Curing Hiccups

The CBC radio host asked, “Do you remember your first day of school?”

I remember it as clearly as the crisp Alberta air in September. Mother was off to a new teaching assignment and, at the age of five, I was officially going to school – not just sitting on the fringes of her classroom.  I would finally join my older brother and sister at the one room school where Mr. MacDonald would roll his Scottish “r”s over our lives of early learning.

The room was as sparse as the school district’s budget.  The clean blackboard was crowned by the alphabet. No pictures were posted to incite questions or wonder.

Will I be able to learn how to open that gate?

Will I be able to learn how to open that gate?

Old Man MacDonald, as my brother and sister called him, greeted us with a point to certain rows for certain grades.  I dashed to mine and grabbed the first seat.  I was in heaven. For a kid with only older siblings, front and foremost was luxury.

MacDonald stood tapping two fingers on my desk.  He boomed in brogue, “Does anyone in this row know how to rrrrread?”

My hand shot up with pride.

He didn’t appear to notice.  He just asked another question, “How many of you know how to doooo numbers?

Up with my hand again, even more enthusiastically.   MacDonald looked down at me and said, “Amy, please take the last seat in this row.”

My first day of school began with a battle against silent shame that I had done something horribly wrong.  I’d show him, I decided.

Twenty some years later, as a Training Officer employed by a Canadian Financial firm, my assignment was to write and facilitate a new management training program.  I studied a new, transformative adult training approach in Kansas City that revolutionized typically boring adult learning situations.  It required full participation of each attendee.  No more “spray and pray” – spurt the facts and hope they get it.  No more lecturing, reading aloud, or relying on videos to preach the principles. This approach validated one’s own skill acquisition.  Participating managers would perform tasks and, with the help of other managers, would safely see where they needed improvement.

After writing the training material, it was time to polish my facilitator skills.  I wanted them to be so natural they’d be invisible.  I was thrilled to find the perfect course at Carleton University in Ottawa.  After receiving approval and adjusting travel plans with colleagues, I registered for the course.  I rushed through the days prior to boarding the plane in London, Ontario.  I finally had time to read the course’s preparatory material.

My breath stopped.  Embedded in the first paragraph, “Come prepared to teach the other participants a measurable skill within a 5 minute presentation.”

Where were the exit doors?  I had no resource materials.  A change of planes in Toronto meant I’d arrive late in Ottawa.  I was in a panic.  I considered returning to London from Toronto.

Like my first day with Mr. MacDonald, I felt an unwelcome dose of shame in the midst of raw enthusiasm.

As we landed in Toronto, I stuffed the problem back into my briefcase.  I decided to keep going and ran to make my connection.  I’d pray for an idea, get to my hotel in Ottawa and have a good night’s sleep.

The next morning, at Carleton, the professor marched into the lecture room and said, “Who wants to be first.”  I shot my hand up.  I needed to admit that I came without a presentation.  I couldn’t bear the knot in my stomach.  I had to  get this confession over with!

“Thank you.  You will be second,” he said to me and, without hesitation asked the question again.  “Who’ll go first?”

Steam rollered!  ‘Damn, I thought, what a rotten example of facilitating.  He reminds me of MacDonald!’

A man had put up his hand. The Prof directed our #1 presenter to the front as he walked to the back of the room to a waiting video camera.  He said,  “Oh by the way.  Each presentation will be video taped.  Once your five minutes are up, we’ll watch the tape and begin our critique.”

The man’s presentation took 5 minutes and the painful critique took the rest of the morning.  Knowing  the Prof mistook my confessional attempt for courage, I was sick with dread.  At lunch, I barely managed a few lettuce leaves and a cup of strong tea.

Deciding to simply prepare a confessional statement for the group, I left lunch early.  One of the other women ran to catch up with me.  Not only did I need to be alone, she had deep, distracting and annoying hiccups.  She said, “I’m glad you left early. I may need some help. – hic – When I get hiccups they don’t go away easily.  I use several techniques to try to get rid of them.  So if you are going to prepare your -hic- presentation, please ignore me while I do my best to stop -hic- these damned things.  But I may need a little help with water.”

Suddenly a light went on!  “Don’t stop them,” I said excitedly.


“PLEASE!  You’ll save my life if you keep hiccuping.  Honest you’ll see why I’m saying this.”

The proverbial light at the end of the tunnel.

The proverbial light at the end of the tunnel.

