You know what’s crazy? I’ll tell you what’s crazy™
I was working out Saturday morning. Huff. Puff. Huff. Puff.
Sweat is dancing on my forehead, my chest is heaving, my lungs are sucking in O2 like a vacuum pump.
To help keep me focused, I have a big wad of chewing gum in my mouth.
I like the flavor, I like the rythm of the chew.
Huff. Puff. Chew. Huff. Puff. Chew.
Huff but no Puff.
The gum has left my molars and rocketed into the deep dark recesses of my throat. The tiny wad of gum is caught in a tornadic burst and like a golf ball blasted off a tee strikes the rear of my throat.
I see stars and my brain signals there is a problem.
I am holding 60 pounds of metal and my first thought is don’t drop it, don’t crash into the mirror.
The gum is on the back of my throat, hanging on the epiglottis, the flap of cartilage that controls which hole food and air go down. I feel it there. It is dangling like one of the Wallendas tight rope walking between normalcy and disaster.
I gag instinctively. Like a cat trying to dislodge a hairball.
The gum doesn’t move. It is stuck there, like a four car collision clogging my larynx, the entrance to the wind pipe.
I am panicked. I have just coughed and hacked and was all ready oxygen depleted from my work out. My lungs are empty.
I need to cough and hack a few more times to move the gum from it’s delicate perch, but like a fighter in the 15th round, I have no more air to expel.
Holding 60 pounds of weight, swaying back and forth, people now staring at me as I work out like a weight lifter hacking up a fur ball, I have few options left.
My 1st thought in this millisecond of panic is to swallow the gum teetering on the back of my throat.
But can I? I am straining for air and I need to inhale. I gather whatever saliva I can find and swallow hard. At almost the same moment, I am compelled to inhale deeply and grab a breath.
The gum disappears.
I feel an awkward bang in the back of my throat that is both alarming and unusual.
While my lungs fill with much needed air, I know something is wrong.
It’s a bitter sweet moment. I have breath. That means the gum isn’t clogging my wind pipe. But I immediately fear the gum has been sucked into my respiratory system. I wish I had been able to dislodge it with that first sonic cough of surprise. But when it didn’t budge, I was in trouble.
Suddenly my thoughts are bright red spinning alarm lights inside a nuclear reactor.
I put the weights back in the metallic rack. There is an awkward clunk that makes a few in the gym at this early hour stare.
I gag and cough hard like a man with emphysema. I hope the gum will somehow dislodge. Nothing.
One of two things happened. My quick, swallow either fired the gum down my esophagus or like a chewable bullet, the little rubbery gum ripped past the the little flap of safety, the epiglotis, and it is now in my trachea or worse yet, buried somewhere deep inside my lungs.
I feel wrong. I can breathe, but I am afraid that there is a marble like lump inside me where it should not be.
I look in the mirror. I see my own face. I am flushed. There is a look of surprise. This is not something I have done before.
There is a piece of gum inside my trachea or in my sinus cavity or perhaps all the way down in my lungs. My brain is firing crazy thoughts of quiet panic.
I think back to that millisecond where I swallowed and inhaled almost simultaneously. Is it possible I swallowed the gum and my throat is sore because of the velocity of the gum striking the soft tissue. Is my throat sore because of harsh efforts repeatedly to expel the gum back out?
I walk to the water fountain and guzzle water hoping this will help.
As I drink, I think, how can this help. The gum isn’t lodged in my esophagus, it feels like it’s in my wind pipe.
I stand at the water fountain gathering my thoughts. I am going to need a remedy that is more complex than water.
I drive home. My throat feels swollen. My sinuses feel full. The inside of my throat feels like there is a lump. I cough for no reason trying to expel whatever is clogging my breathing. I get in the shower and roll my head back and forth. It feels like there is a boulder inside my sinuses or behind my nose or lurking in my eustachian tube like a prowler hiding in an alley waiting to attack. It is bothersome, not painful, but obviously foreign.
I pace back and forth looking at myself in the mirror.
“What should I do?” I ask myself over and over.
I tilt my head back staring into my nostrils. It’s black like a cave. I open my throat and stare at the back of my throat. I see that rubbery punching bag thing. Did it do its job I wonder? Did it cover my trachea at the last second with that forced swallow diverting the gum harmlessly into my stomach?
Or as I fear, as it feels, did the gum lodge in my respiratory system somewhere?
I think about driving to the E.R. What if the gum is in my lung and suddenly moves and clogs up an air intake valve like a fouled injector in a sports car. I live alone. Nobody knows this has happened. I could black out and slowly suffocate here on the floor. It could be 5 days before anyone thinks to wonder where I am. By the time the fire fighters break in, I would be a piece of mutating, fermenting flesh.
That image is unpleasant.
I quickly Google: I think I inhaled gum into my lungs.
I figure that I would be the only person to write such stupid words as these.
It turns out that the world is full of stupid gum inhaling people.
I read about people with similar experiences. They were laughing or working out or fell asleep with gum in their mouths. Like me, they are concerned that the gum is lodged somewhere in their lungs.
