catching up – in which I visit the ER

I’m generally a pretty healthy person. Despite the occurrences of this week soon after we returned home from China, I rarely go to the doctor or have any reason to do so. I’ve never had strep throat, never broken a bone, and never even contemplated going to the hospital, except to give birth.

However, one Saturday a couple weeks ago I found myself in need of a visit to the emergency room. And of course it couldn’t be for something “normal” like a broken bone – not that I’d like to experience that, either, but I could also live without having to explain the phenomenon to everyone I encounter.

One of my brothers and I have both experienced multiple instances of having food get stuck in our esophagi. This is not the same as choking, in which food gets stuck in your trachea, and you can no longer breathe. When food gets stuck in your esophagus, it either goes down (to your stomach)…or the alternative is that it needs to come back up. I’ll spare you the details, but I had always been ultimately successful in getting it to take one of those paths.

That fateful Saturday, though, we were out at lunch with some friends who were visiting from out of town. They have two small children, as well, so there we were, four adults attempting to eat our food and catch up and have good conversation while also interacting with our collective four children age four and under. And sometimes when you’re trying to eat and enjoy adult conversation and parent your increasingly restless and over-stimulated children, you end up taking large bites of food and attempting to chew and swallow quickly. And when you do that, you may swallow too big of a piece of chicken, and if you’re me, it might get lodged in your esophagus. And you may try quickly and without attracting too much attention to get it to budge while you are still at the restaurant, but you will be unsuccessful, and you will make a quick exit to return home with your children.

If you’ve never experienced this phenomenon, let me tell you, it can be quite uncomfortable. You can still breathe, but there is significant pressure in your chest. And if you try to eat or drink anything else (or even swallow your own spit) while the food is still lodged in and blocking off your esophagus, it will not go well for you, not well at all.

Anyway, once home, I continued – for quite some time – to attempt to get this piece of chicken to budge. Miranda prayed for me. I prayed for myself. It would not move. Finally, after a call to a doctor friend to make sure there wasn’t some simple solution of which I was not aware (there wasn’t), a trip to the emergency room became the only real remaining option. My friend Alex was super sweet and took me so I wouldn’t have to go by myself.

We spent about 3 hours waiting to be seen by anyone other than the intake nurse. Then they gave me a medication to attempt to get the muscles in my esophagus to relax, but the only thing it did was make me light-headed, so they pulled out the big guns. Within another hour or so, I’d seen a GI doctor, who determined that they would need to insert a tube into my throat and down my esophagus to push the piece of food down to my stomach, and they began assembling their team of doctors and nurses and prepping me for the procedure.

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Soon Alex was ushered out into the waiting area, and I was surrounded by the ER nurse and ER attending (to monitor my sedation) and the GI resident, GI attending, and GI nurse (to perform the procedure), and I woke less than 30 minutes later feeling a million times better and incredibly relieved.

Alex and I stopped for ice cream on the way home, and my diet consisted entirely of food like this for a couple days.

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I have fortunately made a full recovery though 🙂 And let me assure you that I am now chewing all of my food VERY carefully! I’m also scheduled for a scope in the next couple weeks that will hopefully enable the doctors to see why this food-stuck-in-esophagus phenomenon happens to me.

And I’m hoping that this is my last ER visit for a long time!

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2 thoughts on “catching up – in which I visit the ER

  1. The same thing happens to me! Mine is caused by my milk allergy. I did not have any severe allergic reaction for 15+ years – just a little trouble swallowing here and there. When I began having more severe allergy symptoms and got serious about avoiding even trace amounts of milk, the swallowing issues disappeared except for the rare occasion that I do consume milk products. Then, I have quite a bit of difficulty swallowing for about a week after due to the swelling in my esophagus. It’s a fairly new diagnosis called eosinophilic esophagitis (basically irritation due to allergic reaction in the esophagus). Ask the docs to check for it during an EGD if they can find no other cause for your swallowing difficulties. Feel free to e-mail me if you have questions about it. Good luck!

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