“When is the last time you had pneumonia?” the speech therapist asked after I had completed a video-x-ray test of my swallowing.
“Uh...like never,” I replied.
“That’s amazing,” she said. “You are constantly aspirating liquid when you swallow. You’re what is known as a silent aspirator. Luckily, you have a strong cough reflex when you do cough.”
Well, that was encouraging, I thought. I’d gone to see her because I had a test scheduled while I was at Mayo on my recent visit, but the person who was going to perform the test had a family emergency and had to cancel, so I arranged to have the test done at my local hospital.
And the upshot of all this? The solution? The cure? Well, according to the therapist, I am to mix a tasteless thickening agent into everything…that’s everything…I drink: coffee, milk, water, soda, soup. Not only that, but I was instructed to drink everything using a teaspoon, not a cup or glass. 1 teaspoon of thickened liquid. Swallow. Cough. 1 teaspoon of thickened liquid. Swallow. Cough. Right.
I can see myself going out for coffee, carrying my cannister of thickener, leaving my cup on the counter and grabbing a teaspoon. Measure out the thickener, stir frantically to be sure it dissolves. 1 teaspoon of thickened coffee. Swallow. Cough. 1 teaspoon of thickened coffee. Swallow. Cough. The fact that it will take me three hours to consume one cup of coffee won’t really matter, because after five minutes of sip-swallow-cough the entire place will have cleared off, leaving me sitting alone at the table being glared at by any of the staff who were unable to leave with the others.
And no ice cream, which is thick going into the mouth but melts into a very thin liquid which easily flows down the windpipe. And no Jello, which is fine with me since I don't like it anyway.
Doesn’t all this seem like tons of jolly good fun? No, it does not.
But I will do my best, mainly because while I have never had pneumonia, I do not want to get pneumonia. So I will compromise. I will put the thickener in everything I drink, but to hell with the teaspoon. I’ll just take very small sips. As for the coughing after every single swallow, I won’t count on it only because my eating habits already test the mettle and the patience of my friends. To put them through an endless coughing binge would be simply too much.
Either that, or I can simply refuse to drink anything in public, which means I can’t eat anything in public either, since I can’t swallow any solid food without washing it down with liquid.
Donations are now being taken for the construction of a gigantic marble statue in honor of my eternal…but always noble…suffering. I’ll use John Ceda of the World Wrestling Federation for the model (no one will know it isn’t me), and will pose him, in a loincloth, atop a boulder, head raised dramatically to heaven, face incredibly brave in sorrow, with the back of one hand against his forehead, ala silent screen vamp Theda Bara at her most emotive best.
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