When Gretchen gave us “phobias” this week for the Spin Cycle, I was a little taken aback – I’ve just got so darn many of them. I’m afraid of heights, afraid of the dark, am downright claustrophobic, am terrified of being smothered (don’t put anything over my face. Period.) and I tend to get rather nervous during takeoff and landing when I fly. I won’t have a “real” Christmas tree for fear it will dry out and the lights will set it on fire, I get nervous when I go to bed if there’s still a fire in the fireplace and have I mentioned my obsession with the carbon monoxide detector in the laundry room lately?
Yes, I am a worry-wort. It’s getting worse as I get older…I’ll probably be a basket case by the time I’m 80.
I do have a very real fear, however. These days it manifests itself as nervousness when I have to swallow pills, but I literally am afraid of choking and for a very good reason. I suffer from esophageal dysphagia – more specifically, an esophageal stricture – and it was caused by a combination of chronic gastroesophageal reflux diseas (GERD) and a bad bout with bulimia in my late 20s – early 30s. Because of the bulimia, my stricture is much higher in my esophagus than one that is caused by GERD alone, and it was so bad by the time I was 38 that eating even tiny bites of food would choke me – I was living on tea, coffee, smooth soups and yogurt by the time I sought medical attention. (I also reached my lowest weight since high school – why not? I was walking at least 3 miles a day, since we had no car and I had to walk to and from work, and was consuming approximately 400 calories a day.) Everyone around me learned how to perform the Heimlich maneuver.
I’ve had my throat dilated three times in ten years, which I’m sure would surprise the doctor who performed the original procedure; my stricture was so bad he told me to expect to endure the procedure three times a year for the rest of my life. Not likely – it was a year before the second, and yet another three years before the third, shortly after I moved to Ohio. I may have to have another, but it’s been six years since the last and the stricture is just beginning to bother me again. Difficulty swallowing pills is always the first sign, and a couple of my larger supplements have been giving me a tiny bit of a problem lately.
I think the fact that it’s been so long since I’ve needed treatment for the dysphagia has a great deal to do with the fact that I no longer suffer from the GERD. I used to carry an economy-size bottle of Rolaids with me at all times, but now the only time I suffer from heartburn is when I eat something containing grains, refined sugar, processed soy or vegetable oils – all of the things that contributed to the myriad of other health problems I once suffered.
Recently, a young coworker of mine (a very young coworker – he’s just turned 29) who has been on Prilosec for years to treat his GERD just underwent a dilation for the very same thing. He’s upset, anxious and disillusioned; why hasn’t the medication he’s been taking prevented this? His diet is atrocious – I’ve caught him eating giant Twix bars for breakfast, and there is always candy and crap in his office. I think his main problem is that he’s simply bought into the same conventional wisdom bullshit that is spoonfed to the American public on a daily basis: everything is okay in moderation as long you remain active and take in fewer calories than you expend. The kid truly thinks that because he exercises and is trim and muscular that he can eat anything and everything he wants (he’s told me this) and he’ll be fine. Well, maybe this will change his mind.
Ah, well. When we’re young, we tend to think we will always be young. But I’m here to tell you that you won’t be, and what you eat today will affect your health tomorrow. So do something about it before you’re in an operating theatre, sedated, and having balloons stuck down your throat so you don’t choke to death on a spoonful of Jello.
That is all.