Death was approaching over my left shoulder. I could sense it. And yet I was surprisingly calm. It felt surreal. The bit of chicken lodged itself in my esophagus and now I could not breathe. I was going to die in this very hotel room. Tonight. I knew it with a certainty that rivaled the certainty of taxes. It was my time.
Choked to death on Thai chicken curry.
People would judge, wouldn’t they?
Except that I really could breathe. It just felt like I couldn’t. I was not going to die after all unless it was from embarrassment. I imagined the humiliation of that ER trip.
I could not swallow that damn piece of meat down no matter how hard I tried. I could not cough, hork, or vomit it up. I made the most awful gagging, retching noises. I wondered what people passing in the hallway were thinking.
Fortunately, I was not alone. I rasped the word, “Heimlich!” and motioned at my throat. He complied and in short order the offending bit of Thai chicken curry sailed across the room, bouncing off of a panel of neutral colored drapery, leaving a mark for the next guests to wonder about.
Sorry about that, housekeeping staff….
From then on, I chewed and chewed and chewed everything, figuring that this happened only because I was a glutton, stuffing my face too fast. I was ashamed. I told no one.
There were several close calls after.
Fast forward a few months.
Standing at the counter typing clinic notes I felt the wave of nausea hit me again. It had been building for weeks, getting worse every day. Always in the mid morning. But why? Why was this nausea happening? It was not pregnancy, not unless God felt the immaculate conception needed a do-over and since I was no Virgin Mary I figured that was highly doubtful. I draped myself over the counter, holding my head in my hands and closed my eyes until the wave passed. Wow, did my epigastric feel…. odd. What was that sensation? Pain?
And just like that, it all dawned on me.
Acid reflux. A terrible case of GERD. Esophageal structure. Dysphagia. Time to crack out that acid blocker and go see a GI specialist.
So whenever people say, “You’re so lucky. You can just call stuff in for yourself. You don’t need a doctor!” I roll my eyes. I have no business treating myself or anyone else that I love because you know what? I’m crap at it. When it comes to myself and my family I am just too close to the subject matter to see straight. My family doesn’t even appreciate how dangerous that can be. Instead they get all offended when I refuse to weigh in or offer to take over their medical care.
“The physician who treats himself has a fool for a patient.” William Osler
Remember that next time you hear about a doctor treating themself or their spouse or their kids except in the direst of circumstances….