The hidden health problem crept up on me last year.
I became aware of the issue when I was eating ribs for supper. I took a bite and then tried to swallow a piece of meat. It wouldn’t go down my throat. I swallowed very hard and then felt the piece of meat get stuck in my throat. I couldn’t swallow to make it go down my throat. I stood up and began coughing and gagging to try to loosen it. It was a few panicked minutes before I was able to spit it out.
I couldn’t seem to swallow solid foods! I tentatively began trying different foods to see what I could swallow or not. I found that foods in a liquid form was the most easiest for me to swallow. A friend gave me a Bullet or miniature blender to make smoothies.
I phoned my family doctor who sent me to the Emergency ward to be examined by a nose and throat specialist he lined up. I was given an upper endoscopy and gastroscopy, both done on an emergency basis. Nothing serious could be seen with my throat area.
I was later given a swallow test and other medical tests to confirm there was nothing wrong with my throat. It was discovered I had a crooked voice box and damage from acid reflux.
While it was a relief to find there was nothing wrong with my throat area, I was frustrated with the fact I still couldn’t swallow solid foods. My doctor thought it could be from my anxiety issues related to PTSD. That’s when the doctor determined I had dysphagia, or difficulty in swallowing.
An appointment was made with a dietitian so I could learn how to eat on a restricted diet. I couldn’t be eating healthy if I was drinking fruit smoothies all the time. Once, I even made a tuna smoothie in an attempt to try to eat more nutritiously.
There were no support groups or any information on how to live with dysphagia. I began using a binder to put in recipes on what foods I could eat.
Often in trying new foods, I would try a tiny portion. I would stand over the sink ready to spit it out if I could’t swallow it. I also had a large glass of water if I needed help to swallow it. If I had any difficulties, it was crossed off my list.
Over time my list of foods began to expand as I experimented with foods that I could eat and swallow. I bought a tiny hand blender and regular size blender to puree different foods.
My recipe binder was growing and the variety of foods for my restricted diet had increased. I was getting tired of drinking smoothies.
I began to gain the weight I had lost the last few months. I was given instructions in how to eat on my new diet by the dietitian. There was the danger of choking or having liquids go into my lungs. I had to eat very slowly and in a certain manner. What I used to do without thinking, now had to be done carefully.
I got the knack of eating on my restricted diet at home, but found out that eating was a social affair. People eat out in restaurants and there were pot lucks at work. I was shy about bringing my hand blender to work or even bringing my purreed foods there. I didn’t want to be answering lots of questions about why I was eating a certain way or why my food looked different.
Hunger changed my mind after not bringing a lunch to work. I brought my tiny hand blender and my special food to work. There were a few polite questions from coworkers, but the tiny blender sitting on my desk became the norm. Coworkers even brought foods to the pot lucks that I could eat.
I also found that I can still enjoy eating out at restaurants if they have certain foods I could eat. One restaurant owner allowed me to do a swallow test with a tiny portion of soup. This was after explaining my eating habits to the owner. I didn’t want to be ordering food that I couldn’t eat, but had to pay for.
The owner’s customer’s service had put her place as one of my favorite restaurants to eat out. I was still able to enjoy eating out with friends at restaurants that had the foods that I could eat. Soup, fish and yogurts were some of the items I could select from the menu.
Not only has my food list expanded, but I am able to still travel like I did before I had this food restricted diet. It does take some more planning and preparations, but I haven’t gone hungry yet on my brief trips. My mini blender comes with me.
Living with dysphagia is challenging, but manageable for me. I can still work and go about my daily activities.