I always feel so helpless when my cat has hairball symptoms. It sounds like she's really in distress while it's happening, and all I can do is watch her go through it. Sometimes I wonder if something other than a hairball is the problem, because she starts wheezing and coughing after running around the house at full speed.
I think anyone who wants to own a cat needs to understand the relationship between cats and hairballs. I have never met a cat without some hairball problems, especially long-haired breeds. They just like to groom themselves so often, and they are going to ingest some hair along the way. That's just the nature of cats.