My swallowing difficulties are shared by my father and at least one of my uncles. There is also a history of acid relflux and heartburn. Thus far, my issues with heartburn have been few, but I often awake with an acidic sour stomach that makes me not want to eat breakfast. Early in the year this was becoming worse along with the constriction in my throat. One night, while eating especially dry chicken, I applied my usual forced swallowing by gulping water maneuver. It backfired. The food became lodged in my throat, the water resting atop it—bubbling occasionally as I struggled to breathe. I leapt from my chair and began tensing my esophagus in an attempt to force it to move in some direction. Up, down, I didn’t care as long as it went somewhere. A few seconds of gagging, Erika’s frightened face, minor flailing, and finally success. Pieces of chewed chicken and water hit the carpet. I was shaking. It was time to get this malady addressed.
I had contacted my doctor’s office roughly a week prior. I was informed my doctor was “out of the country for a month” meaning I couldn’t set up an appointment sooner than a month away. After the choking incident I called back. I wanted to see a gastroenterologist as soon as possible. All I needed was a referral. I was assured that was impossible. “The doctor is out of the country.” My only option was to pay full price if I didn’t have a referral and apparently there was no substitute doctor in the office during her time away to see me. I contacted my insurance. They were equally unhelpful and unsympathetic. Thus, I waited and ate carefully (and with trepidation).
Three weeks later I visited the glorified cubicle masquerading as a doctor’s office. Instead of a referral, my doctor decided I should be tested for H. Pylori first. If the results were negative, as I knew they would be, she would then write me a referral. Blood work. An additional week of awaiting results. Despite being told the results would be mailed to me, they never arrived. I called the doctor’s office. They assured me they had been mailed. If I didn’t receive them in a few days, “call back.” Unsurprisingly, I found myself calling back a few days later when my mailbox continued to turn up empty. Thankfully, I received the results the following week. Negative. It only took three additional weeks to discover what I already suspected. Meanwhile, I still had not seen a specialist and continued to have difficulty swallowing food.
Finally, a referral! Success? Hardly. I called the number for the specialist expecting a receptionist, but instead I was rewarded with the sounds of an operator—a recording. This was no longer the number or the office hadn’t been paying their bills. The recording didn’t specify which nor give me a new number to try. Google. A quick search brought me to the website of the specialist. The only contact information available was an email address. A week later and my email had not been returned (to this day it still has not). This was enough! Three months of trying to get a referral to a gastroenterologist and I was no closer. It was time to say goodbye to my primary care physician.