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Medical Update

At the onset of a new year, I’d like to have a philosophical post about my intentions for the coming year. Instead I’m sitting between an ER visit yesterday and a medical procedure tomorrow, knowing that Howard and I are likely to tweet about our experiences and friends will want to know what is going on. So here is what is going on, advanced warning GI discussion and vomit. Philosophical musings about even writing this post follow after the update.

Twenty five years ago I had a non-cancerous tumor in my throat which required two surgeries and six weeks of radiation therapy to kill. It also left me with a party trick where I tip my head back in a way that makes people notice the scars while joking that a man (the doctor) slit my throat and took all my money.

Two years ago I was diagnosed with “Dismotility of the Swallow Mechanism” after two swallowing studies where I got to eat barium in front of an X Ray machine. In case you were wondering, barium is not tasty and doing a test where I attempt to demonstrate how I choke on food was not fun. After diagnosis I was sent to a physical therapist and told to take small bites, chew thoroughly, and eat slowly. I figured that it was just one of the long-term consequences of surgery and radiation exposure.

Sometime in the last year I went from sometimes having trouble swallowing food to having food clog up in my throat in ways that took me up to an hour to clear. And I usually had to clear things by bringing them back up. Fortunately since the food never actually reached my stomach, it didn’t contain stomach acid which is what makes vomit so unpleasant to taste or smell. Unfortunately I could not predict what would clog or when. It got subtly and progressively worse until I started making jokes about my magical ability to choke on water. I was starting to think I needed to go talk to a doctor again because things were worse (clogs about 3 times per week), but then we had a summer full of house disaster and repair where I became a general contractor, A fall with further house upheaval, a daughter getting married, and a pile of additional debt that made me reluctant to spend more on doctors. I managed to get an upgraded insurance plan for 2020 which would make seeing a specialist less expensive. I planned on addressing the issue once the wedding was done.

Two nights ago, on New Years Eve, I ate some food and my throat clogged. I performed all my usual throat clearing steps, food came back up, but the clog did not clear. After three hours, Howard did some googling and found out more information about esophageal dysfunction in five minutes than I’d been told by the doctor two years before. The information made us more determined to see a doctor ASAP because there are better treatments available than “eat carefully.” It also helped us be comfortable waiting until morning to see if the clog cleared. It didn’t. At that point it was New Year’s Day, no doctors were in their offices, but I’d been 15 hours without food or water. I was already starting to feel the effects of dehydration and waiting an additional 24 hours didn’t seem wise. Also, according to the Instacare I visited first, the equipment necessary to help me was only available in hospitals anyway, and an ER was the only way to access that equipment urgently. It was so strange to be sitting there feeling healthy and hungry, but to know that without medical intervention I could be dead in 3-5 days. We went to the ER.

At the ER I described my trouble and they instantly knew what to do. It was a familiar problem to them, one they could solve. Within an hour, using IV meds, the clog was cleared and I could eat again. I was sent home with a referral to a gastroenterologist to send a scope down my throat to fully diagnose and treat the cause of the problems. (The doctor I’d been to before was an ENT. I should have been sent to a gastroenterologist.) I’m scheduled to be scoped tomorrow. I’m certain that Howard or I will tweet about it because medical stuff is fascinating to our writer brains. Also because one of our defense mechanisms when we are stressed or scared is to make jokes. Laughter is medicine. (Not the best medicine, mind you. No amount of laughing can fix my throat, which is why I’m going to have a medical professional stick a scope down my esophagus.)

So that is my medical history. I have mixed feelings about posting it. On one hand, it is fascinating information for writer people who may be able to use details for stories they want to write. On the other hand, medical information is exceedingly personal and often kept private. The gripping hand is that the nature of my job and my friendships is that there are a lot of people out there who honestly care about me, and who I care about, that I only communicate with via the internet. The tweets that Howard and I made from the ER yesterday brought in many concerned and well-wishing responses. So I find myself making a public post about medical conditions where strangers could come along and offer criticism of my life choices. But also where my truly loving friends can come read about what is happening in my life and hopefully be a little less worried.

It is all going to be okay, in fact at the end of this particular emotional (and financial) ride I’m likely to have better quality of life where I don’t have to carry vomit bags with me any time I choose to eat more than five feet away from a sink. There is an entire post I should probably write sometime about coming to terms with an invisible disability. But not today. For today I’m doing urgent tasks, only eating liquid food, and trying not to let my anxiety make up too many stories about my procedure tomorrow.

4 comments to Medical Update

  • Martin Bonner

    I have coeliac disease. The diagnosis is done by sticking an endoscope down your throat into the small intestine and observing the inflammation. I can think of a 101 things I would rather do than have an endoscopy, but it’s a lot more fun than (say) bad toothache. I’m afraid all the unpleasantness is in the throat (rather than stomach/small intestine), so I don’t expect it will be any better for you (but it shouldn’t be worse).

    I was offered the choice of sedation, but that knocks you out for the day and I needed to get back to work – so it was local anaesthetic at the back of my throat only.

    Hope they get it all sorted out *this* time round.

    P.S. I don’t really understand why people keep medical stuff private. Well, I can see why they might want to keep STDs private, but not stuff like this. You put up trigger warnings in case people get grossed out, and I find it really interesting. I’ll respect the privacy of those who want to keep it private, but I don’t think you should be shamed into not talking about stuff.

  • Ben Hunsinger

    When I was young, it was all the fashion to make fun of ‘old’ people who sat around talking about their ailments. When my Grandparents and their siblings did so, I listened politely, because I wanted to play poker with the grownups. As I got older, I discovered that they weren’t only complaining about problems, they were passing on solutions and warning signs. Thank you for doing that. Not only did I learn about a medical condition, but was again reminded of the dangers of stoicism, in the face of worsening conditions, and not getting second opinions. Again thanks for the info, and on a personal note feel better soon.

  • Kim

    Thank you SO MUCH for writing about this… I have the exact same swallowing problem, but because it didn’t happen because of something I was in the doctor for anyway I thought I was just eating too fast or something. Never thought to bring it up to a doctor. But now I know it can be FIXED?! That’s amazing!