My new friend sat hiccuping gallantly as the participants returned to the room.  Various people mumbled suggestions to her, but I’d just smile at her and shake my head.

With knees knocking, but with immeasurable enthusiasm, I began my presentation.  “Today I’m going to teach you a successful method to stop hiccups.  Marla tells me she has them frequently and has great difficulty getting rid of them.  What’s the average amount of time you have to tolerate these, Marla, before they go away?”

“Oh,  -hic-  a half hour if I’m lucky.”

“Thank you, Marla.  Now, I want each of you to quickly take a bill out of your wallet and place it on the table in front of you.”

With respect for my limited time, they responded quickly.  “How much would you say is on the table?”  People threw out estimates…perhaps $100.  “Write down how much money you have in front of you and show the people beside you.”

Thankfully, Marla’s hiccups continued – strong and regular.  My knees were still vibrating and I prayed this simple technique, successful every time I used it, would not let me down today.

“Okay, pass the money to me.  Pass it along quickly!”

When the bills arrived, I carried the bonanza to Marla.  “Marla.  Listen very carefully.  This money could be yours!  This whole pile of bills can be yours.  I’m holding my other hand up.  When I lower it, all you HAVE to do is…hiccup – loud and clear – and then the money is yours.  BUT YOU HAVE TO HICCUP.  After my hand comes down.  Okay?”

She nodded and hiccupped.  I continued, “There’s a pile of money here.  I’m going to lower my hand in a second BUT you MUST hiccup.  A good, loud, deep hiccup.  Okay?  The hand is now… DOWN!”

Marla could not hiccup.

The five minute timer rang.  Still, Marla had not hiccupped.  Her hiccups were gone.  All the money was returned to the participants.

When the video was played back, I couldn’t believe how my determination appeared as confidence.

Is that what Old Man MacDonald had seen when a five year old kid only wanted to be heard?   Did he also trust I had the ability to stay enthusiastic even after the bumps and grinds experienced by others?

I flew back to London marvelling over having been moved to the back of the row again.  Mr. MacDonald passed me into Grade Two without any fanfare.  However, when I told the Prof why my presentation ended up capturing the moment, he said, “I suggest you learned a great deal more than this course had to offer.”

31 thoughts on “Curing Hiccups

  1. Whew…you did it! Loved this. You had me reading every word wondering how you were going to come out unscathed…or wounded. Thank you for sharing your triumph. This really has me smiling.

    • Oh, Georgette! How welcome that you, a teacher, are the first to comment. Thanks to Mr. MacDonald, if I had any tendency toward complacency, that little event replaced it with determination!

      • It’s not only your blog I have problems with. It’s a few others, too. I can’t say I’ve ever had probs with the e-mail. I think it has something to do with my new laptop and security settings. When I get back home, I’ll get some help with it…I hope.

  2. What was Mr. MacDonald like for the rest of the year? I agree with Georgette, this was a great piece. You are so intrepid. Upon learning that I would have to make a 5 minute presentation…I’d have gotten off plane #1 and found the quickest flight back in the other direction!

    • Oddly enough, Linda, I don’t remember anything else about being IN that classroom. However, I have great memories of events outside in the school yard and on the walks to/from school. We moved for my second grade so I don’t have any residual reports about that burly Scot.

      About being intrepid…thanks, but I can’t take credit. I really was between a rock and a hard place. You see, senior management had their eyes on me because this was such an “unheard of” approach to leadership training. I had to keep going!!

  3. Hi Amy .. fascinating stories … Old MacDonald and his prize students … while that’s was inspired is all I can say – to stop the hiccups …

    I can imagine you’d have been an excellent teacher and leader in your business .. and you are here – with the Guides, or without them, with your friends .. or without them …

    I did love this – thinking outside of the box … cheers and Happy Easter – Hilary

    • Dear Old MacDonald… I wonder how old he really was. Funny how these experiences of youth can flash through an adult life. I’d like to be able to think of a person such as this and be able to just “plug in” for a good visit. Imagine being able to get all the questions answered. “Why did you come to some tiny wee place in Western Canada to teach school?”

      Yes, Hilary, inspired indeed. I was so miffed at the Prof for being grossly ineffective as a facilitator. Yet, the whole thing exemplified that being an effective facilitator means being able to roll with the unexpected and the unfolding.

