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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, November 30, 2009

Diagnostic exam also tough to swallow


By David Shapiro

I've always had trouble swallowing stuff, which is probably one reason I chose the profession I did.

But occasionally the problem becomes more literal than figurative, and I've had to consult medical professionals about little pieces of food feeling stuck in my throat.

The first specialist said he'd put a tiny camera in my throat to look around. He didn't tell me he intended to get there via my right nostril.

Without warning, he stuck a long fiber-optic probe up my nose and after a few loops to avoid piercing my brain, I could feel it poking around my tonsils.

It was so unexpected and unpleasant that I reflexively had my fist half-cocked to punch the guy before the nurse took my hand. The thing felt even worse coming out than going in and failed to identify the problem.

I was wise to the next doctor who tried to perform the procedure and told him he'd have to make do with a tongue depressor and flashlight.

To prove how painless it could be under his deft touch, he stuck one of the things part way up his own nose. When he withdrew it, he pulled out a string of snot that must have stretched a foot long before it collapsed onto his shirt.

"I'm sorry you had to see that," he said as he cleaned up the mess with a fistful of tissues. That made two of us.

With the cause of the stickage still undetected, they brought out the heavy artillery of throat exams a barium swallow.

This involved placing me next to a fluoroscopic device that took a live X-ray as they plied me with food laced with a radioactive substance that allowed a doctor to watch its passage through my upper GI tract on a TV monitor.

He saw no cause for concern and a therapist wheeled over the TV to show me an instant replay. As I watched my skull chomp on glowing gobs and send them bouncing down my skeletal gullet, I felt like I was in one of those commercials to scare kids off crystal meth. "I'm not going to end up like that guy."

But who knew there was such a strong jawline under all those chins?

"Maybe your throat is just too sensitive," the therapist said.

That would give it a lot in common with some of the public officials I write about, but I'd better watch what I say; someday, I may need one of them to give me the Heimlich maneuver.