Death took a holiday - My bout with Schatzki Ring and Other Close Calls
Each of us comes face to face with Death at some point in our life. It might be through a family member falling ill and passing; it might be through a co-worker; it might be through a friend. Each of these situations brings the shadow of Death to our doorstep and causes us to examine our lives in detail. But nothing brings it right up in our face like when it is our own mortality at stake.
Over my 53 years on this planet, I have come face to face with Death a number of times. Some preventable, some not. Some serious, some just plain stupid. I guess my first flirt with Death would have been in my young manhood. I have spoken elsewhere in a hub about my driving fast. A 1973 Mustang Mach I with a 351 CI Cleveland engine tends to make you want to drive fast. I did. At some points nearing 140 MPH on highways. I still shudder to think...
The first episode I can recall that does not include a car was after Christmas 1980. I had received just what I wanted for Christmas: a pair of big, heavy lugged Hiking Boots with red laces. I promptly called up a friend and we went climbing at Buffalo River Point. I had found a bluff which we could climb up for some 10 feet easily, then go vertical for nearly 30 feet by holding our fingers in a crack and walking up it like Spiderman. At the top, we would jump some 8 feet out off the bluff and land in a tree, shimmy back down and do it again. This got boring, so I looked for something new. I found it. Farther along the bluff was another, more challenging section. Up it I went, then sideways along searching for a way up. Fingers and toes, that's all I had on this bluff. As I went along, these holds begin to crumble, until I ended up stranded some 30 feet up with nowhere to go. I ended up having my friend climb up and position himself so I could jump over a section and grab his hand. We both could have fallen onto the rocks below. Scared me to death. Never again!
I have also spoken elsewhere about my near drownings. Once as a high school freshman; the other as an older, but still not wiser late 40's father. Each of these situations, I truly expected to die. The first time, it took three others to save me; the last, luck and my son did the job. I still cannot swim well; I think is it due to my butt being full of lead. I cannot even float. If I try, I sink. On my back or on my stomach, my feet and butt drag me down. Just the way I'm built, I guess.
Cars, bluffs, water: not much else on earth to be afraid of, is there? Oh yeah; health. Three times in my adult life I have been hospitalized for Atril Fibulation, a rapid irregular heartbeat that the body cannot stop. One doctor described it as if your heart had 600 little bosses instead of 1 big boss. These 600 little bosses all try to take over in a coup d'etat in your chest, and you are left with a major shortness of breath, heart racing to 200 beats per minute, then in the next instant, down to 40 beats per minute. Medication took care of it the first time; then the hospital killed me the next two times. I mean they stopped my heart with those paddles you see them use to bring people back to life on tv; then hit me again to restart my heart in rhythm. "Charge to 600. Clear!" Whump! Body jumps up off the table, all tight and rigid, then collapses back down in a heap. Then they wait for a bit, leaving my lifeless body on the table. "Alright everybody. Take 5." They wander around for a bit, maybe go out for lunch. Hell, I don't know what happened; I was dead! "Okay everybody, gather around. Here we go. Charge. Clear." Whump! "Okay, we got a heartbeat. Well done!"The last time I had this was the month before my youngest was born. Too much excitement over being a father again, I guess. The first two times this happened, the doctor said it was stress related: eliminate all the stress you can from your life. So, I got divorced. Worked like a charm. I highly suggest it for a way to relieve stress on your heart; however, the same cannot be said for the stress on your wallet.
All of these are situations I never care to be in again. And to some degree, I can control them. Don't drive fast. Don't climb bluffs. Don't get into the water. Don't create stress in your life. These I can avoid. But the one that struck me yesterday I have trouble avoiding. It involves eating. I like to eat. A lot. But I have a condition known as a Schatzki Ring. Basically, I have abnormal ringing of the esophagus which causes me to become choked on food. I can breath, but cannot swallow. Chest pain, fear, inability to swallow even a bit of water, it is stuck in place. Three times I have had this in a serious manner. Once at a wedding reception. They served brisket, and a piece became lodged. I drove home, an hour just to get there. Dropped my family off at home, then drove to the hospital. There they gave me something which relaxed me to a point where I could move the obstruction upward and out. I was released, and went on my merry way. The second time, it was a hot dog. A bite I was chewing on slipped back in my throat, and before I could stop it, down it went. Partway. This time, I was mad. I had been trying to chew properly, and somehow failed to keep it in position. So, another trip to the hospital. Drugs didn't work this time. They ended up taking a probe and going down to pull it up. Hurt like hell.
The summer before last, I went for my 50 year old check up. You know, the colonoscopy thing we men are all supposed to do at 50. The doctor I spoke with could do both an upper and lower, so he did both at once. One scope up, one scope down. I imagine the scopes meeting somewhere in the middle and shaking hands. Anyway, he stated that while my lower tracts looked good, the upper had this Schatzki Ringing to excess. Basically, if I want to have surgery to snip each one, I can. I don't want my throat cut, thank you very much. So I took Singular (allergy medicine for my throat rings?) for some six months. Went fairly well with no episodes. Then the prescription ran out, and I failed to get another one.
Yesterday afternoon, I was snacking on some baked chicken breast in my office at work. I was chewing well, taking my time. Someone called me, and as I positioned the bite inside my cheek so I could talk, down it went. This time, it became serious. I was having trouble breathing. I tried coughing and did everything I could to throw it up. Nothing worked. A few small well-chewed pieces came up, but not enough. I managed to catch my breath and work it into a position I could breath. Then, I drove home. There I had my CPR trained college age daughter perform the Heimlich Maneuver. No joy. So she began thumping me on my back. She weighs 120 lbs; she can't hit too hard. So my wife began whomping me hard (I think I have bruises between my shoulder blades today). Nope, still there. I decided I would take a steaming hot bath in our jacuzzi tub, and relax. I ran the water as hot as I could stand it, turned on the jets, crawled in and relaxed. I massaged my throat as it lay in the water, eyes closed thinking soothing thoughts. After 15 minutes or so, I reached up and got the glass of water I had, took a sip, and felt it move. Another sip, another budge. One more for good measure, and it moved on down to where it was supposed to be. Thank you, Lord!!!!
It took a while for me to eat dinner last night; I only ate a little bit, and chewed the bites to death, I assure you. Nothing so far this morning; just not there yet. As I said, there are any number of things you can avoid to push death off to another day, but I like to eat. I like to eat meat. So I place myself into this position with every meal. Steak gets cut into 1/4" sized bites; pork chops, ribs, chicken all present their own particular challenge. Even sandwiches are a challenge, resulting in small bites and lots of water, milk, or tea to wash each bite down. Thus will be my life until I choose to exist on mashed potatoes and soups and such.
So, Death took a holiday last night for me, and I hope he stays away for a few more years anyway.