Misadventures in Medicine Part 3 (of 3)

It was the end of May. Months of trying to get my swallowing issues resolved had led to nothing. I finally had a referral and it linked me to a potentially non-existent doctor’s office. That was the [insert straw and/or camel-related cliche here]. I decided to change physicians. It couldn’t possibly take any longer to start from scratch than I had wasted in the prior few months. My gamble met with reward.

I chose a doctor Erika recommended. Her office is within walking distance. It sits in a block comprised entirely of medical facilities and a hospital. Almost all of the tests and visits I would later undergo would occur within this block—less than a mile from my apartment. These buildings are clean, well-kept, and what one expects from a medical facility (very unlike my Westlake experience). Never have I welcomed the sterile environment of a bland doctor’s office so happily. I contacted my insurance and had my Primary Care Physician changed to her. I called to schedule an appointment. Less than a week later, I was in her office. She was friendly and listened without interruption. Then came the clincher. She has suffered from GERD since childhood. She has decades of experience dealing with its many intricacies. Fate was dealing me a kind hand. The following week she had me in a specialist’s office (conveniently located in a nearby building in that same block). He too was helpful and attentive. I had my blood drawn at a clinic down the hallway. The nurse’s technique was surprisingly good. It was as if he was able to slide the needle into my vein, extract the blood, and remove it in one well-honed movement. It was the first time in years I’d had blood drawn without leaving a bruise. Two days later the testing began.

I awoke early and walked to the hospital (still on the same block), received my armband, and headed upstairs for my Barium Esophagram. They placed me against a vertical bed on a hinge with an x-ray cannon aimed at my throat. I was asked to swallow odd-tasting barium solutions of various viscosity and a barium pill. Sometimes, the bed would rotate 90 degrees like a miniature amusement park ride. Occasionally, I could see a small monitor displaying an x-ray image of my digestive tract. At one point I was able to see the small pill shoot down my throat into my stomach. I was a little upset when it was over. It was kind of fun and I was looking forward to more strange liquids and entertaining live video from my innards.

A few weeks passed before the main event—Esophageal Endoscopy. No food the night before or the morning of. Starving, I jumped on a bus in the early afternoon of July 1st (this was the only test requiring me to go to a facility outside of the especially convenient medical block). I would be sedated and driving was not allowed. I had already arranged for Erika to pick me up after work. I was met with a little paperwork, a stylish gown, my own cot, and an IV feeding me saline. Then a rather long wait with intermittent conversations with passing nurses. The main event neared. I was a bit nervous, but not exceptionally. I was mostly bored. Having little experience with surgical procedures, I didn’t expect to be lying in a bed for so long awaiting the operation. I should have brought a book. Two saline bags later, I was rolled into the arena. I reminded the nurse I was there for the esophageal endoscopy and not the colonoscopy. She assured me that wouldn’t be a problem as my pants would get in the way. Then came the anesthesia. My lids drooped a bit and I was drowsy, but still somewhat coherent. When my teeth were cut out, I blacked out instantly and came to much later with no memory of what had transpired. In this case, I have memories of the entire procedure, albeit swimmy-drunken-surrealist painting-style memories. I didn’t feel the full effects of the sedative until the very end of the procedure. That being said, there was no pain or anxiety, although I do recall numerous odd gurgling noises coming from my throat. An endoscope is much wider and intimidating than you may expect. I imagined a small fiber-optic cable with a bulbous end. Instead, it was like a very long—yet flexible—desk lamp probing the depths of my throat. It was a strange experience, especially considering the drunkenness induced by the anesthesia. I was told to expect a sore throat, but it turned out to be very minor. A few days later I was rafting and kayaking whitewater in Kernville with no discomfort or weakness.

Thus ended my introduction to the world of esophageal medicine. It began badly, but ended rather well. I am currently on omeprazole—a valiant warrior against my over-abundant stomach acid. My doctor believes that my primary problem is not GERD, but Eosinophilic Esophagitis—an allergic inflammation of the esophagus. Based on my history with allergies, I think he is correct. My father has been seeing great results with his problems by taking allergy shots. He recommends I do the same. I intend to look into that soon. The swallowing problems have not disappeared entirely, but the medication has been helping.

The story of my throat does not end here. It continues, but I’m better armed for the quest ahead.

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