John Carlson: Ahhhhhhhhhhh-choo!

Everything you never cared about sneezing...and more! Photo by: Nancy CarlsonEverything you never cared about sneezing...and more! Photo by: Nancy Carlson

By: John Carlson—

Today’s column offers the unvarnished truth about a basic bodily function, but don’t let that freak you out.

It’s about sneezing.

But first, some background …

We all sneeze. I sneeze. You sneeze. Probably even Martha Stewart sneezes, except when she sneezes it’s into a two-hundred-dollar hanky she holds to her aquiline nose with her pinky fingers held daintily extended.

But years ago I used to work with a guy who could only be described as a prolific sneezer, a sneezer par excellence, a sneezer the likes of which I had never encountered before. In all other respects he was a perfectly normal fellow, and a nice guy to boot. It’s just that pretty much every day, he’d have these intense sneezing fits that seemed to last forever.

Now, the folks he worked with were all nice people, so even after thirty minutes of mostly uninterrupted sneezing none of us would flash him the stink eye or anything. He couldn’t help it. He was simply being himself – a veritable sneezing machine.

Still, once that first sneeze erupted we all knew what was coming.  Even the kindest, most understanding of us would unobtrusively slip our palms over our coffee cups, or elbow our half-eaten tuna sandwiches back into the protective cover of our desk drawers. See, the longer the sneezing went on, you couldn’t help but flash on disturbing images of the atmosphere that was likely shrouding your desk.

You might even imagine you were anchored in a Norwegian fjord. In the distance, the bell on a lonely buoy was making sneezing sounds instead of clanging, the air about you growing thicker and thicker with dense, wet fog. Or you might imagine yourself tramping through a steaming hot jungle, snakes and monkeys dangling from drooping branches on all sides, while exotic parrots imitated remarkably realistic sneezing sounds. Meanwhile, the jungle air was so thick, it was literally dripping from the brim of your pith helmet.

It was almost enough to “pith” you off. Heh-heh. Anyway …

Yes, these were mere mental images. But deep down inside, you knew if somebody had scanned your tuna sandwich with one of those DAY-GLO funk-detector wands, the truth would be blanketing your bread like a coating of chunky peanut butter.

The atmosphere was full of that poor guy’s nasal effluvia, and you couldn’t stop thinking about it.

He’s not the only notable sneezer who’s been in my life, either.

There’s also my wife, Nancy. No, she doesn’t sneeze much. But as I’ve noted before, she never does anything half-heartedly. Consequently, when she feels a sneeze coming on, she intentionally stokes her nasal cavities before loosing what I can only describe as a hundred-and-fifty-decibel, twenty-megaton ahhhahhhhhhCHOINKKKKK!!!

Seriously. With one sneeze she can lower the barometric pressure of whatever room she’s in by twenty or thirty inches. Sometimes the atmospheric change even makes my lumbago flare up.

What’s more, she does this purely to spite me.

This is because she knows I’m a man who takes sneezing way too seriously, chiefly because the older I get, the more sneezing plays a bigger and bigger role in my life.

Like, when I was a kid, I was a single-sneezer, you know? No big deal. One and done. With the passage of ensuing decades, though, my sneeze-rate slowly but inevitably rose from two and three sneezes in a stretch to four, five and six. Now that I am a befuddled senior citizen, once I start sneezing I’m good for seven, eight, even nine sneezes in a row.

The other day I wondered, why the uptick?

While as the holder of a master’s degree in journalism I’m already practically a doctor, to learn even more about sneezing I launched into a research effort on Google that took every bit of four long minutes.

First, the bad news.

“Pressure released from a sneeze,” I read, “ is extremely unlikely to cause an eyeball to pop out …”

It really said that! Not that it’s IMPOSSIBLE to pop out an eyeball by sneezing. It’s just “extremely unlikely.”

Being a pessimist at heart, since reading that I have been haunted by visions of myself sneezing hard and hearing a couple boing  sounds, then wondering why all of a sudden I have a clear view of whether my zipper’s down. Turns out my bouncing eyeballs are suddenly dangling past my chin.

Second is the really bad news.

Can sneezing kill you?


OK, to be perfectly truthful, sneezing is about as likely to kill you as to make your eyeballs pop out of  your head. But there was a case of a guy in Britain who, “by suppressing a particularly forceful sneeze,” ruptured his throat, as a result, causing him to “bite the Big One.”

Well, “bite the Big One” is my term, but you get my gist.

First he sneezed. Then he croaked.

In summary, this Google post said of sneezing, “Attempting to be polite – in exceedingly rare cases – could be deadly.”

As far as I can see, this leaves us chronic sneezers between the proverbial “rock and a hard place.” Do we fight to suppress a major sneeze and maybe die? Or do we go with a real rip-snortin’ sneeze and maybe make our eyeballs pop out?

Beats me, but I’m going to stop here and give it some serious thought before I have to … ahhhhahhhhhh


John’s weekly columns are sponsored by Beasley & Gilkison, Muncie’s trusted attorneys for over 120 years.

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A former longtime feature writer and columnist for The Star Press in Muncie, Indiana, John Carlson is a storyteller with an unflagging appreciation for the wonderful people of East Central Indiana and the tales of their lives, be they funny, poignant, inspirational or all three.  John’s columns appear on Muncie Journal every Friday.