      Happy Easter to you, as well, Hilary. For my meditation this morning, my attention was on The Unforgettable Walk. I received a strong reminder that each of us have our Good Fridays throughout life. We are betrayed, meet sorrowful consequences, feel abandoned and, with Divinity ever present, keep rolling back our stones. “Jesus did not intend to hold the spotlight. The intent is that each of you see yourselves in him and know you are not alone.” Then, an ember burst into brilliance: Spiritually, we cannot be betrayed. We are Loved through our perceptions into clarity.

      Since I’ve been told (and believe) I’m an old soul living out my last incarnation and since this connection contains lots of humour, I thought how, on my last Good Friday, I’ll use Christ’s words, “It is finished” and trust my soul will go on for some non-physical adventures! I then sensed, “You could change your mind…”

    • Hi Jacqueline. Unfortunately the cure doesn’t work on oneself. We can fool ourselves in many other ways, but not with this cure for hiccups. I just visited you – loved catching up. I always enjoy going to your blog because it’s so authentic, homey, gentle and colourful!

  4. Wonderful; story Amy… the way adults so unconsciously knock the stuffing out of us, is anguish to read, and anguish to remember! And your teaching experience was brilliant,. the Universe providing, and helping them that helps themselves !!!
    A prepared presentation wo0uld never have had the life and the spontaneity of your inspired version!!!

    • And adults still can knock the stuffing out of me – twofold when participating in situations where facilitation is unprofessional and I have to observe it subtly/unknowingly being done to others. I recently listened to/observed a man who had been asked to present a rather dull subject matter. After his opening, he turned on his facilitation skills and closed the gap between his audience and him. Watching was like being in a pool of warm milk. His question period bore lots of fruit and his technique is still talked about. I loved it!!

  5. *laughing* Oh, this brought me great joy. I’da loved to watch you scramble and pull it off.
    But pfffffft to that first experience as a kiddo. I’m sure there were reasons, but geeze….talk about stepping on the enthusiasm of a hungry mind.

    • A hungry mind it was, Mel. I could not get enough fast enough…at four, when I looked at my Grimms Fairy Tales and saw those incredible pictures, I knew the words would explain what was going on. Word by painful word (my older siblings expressed as much) I learned what that first sentence said. It was like coming out of isolation!

      Do kids still have that hunger when they are so bombarded with so many stimulating resources? Do they crave the understanding and go after it or do they learn to be “fed”?

    • Thanks for the visit, Rosanna. I just finished reading your posts – you taught me some very interesting facts about Asia which I thoroughly appreciate. I like the idea of introducing us to your world outside of the touristy milieu. I love learning from the people who LIVE the culture tourists have no time to experience or appreciate.

  6. Hi Amy,

    This is one of the great “learning” posts I have come across of late. The Professor was intuitively right though I am not sure how much he fathomed about your “lack of confidence’ situation earlier in the day.

    Does adversity result in doors of possibility opening up? More than adversity, I suppose this has more to do with self preservation- not in the literal sense, but our ego, our perceived fronts. But if this be true, is it worth it? I remain unsure…….


    • Shakti, you wise and welcome soul.

      Many years after this event, I did short, intense contracts for the Ministry of Education. These contracts were my bread and butter…a one month contract would be equivalent to 1/2 a year of unchallenging work at home. So it gave me time to pursue aspects of life I’d otherwise have to forego – like spiritual studies. I felt blessed and fortunate to secure these contracts. There were lots of other people waiting to grab the opportunity! However, the work included travel that was sometimes dangerous during the coldest winter months. After one such trip, I came home exhausted and frustrated – to find a group of us were scheduled to meet with our Spiritual Director. I was the first to arrive so with a huge sigh of gratitude to have her all to myself for a few minutes, I described the fright of driving over the mountain passes on sheer ice and blizzard conditions – just my car and me. Cells phones would not have worked in this area.

      She listened, shook her head and said quietly, “Hmmmm. I wonder why anyone would think they had to do that to make a living.”

      Ego knows how to hide well.

      I laugh as I write this, but it was the thunderbolt I needed.

    • Oh yes, Rosie…I’d used the technique a number of times. I knew a large amount of money wasn’t even needed, but I wanted everyone participating. Since we had so little time, we were allowed room to push the boundaries of “participation” with our presentation. (Incidentally, the fact that the larger the amount of money, the more likelihood of it working says a lot about our desire for a “freebee”. I once grabbed 25 cents and it didn’t work. I upped the ante and the hiccups stopped! Moral of the story: Greed has its place! :D)

Love to "hear" from you...please leave a comment. If you wish to Subscribe, go to the "Home" tab and look to the right.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s