LAURINBURG, N.C -- Almost all cases of the hiccups last only a few minutes.
A hiccup bout is any episode lasting more than a few minutes, while prolonged attacks are a more serious phenomenon and a mystery to medical science.
John Francis Crosland has been hiccuping for more than 40 years. Every day since John F. Kennedy was first in office as president, Crosland has gulped or gasped or had that catch in his throat.
"I just hiccup all the time. A lot of times I be doing something and hiccuping, and I don't pay them no attention," he said. "If you want to know the truth, it don't too much matter. It worries other people more than it worries me."
In this, the county seat of Scotland County, Crosland has come to be known as the Hiccup Man among friends and associates. He must like it. The license plate on his white '97 Pontiac Grand Prix reads, "HICUPMAN."
"When he came to work for us," said Charlie Rivers, "he had the hiccups. He said, 'I've just always had them."' Rivers is the president of First Capital Bank of Laurinburg, and he has known Crosland for about 33 years.
"He'll talk to you and have the hiccups," he said. "You don't really notice it."
The Guinness Book of World Records lists an Iowa man, Charles Osborne, as having them the longest: 69 years. Osborne was slaughtering a hog in 1922 when he first began hiccuping, and he is said to have hiccuped at the rate of 40 times a minute until February 1990.
He died a year later.
Crosland, who is 68, could be on his way to having the world's longest case of continuing hiccups. "Heh. I'm going to live until I die," he said. "I counted it up, and I have to live until I'm 100 - or right at it - until I break his record."
Actually, Crosland could set the record at age 94.
Except for some arthritis and trouble digesting his food, he seems to be as healthy today as when the hiccups first came to him as a 24-year-old. John Crosland Jr., one of six children, said his father remains a strong man.
"Something like hiccups, heart problems - far as I know, none of my family members never had that," said the elder Crosland.
Hiccups have earned him a bit of fame across the country. He has been profiled in the pages of The National Enquirer, appeared on ABC's old "Home Show" and interviewed on National Public Radio.
On a Wednesday morning, Crosland leaned back on a brown paisley-and-patchwork sofa inside the living room of his two-bedroom brick home. He lives across the cemetery from Laurinburg Institute in the northern side of town.
He gripped a tissue during an interview, occasionally wiping his forehead as he mulled over a thought. White hairs are winning the battle of time in a neatly manicured goatee, and Crosland was dressed comfortably for the warm spring day in black suspenders, a blue, long-sleeved plaid shirt, khakis and black cowboy boots.
A native of Dillon County in South Carolina, he moved with his mother and the family when she relocated across the state border to Laurinburg. He would have been about 8 then. Growing up, he tended to keep to himself.
After finishing the 10th grade, Crosland found work on a farm. Over the years, he has held a variety of jobs. He's worked construction, pumped gas at a local service station and built crates at a pallet yard.
He and his wife, Lessie, married in 1955. Due to a couple of strokes, she's now in a rest home in Laurinburg.
Crosland retired four years ago,but stays busy. He has a part-time job as a courier with First Capital Bank, he cuts grass, and he tends to a couple of laundromats every night.
"I've been working all my life," he said, "and I can't quit now."
Doctors, he said, never told him what caused the hiccups. Doctors, he said, never told him why they settle quietly in his throat when he's calm and relaxed. But he has a hunch: He attributes them to a car accident.
"As far as I can remember, I weren't sick or nothing," he said. "When I were 15 years old, I was in a car wreck. The car turned over. It threw both of us out."
A friend had borrowed an uncle's brand new Ford automobile, and Crosland went along for the ride out in the country. They were running too fast when the car turned a curve, and both young men were thrown out, into a field. Neither was hurt too bad.
But Crosland said the jugular vein on the right side of his neck swelled up "twice the size of an egg." Even now, when he gets to hiccuping, he can massage the vein and it slows them down.
Once he gets tired, excited, upset or whenever he gets to talking too fast, the hiccups come faster. It can reach a point where, with all the gurgling, he sounds more like he's stuttering. Sometimes it's like he loses his breath, like he's got asthma.
On those occasions, the Hiccup Man tries to calm down.
When the hiccups came on in 1961, Crosland recalls, he was working at a plywood plant. He got to hiccuping; they were coming and going about every three or four hours. Then he went a day without them.
But the hiccups always came back.
A couple of weeks later, he decided he needed medical attention.
Two weeks in a hometown hospital in Scotland County were followed by two more in Moore County under a specialist's care. Next up, Duke University Medical Center, where a surgeon removed a left rib, thinking it was pinching a nerve.
The surgery, with over 240 stitches, left a scar that runs from just under his arm to his abdomen. "They took my rib out, and after it was removed, it didn't seem to do much good," he said. "The doctor said there was not anything else he could do."
Hiccups are a reflex spasm in the muscle used to breathe. They have been called a failed attempt to inhale. Hiccups begin with a spasm of the chest muscles that opens the lungs to suck air in, but a flap in our airway, or glottis, closes quickly before the air can enter.
With a frequency of four to 60 per minute, they sometimes start for no reason, last a few minutes, then stop.
Crosland said he hasn't seen a doctor about his hiccups for the past 15 years. "I can get out there and do like everybody else can do. I just can't do it as fast," he said. "I have them all the time. The more calm I am, the better it is on me."
Frequently, he'll wake up during the night with hiccups. He gets up and walks around the house before he's able to relax again and snuggle back in bed. "I can't lay down with the hiccups. They'll rock me to death," he said. "I gets a good night sleep, but I don't sleep all night long."
Funny thing, once he wakes up, Crosland can ward off the inevitable for five minutes or so by sitting motionless. Once he stretches a leg or moves an arm, the hiccups return.
The stories on the Hiccup Man on radio, television and in the print media have brought advice from all corners of the land.
One writer told him "to drink water out of a glass and turn the glass and drink from the top side of the glass. Now how in the world do you do that?" he said. Another remedy had him place a 50-cent piece in a glass of water before drinking the water.
"Somebody years ago told me to go to a fortune teller," he said. "What good would it do? I wouldn't believe what they say."
At this point - after living with the hiccups for well over four decades - Crosland talks like a fellow who doesn't want them to go away.
"If I woke up one day and would go half a day without 'em," he said, "I might go see somebody to see if something's wrong. I don't believe I want to quit with them. I would like to go for a week and see how it feel. I feel like the good Lord might have caused me to have them to slow me down. If I hadn't had 'em, I might be dead."