to avoid the person as much as possible. As we advance toward winter, however, it’s much more difficult to avoid coughing people. They’re everywhere! Moreover, when they are outside, they often seem to think they don’t need to cover their mouths when they cough. In any case, I digress from my story. After trying unsuccessfully to tolerate sitting near the coughing man, with images of cough particulates landing in my hair and so forth, I finally decided to get up and move to another area. I was several feet away, feeling relieved to have escaped certain peril, when the very man who had been coughing above my head called out and said, “You forgot your gloves!” I almost considered giving them to him, but I love my cozy leather gloves, and I reluctantly walked back over, took them out of his cough saturated hands, and thank him warmly. In doing so, my fingers actually touched the hand he had been covering his mouth with. Needless to say, for the rest of the train ride, I looked forward to finding a washroom in which to wash my hands. I’m not writing this to encourage obsessive-compulsive avoidance of germs. In fact although some might debate this after reading my blog, I definitely don’t have OCD, although I do have what might be considered a fairly low disgust threshold. It doesn’t take much for me to feel the emotion of disgust. And, disgust is a very interesting emotion. In her previous version of the DBT skills training manual (Linehan, 1993b), Dr. Marsha Linehan included skills to cope with several core human emotions, but disgust was conspicuously absent. In her most recent book, the emotion of disgust is included, along with several skills that can be helpful to cope with it. In a future blog, I will mention some of these skills. In the meantime, I’m going to schedule a flu shot. Hats (or gloves) off to the kind coughing Samaritan I met on the train yesterday! I hope he feels better soon. ~ Alexander L. Chapman, Ph.D., R.Psych