Thanks to genes inherited from my mother’s side, I often get food caught in my throat. I have to eat slowly and chew consciously.
My mom and grandfather have the same problem. Eventually, a doctor will run a scope down my throat and ask me why I waited so long to get surgery. “Well, because I hate going to the doctor, I hate being sick, and I hate recuperating.”
I can feel food stick at the same place in my throat every time. A bottleneck of inflammation and scar tissue, narrowing of the esophagus—I’m sure my condition has a seven-syllable name and hefty price tag.
Certain foods exacerbate the problem. After eating acidic foods like tomatoes and drinking acidic drinks like orange juice and coffee, I can feel my throat swell. I don’t know what set it off this morning, but I choked on my vitamins in the kitchen at work and had to run outside to barf them up in the grass. Granted, all that came up was water and pills, but still, so freaking embarrassing.
Me: “Hey, can I have a raise?”
Boss: “No. You vomit in front of our office. It’s not good for business.”
I’ve had this problem as long as I can remember. Pizza in Hunter’s rec room. I was near tears with panic before my bite finally slid down. Pork tenderloin in my parents’ kitchen. That time, I couldn’t breathe, and threw up in the sink. A few minutes later, I blew my nose, and chunks of pork came out. That’s something that should never happen to anyone. That’s when you know you’ve got a problem. Back when The Copper Kettle on Granny White Pike in Nashville was still the Green Hills Meat Market, I was eating beef stroganoff, and a piece got lodged in my throat. Had to throw that one up in Jonathan Stinson’s front yard. Seriously, Throat, it’s not funny anymore. No one’s laughing. In fact, everyone’s pretty grossed out: they have a hard time eating their lunches when I’m choking back up the water I just drank into my lap. Nothing better than choking and soaking the front of your pants with water-mucus at the same time!
When I was teaching at David Lipscomb High School, I allowed whoever so desired to eat lunch in my room. The students were allowed to eat in the cafeteria or open classrooms like mine. For the most part, I enjoyed having them in there. Many of the regulars were in my fifth period class of juniors, so we got to know each other outside of the confines of Scottish ballads and dangling participles.
My friend Justin Wright, a youth minister then and a fine photographer now, came by to eat lunch with me one day. I was eating leftovers from the Sunday lunch my grandmother cooked. She always sends home heaping plates of food with me.
My choking mechanism always acts up when I try to eat and carry on a conversation at the same time. Sure enough, the roast beef traveled about halfway down then stopped. Have I mentioned that my eyes water and turn red and my nose starts running?
For Justin to see this didn’t bother me in the least. He’d seen it all before. My students were a different story. I was supposed to maintain a modicum of professionalism and composure. Sometimes, getting up and walking around helps my pathetic esophagus do its job, so I stood and made my way over to the trash can, just in case. That motion was enough for the beef to drop a few centimeters and cut off my air supply. Now it was the real deal.
I turn around, and Justin looks up.
“Are you choking?” he asked and cupped both his hands to his neck, which is apparently the international sign for “A delicious piece of beef humiliated me in front of my 5th period.”
He ran over, put his arms around my middle, and fitted his fist into that cavity where my ribcage fits together. He pumped once. Nothing happened.
He caught my eye and said, “Harder?”
He repeated the motion with more force.
The culprit shot from my mouth, ricocheted off the wall, and fell into the trash can.
He dropped his arms, and I turned around. We looked at each other and shook our heads.
One of my students, maybe Houston, yelled from across the room, “We thought you were joking!”
I threw the rest of my lunch away.
I still need to get my throat checked out. But what would I write about?