So two weeks ago, on the Friday before Thanksgiving, the Thanksiest day of the year, while tucking into a cheery lunch of turkey and mashed potatoes at my desk at work, my esophageus abruptly decided to deny entry. To everything. Food, water, saliva, air. Apparently this is called a "diffuse esophageal spasm", and it looks like this:
While it looks like a happy twirly ribbon, it feels like an unhappy massive heart attack. And because the esophageus constricts itself down to nothing in a ferocious corkscrew, anything that goes down stops halfway, and then comes right back up. I'll spare you the intimate details, but think about how much saliva you swallow in the space of five minutes, and then imagine where you would put it if you couldn't.
Needless to say, there was some mild panic at the office, copious vomiting, and then my coworker hustled me down the street to a walk-in clinic, stopping every few metres so I could besmirch the neighbour's shrubbery. While waiting for the doctor, I threw up. While talking to the doctor, I threw up. Another coworker came to drive me to the emergency room, I threw up out the car window several times on the way. While talking to the triage nurse, I threw up. They gave me a muscle relaxant and had me wait an hour. I threw up. They said to go home and give it a few more hours to work. My coworker drove me home. This time I was clever and discreetly opened the door at every stoplight.
After a few hours I wasn't better, so I called my friend Mere, and she and her boyfriend came and drove me to another, better-equipped emergency room. I threw up while talking to the receptionist. I threw up twice in the waiting room. I threw up three times while talking to the triage nurse. I was sent to another area to hand in some paperwork, prompting the most amusing exchange of the night.
Nurse: You'll have to stop all eating and drinking now, ok? (gestures to the Starbucks cup I am holding)
Me: This is the cup I've been puking in.
Nurse: Oh. (grimaces)
Thankfully by that point it was all saliva. GROSS, I KNOW. They bundled me into a room, a med student took my history, and then yet another nurse hooked me up to a morphine drip, bless her heart. They did an EKG to make sure I wasn't actually having a heart attack, and then called in a GI specialist. My lunch choice seemed to baffle him greatly. "Turkey?" he kept saying. "Usually this happens with steak". Good to know. Then it was off to the xray department so they could properly observe my esophageus trying to turn itself inside out.
At this point Dr. It Should Be Steak decided to try a powerful muscle relaxant in my IV. It seemed to be working, I was throwing up slightly less. Another ER doctor came in, asked me how I was doing, and told me "that muscle relaxant never works". A few minutes later, my vomiting severely worsened and what was coming up was turning pink. Ahh, the power of suggestion. This was an alarming sign, so it was decided screw the relaxant, we're going mechanical. This meant a - wait for for it - ESOPHAGOGASTRODUODENOSCOPY, where they shove a tube down your throat with a little camera on the end to see just what exactly is causing the problem. Yes, that is a real word. No, I did not make it up, go look for yourself.
This is when the party really began. The endoscope doc arrived fairly promptly and assured me that in only 1 of a thousand cases do patients experience bleeding and damage, but not to worry because he was the best. His assistant informed me that she had been asleep in bed already but had gotten up for this. All very comforting. They spritzed an anaesthetic down my throat, at which point my stomach, still greatly offended at being denied lunch, decided to get in on the vomiting action, and I could not stop. They injected some heavy-duty Valium into my IV to stop it, which pretty much knocked me out. I have the vaguest memory of the endscope going down, and then I don't know what happened, because the next thing I remember is sludgily waking up to the assistant slapping my shoulder and shouting "BREATHE, BREATHE!". All very exciting!!!
Turns out the spasm had caught a piece of turkey (yes, turkey! not steak!) in it, and that's why it wouldn't let go. They removed it with the endoscope, and then discovered, lo and behold, I have a physical anomaly called an "esophageal stricture". This is a band of overdeveloped tissue causing a narrowing of the esophageus, and makes one prone to spasms. Fortunately it can be treated, with a horrific-sounding procedure called an "endoscopic dilation", where they essentially jam a balloon down your throat and then blow it up like a clown making inflatable animals at a child's birthday party. Modern medicine at its finest.
While I wait to have this carnival procedure booked, I am on a delightful diet of soup and assorted mushy foods, as well as some serious antacids while my esophageus heals. And to add injury to injury, I discovered a few days later that all the retching had ruptured my ear drum when I got up in the morning and my right ear started oozing blood. I need to figure out how to make money off this ability to spontaneously gush bodily fluids.
Despite all this whining, I am extremely grateful for the swift and excellent medical treatment I received from the doctors and staff at the hospital. I don't think I was ever alone for more than half an hour without one of them checking in on me. And of course, I am ridiculously grateful for Meredith, who stayed with me the entire time and has now seen a human barf more times than anyone ever should. So I guess it was Thanksgiving after all. I don't know if I will ever be able to eat turkey again, however. Evidently they are quite vengeful.