Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Swallowing, and Other Inconsequential Ramblings of a Condemned Man

I have never had someone spit their drink in my face, though I surely deserved it on several occasions. No, you must screw up royally to have someone spit in their drink in your face. It is a public shaming spectacle deserved of only the most egregious behavior.
A buddy of mine, in the middle of a restaurant, in front of our wives, committed the greatest of sins.
He sat across from me.
Man, was he soaked from the chest up! Luckily, I was only drinking water at the time.
When a person swallows, there is a distinct rhythm to the muscles, cartilage, and tissue of the throat. Here’s a breakdown of the three phases to swallowing, and were my body fails me:
Phase 1 - this is the oral phase, biting and chewing. My greatest issue in this phase is eating my food like I am a damn 17-year-old plebe at West Point again (big bites, three chews and swallow).
Phase 2 - this is the pharyngeal phase. The epiglottis closes over the top of the larynx, preventing food and liquid from going into the lungs. My muscles often fail to time this maneuver effectively. I’ve watched these results through an x-ray video of myself swallowing, called a video fluoroscopic swallowing exam. When I swallow, a portion goes into my lungs, sometimes just a bit, other times a shitload (FYI – inhaling a ‘shitload’ of anything is not good for you). My doctor tried to console me. Generally, this is not a physical problem since I am young(ish) and my lungs can cough up and expel the aspirated material. As I age, or unusual situations, my ability to expel will decrease, therefore elevating my chances of developing aspiration pneumonia (bacteria growing in my lungs from the food or liquid inhaled). That was not much of a consolation.
Note #1: I have a doctor’s note, and corroborating video evidence, for my sideshow skit of splitting food and beverage all over the place. I apologize profusely.
Note #2: this is easily in my top five list of ‘MS Things That Are Probably Going to Kill Me’. I’m thinking of starting my own Deadpool.
Phase 3 - the muscles coordinate their rhythm, moving food down the esophagus to the stomach. I already know ‘I ain’t got no rhythm’, so there’s no need for my MS to remind me constantly. Yet, still, it does…
About 10 or 12 times a day, my esophagus misfires. My delicious bite of Brie’s chicken casserole remains lodged in my throat. In and of itself, this not a problem. I can wait for the muscles to re-sync or add a little sip to wash it down.
Inside Voice: “Great plan, moron.”
Outside Voice: “Thanks!”
Inside Voice: “You forgot about the issues.”
Outside Voice: “What issues?”
Inside Voice: “What about the fact that while your esophagus is swallowing, your epiglottis is covering the larynx and preventing breathing? Or, what about the fact that food pressed against your esophagus can become lodged, or stuck, even after normal swallowing resumes, continuing your coughing and breathing fiasco?”
Outside Voice: “Oh, yeah! I forgot about that. That’s bad.”


Swallowing Problems
Swallowing problems — referred to as dysphagia — result from damage to the nerves controlling the many small muscles in the mouth and throat.

The fight is not over and it won’t be over until a cure is found.
It will never stop…nor will we
It will never quit…nor will we
This is why we fight!

Never Stop… Never Quit…®
Kevin Byrne
Portland, OR

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