My Independent Study

by Allison Carter | 5/8/98 5:00am

I don't know about you, but I'm not someone who coughs very often. I only cough when I'm choking on a french fry (which happens often given my "Zone" diet) or when I'm deathly ill. Other than that, I just don't do it. I don't get sick very often. Maybe I live a phlegm-deprived life. But today I'm in a room full of people who continuously feel the need to violently expel air from their lungs.

Which makes me wonder -- why do certain people cough? Does the College's intimate space in the Upper Valley provide a fertile atmosphere for germs to live among us? Or do some people have a genetic predisposition to hacking up a lung while sitting in a classroom and taking notes? Um, does coughing help your G.P.A.? Did I miss something these past four years? I could have used a tip like that for Econ 10. Maybe I can get a research grant for next year to study the possible connection between the number of coughs per lecture and the final grade (since I don't have a job anyway -- anyone out there know how to get a Fulbright?).

Maybe I would have a job by now if I had spent more time coughing. But until the National Institute of Health undertakes a major study, I'm going to conduct some preliminary research of my own.

As I sit here in a sociology class that I find incredibly interesting, I notice how many people cough during a lecture. There are 27 of us, and it's not as though everyone in the class coughs once, and that's it. There are eight to 12 people who are the prime offenders. These are the people I am concerned about. I am surprised to see they are not satisfied with one gratuitous cough. It's cough after cough after cough ... I start keeping track of when people cough. The type of cough does not matter -- as long as it is disruptive to the flow of the professor's words. I keep a tally on a random sheet of paper. The girl next to me realizes what I am doing, becomes my research assistant and adds hash marks when I forget. (Maybe she can put that on her resume.) Time creeps by slowly. Five coughs. Ten minutes later I am at 25. I hardly know when people find all that time to cough. What are they doing? Why aren't they taking notes? They should be taking notes, because I am going to need someone's notes from this class since I'm not taking any right now.

Forty-five minutes later ... Here I am at 100 coughs, and I realize that I am able to detect the fine nuances between coughs. Here is a general run-down of the coughs I've encountered so far:

First there is the dry, irritated-throat cough. Your basic, run-of-the-mill cough. Nothing special under the hood. Anybody can do it anywhere, anytime. No assembly required.

Next you have the gentle cough. A lady's choice. Soft and delicate. Almost too quiet for the human ear. Almost too weak to be productive at all.

Then there's the juicy, wet cough whose mucus involvement is no secret to the general public, because we can all hear the phlegm going their separate ways.

However, one cough that can't be overlooked is the chronic cough. The ceaseless, mind-numbing cough that turns heads. The only type that ever shows up when you least deserve the headache. People in your class who fall ill and move to Dick's House for the last three weeks of the term because they couldn't get their own food don't even have this cough by finals.

Yet somehow, it miraculously shows up when you least expect it. And it is always the girl next to you who thinks that her grade depends on her alignment with Baker Tower so she can't move three seats over, lest she throw off her internal balance when it's really her push-up bra. But I digress ...

With five minutes left in the class the cough count is up to 142. I'm sitting here hoping I can get eight more coughs. I want to reach 150. What can I say? I like round numbers. If I don't get there soon, I just might start coughing myself. I'm at 147. 148. 149.

OK. No more coughs. Let me have the final cough. Please, no one cough. Let this be it. I'm praying for silence. Too late. Someone just coughed. Sigh. Then another. OK. I'm at 151. Now I'm shooting for 160. I should be taking notes for this class but I find this irresistible. What was initially a way to kill some time has become a personal crusade. The latest count is 157. Time is almost up. 158. 159. Come on ... 160. There it is. Class is over. I'm outta here.