Madeline started coughing last night about 30 minutes after midnight,waking me up and interrupting a run of at least 7 quiet hours. Richard and I got up and sat next to her bed, trying to calm her down. We’ve noticed that the coughing fits can become self perpetuating events when she really gets going, so trying to calm her seems to help a little. Richard held onto her as the sharp noise of her coughing ricocheted off the walls. I was half asleep and sat next to the bed, holding my legs, feeling overwhelmed with helplessness at each percussive noise. She eventually seemed to calm down, and we went back to bed.

She started coughing again about an hour later, and I got up first. I picked her up and took her into the living room, trying to let Richard sleep by performing the duty he had done an hour earlier out of earshot. We sat on the sofa. She’d cough and I’d try to calm her, trying to talk her out of this autonomic disturbance with rationality. Trying to make it better, fix it. She’d calm down a little, and I’d breathe a sigh of relief. Fifteen minutes later, as I was contemplating going back to bed, she’d start again. This repeated a two or three times before I retrieved a pillow and blanket from the bedroom.

I laid down on the couch, curled around her. She’d cough and hack, and I’d hold her, stroke her head, and talk to her gently. I realized an hour into this that I was no longer trying to talk her out of it, no longer trying to figure out how to stop her coughing. I was just there to be present with her and comfort her, so she didn’t have to go through this painful experience alone. We’d doze between episodes,she’d wake up coughing, and I’d try to be present with her.

Around 3 she was having trouble catching her breath; panting, fidgeting, taking short, shallow, hiccuping gasps. I could see that she was uncomfortable and distressed, and there was nothing I could do. She’d had her dose of hydrocodone, the other drugs we have don’t seem to help. All I could do was stroke the back of her neck and remind her she wasn’t alone.

I know I may be projecting what I wanted her to feel last night. Maybe it was just all awful for her. Or just another night. For me, though, that shift from fixing to comforting was a step towards acceptance.