Many people whose medical training is as verified as a Jack In The Box burger flipper, say it’s impossible for a piece of gum to get into your wind pipe.
“You would cough it up”
“Your body would not allow it”
“I got an infection when I left it in my lung,” one person writes.
Great. Infection. Perfet.
Google does little to assuage my concern.
It feels like the Goodyear blimp is flying behind my eyes. The pressure is bizarre, not normal.
I wonder if it is swelling or even psychosomatic.
I pace my home for a few more minutes. Why not go and check it out, I wonder. I’ve met my G** Damn deductible. I have paid enough money to those health care bastards for the right to know whether gum is inside my lungs?
For whatever reason, the financial part of this bizarre life moment frames the decision I will make.
I am suddenly driving myself to the hospital, the whole time wondering if I am over reacting, wondering what I will say, almost wishing I was driving in with a bullet wound.
What are they going to do, I wonder? How can they possibly help me? If there is a marble sized wad of chewing gum stuck behind my nasal cavity, getting it out is not going to be easy. This chunk of chewy disaster is lodged inside my lungs or somewhere equally as difficult to access. It’s not like they can give me a magic pill and make it go away. My mind gravitates to medieval thoughts of forceps being shoved up my nose and into my throat and me gagging and ….
In mid thought, bad goes to worse. Suddenly my car slips out of gear and the engine races. I am on the accelerator and the car is slowing as the engine races like water from an unchecked hydrant.
I let off the accelerator. The tachometer eases from 5,000 rpm to 1,500. The car is gliding like a canoe floating down stream.
I shift into neutral and coast as the traffic behind me crowds my rear view mirror.
I put the car back into D and hope that the transmission catches. I feel a click and a clunk. The mechanism is trying to engage.
I look up. A mastodon sized SUV is filling up my rear view mirror.
I put the car in neutral, and then back into drive. The car sputters. I am doing 20 mph in a 50 mph zone.
Sensing this is not going to fix itself, I pull to the side of the road. The SUV roars by. I shut off the engine and stare into the rear view mirror.
Are you kidding me? I’m driving myself alone to the E.R. I am wondering if at any moment a chunk of gum will clog my windpipe and I will have to do my own tracheotomy with a pen and now this?
I start the car and drop it into Drive. It jerks angrily into gear with a thud.
I pull into traffic. The car has little power and the engine occasionally jumps out of gear, sending me into roller coaster mode.
I sputter to the E.R. entrance and park.
I look at the car knowing that it is never going to make it home.
As I walk into the E.R. part of my thoughts are on who I need to call to tow the car. Where will I tow it to? But as I get closer to double sliding doors, the car becomes less and less important.
I walk into the E.R. There is a woosh of cool air as I enter.
I expect to see a lobby full of gun shot victims and wailing mommas and people with hatchets hanging out of their heads.
I walk through the glass doors and it’s quiet. There is not a soul in the waiting room. I am alone.
I go to the registration window and explain my story to the nurse.
I all ready feel like an imbecile.
“yeah, then I inhaled my gum into my lungs.”
I am a freaking idiot, I think to myself.
I wait for her to begin laughing.
She picks up the phone. I stare at her, almost expecting her to get on the intercom.
“Attention K Mart shoppers. Come to the waiting room and take a gander at this moron who tried to snort a piece of gum into his sinus cavity.”
She asks for my insurance information and verifies my name.
“OK take a seat. They’ll call you soon.”
I sit down.
The moment I push back into the seat, feeling relieved that nobody else is there to laugh at me, my name is called.
The man recognizes me.
He takes blood pressure and asks me some questions.
Signs posted in his triage room say have a good attitude and doctor shopping is illegal.
“I inhaled gum,” I say for the 5th time.
Each time I say it, it sounds dumber and dumber.
I inhaled gum.
I almost wish I had a traumatic brain injury. If I was there bleeding, the victim of a nail gun accident, I wouldn’t have to tell anyone what I did. They would see my brains leaking out of my ears and they would simply know to take care of it.
I am lead to a curtained exam room. The nurses stare at me. Either they recognize me or they secretly think I am the stupid guy who snorted gum into his lungs like it was rubbery cocaine.
There is a gurney and big light and heart monitors. The room is sterile and inhospitable. Though there is a curtain, and there is the semblance of privacy, it is just a curtain. Air and sound flow around it like the wind floating through a clothes line.
The nurse tells me to take off my shirt, and the doctor will be right in.
I am not feeling great. It feels as if there is a lump of mushy material hiding inside my respiratory system. I have tried repeatedly to hack it up. I suddenly wish I had just toughed it out, and said so what; you have gum in your lungs.
Rub some dirt on it. Walk it off. It will dissolve, probably, in 7 years.
I watch the clock. It’s 10:30 am.
Christ. I’ve had a car break down and I’m in the emergency room and all before noon.
Before my irrational thought process can run further amok, the doctor comes in.
He is young and scruffy faced. He is right out of central casting for a hospital reality show.
“Inhaled gum?” he says looking at my chart.
Part II of Snorting Gum, the stupid conclusion:
Do I die? You’ll have to tune in to find out.