At This Age You’d Think I’d Know How to Chew My Food
How many times in our lives have our mothers or grandmothers told us, “Chew your food.” Never the father or grandfather. Why? Because, like me, they eat like an animal, devouring fistfuls of food in a single gulp.
That is, until last Friday. Why? Because that’s when I choked.
Pieces of London broil, previously sliced, sat on a plate before me. I rolled each one up, shoved it in my mouth, chewed a few times, swallowed, followed by a swig of soda. Repeat the process. Worked like a charm, until the soda rushed back out of my mouth all over my living room rug. I ran for the bathroom and christened my kitchen floor along the way. Standing over the toilet, I realized that the last bit of food was still in my throat. I grabbed a water bottle, started to chug, hoping to clear the passage.
That water rushed back out of my mouth. Nothing was getting past that defiant piece of London broil that had now taken up residence in my esophagus.
I called my doctor and was told to go to the emergency room.
As I drove myself to the hospital, car window down, I continued to throw up out the window, a dog marking my territory along the highway, so I could find my way home.
Once in the emergency room, I was handed a corrugated bucket from a stack that stood by the admission desk (guess this happens often). Quickly, I was called from the waiting room and led to an examination room. On the way, the nurse said I needed to get weighed. Couldn’t this be the one time I saw a doctor where they didn’t weigh me? Besides, I heard choking adds ten pounds (fifteen with dessert). I was confused when we walked passed the standup scale, and I was guided to stand on a metal plate built into the floor. Am I that fat that I need to be weighed like freight?
Next, I was moved to an examination room.
And there, I waited.
I entered the examination room at 7:30 p.m. but had first contact around 8:15. Everyone was friendly, and I’m sure mine was the least dire emergency in the place. After a time, I had the distinct impression I was on their ‘every forty-five minutes’ schedule. First, a quick hello and review of my problem. Next round, an IV bag of saline injected into my arm. Next round, a doctor who told me that they were going to inject a medication (a name I wouldn’t even try to pronounce) that will probably not work.
Spoiler alert, it didn’t.
I was told drinking a soda may dislodge the object and asked if we could start with that.
“Good idea,” the doctor said as she left. Forty-five minutes later, with medication not working in my arm, a nurse looked at me from across the hall and yelled to no one in particular, “Can we get a soda over here, please.”
A few minutes later, I was handed a Coke.
“Oh,” I said, “I was hoping for something with lemon.”
I’m sure everyone in the E.R. appreciates a good joke; surprised they didn’t slap a ‘Do Not Resuscitate’ sticker on my back when I wasn’t looking.
Shortly after that, a man wheeled a laptop on a stand into my room. Asked for I.D., and the usual questions, as he populated fields on his screen with my pertinent information. Was I being booked, I asked. He didn’t know, that wasn’t his job, he replied.
What was his job, apparently, was to return ten minutes later, as my food still stayed lodged in my throat, and hand me a bill for my stay so far.
“Do you want to take care of this now, or should we mail it to you?”
You could imagine the reply I wanted to give. I said to bill me. Was I to be presented with a bill hourly? Why not just put a meter on the door? At least then I could play along.
The doctor returned and said, since the food hasn’t dislodged, she was calling in the G.I. team.
“You’re calling in the army for this?” More jokes, more laughter ensued.
Then I asked if I could leave once this was over.
“Absolutely,” the doctor said and left the room.
Just after midnight, I sat in a much larger examination room, with gastroenterologist, anesthesiologist, two nurses, and two very large machines at the ready.
The anesthesiologist explained what he was going to do, as I signed one page after another of my consent. Just after I signed the last one, I again asked if I could leave once this was over.
“Absolutely not,” the anesthesiologist said as he placed all the forms into a neat pile.
“I was told I could leave,” I said.
“Whoever told you that did not know what they are talking about.”
Just what every patients wants to hear while sitting in the Emergency Room.
Then the gastroenterologist stepped in with his question. As I answered, he scribbled my responses. When he asked if I had any sudden weight loss, I slapped my stomach and said, “Does it look like I’ve had weight loss?”
He did not look up, did not crack a smile, just kept scribbling. Then he said something that made me think I should stop making jokes, “I have been doing this for years, and it never happens, but if I tear into your esophagus we will be rushing you into emergency surgery.”
Why did I feel like this was the medical version of “I swear, honey, this never happened before”?
Directed to lie on my side, an IV plugged into my arm and a plastic oval strapped onto my mouth, which gave me a permanent surprised expression, I was about to say, ‘I can’t really breath’ when I heard, “Good night.”
I woke up an hour later, the room empty except for one nurse, and my throat clear.
For the next five-and-a-half hours I lay in the hospital bed, wide awake. I scrolled through the channels on the TV, watched reruns of “Petticoat Junction” and “77 Sunset Strip.” For some reason, there was a channel where you could order “Adam & Eve” sex toys.
Wonder if that would be covered under my insurance?
I fell asleep about twenty minutes before the doctor came in, turned on the lights, and asked me how I felt. Twenty minutes after that, I was released and headed for home.
For the rest of the day I was very cautious about how I ate. But I’m proud to say that I learned my lesson, chew my food now without incident, and it never happened again.
Oh, wait, did I mention this is only Part One of the story?
Photograph by Amanda DeLuise