Some of you read the title of this post and thought, “A lot depends on the size of your bite.” This is true! Some people can handle chewing & swallowing a bigger bite than others. I have eosinophilic esophagitis (EE), so my bites usually have to be smaller than what most adults can handle. Now I could tell you about the details of how my gastroenterologists/GI specialists came to that conclusion, but that’s another story for another day. Suffice it to say that nine years ago, when I had a chunk of steak lodged in my esophagus, I didn’t know about this syndrome (as many of you reading this have never heard of it), much less that I would one day be diagnosed with it.
It was Thursday and was premium night at the Asbury College cafeteria. That meant that instead of the usual array of “meh” choices for your entree, they offered a more elegant selection, which included grilled steak on one particular evening. As fate would allow it, this particular premium night was the night before Senior Chapel, where I had been asked to share a testimony about my life and/or my time at Asbury as my class was getting prepared to graduate. Being the night before Senior Chapel, those involved in the service the next day were to go to rehearsal in Hughes Auditorium, where chapel is held. Because of the unfortunate circumstance that occurred in the cafeteria that evening, I was unable to make it to rehearsal. Instead I spent most of the rest of the evening in the ER at a hospital in Lexington.
I tried to swallow the bite of steak after not chewing enough. The food met resistance. I grabbed my glass of coke and tried to wash it down with liquid. The trouble with a food impaction is, if the liquid you try to force it down with doesn’t do the job, that liquid comes back up. So my tray started getting fizzy from the coke. I wasn’t choking, the food was just stuck on its way to my stomach. So although the cafeteria manager knew the Heimlich maneuver, that wasn’t going to help and in fact may have caused worse damage had he tried to do so. He sent me to the Health Clinic. They didn’t have the necessary means of assisting me, so they gave me strict instructions not to lay down but to go to the Emergency Room. Carrie (we were engaged at the time) took me to the ER. We waited in the waiting room…waited…waited…waited… After about an hour and a half (on top of the hour it had taken to go to the Health Clinic, see what they could/couldn’t do and then drive to the ER), I finally said to the folks at the front desk, “It is really hard having food stuck in your esophagus for over 2 hours, not being able to swallow any sort of liquid, including my own saliva. Can I please be seen soon?” They called me back a couple of minutes later.
Then I had to prove I was having this problem. They gave me 3 cups of water to attempt to drink. And the same thing happened with that that had happened in the cafeteria with my coke. The water came back up. So they paged the GI doc to come in and do a scope to push the food down through an endoscopy. At that point, the doctor at the ER told me to lay down. “Are you sure, because my Health Clinic said not to.” “Yes, I’m sure.” So I laid down, and within a minute I felt the food go down. [Note: this activity did not do the trick the next couple of times I had food impactions…that’s when I knew there was an underlying problem that needed to be addressed.] I told him I felt that. Being skeptical of this, he asked me to attempt to swallow three more glasses of water, which I did effortlessly. So they called the GI doc to return home since there was no need to perform the scope.
A few minutes later, the nurse came back with specific written instructions on how best to proceed, especially when consuming food. On the sheet in bold print were these words: “When eating, cut your food, especially meats, up into SMALL pieces and CHEW THOROUGHLY before attempting to swallow.”
When God called Abram (Gen. 12), God said, “Go…to a land I will show you.” In the creation account in Genesis 1, God had paused at the end of each day to enjoy & celebrate the work that had been done. “God saw how good it was”(CEB) – Gen. 1:4, 10, 12, 18, 21, 25, 31. At the beginning of his venture in following God’s call, Abram stopped at various times, celebrated and worshiped the God who had revealed himself to Abram by building an altar unto the Lord (Gen. 12:7, 8; 13:4, 18). If eating a meal is anything like walking a journey, then we ought to take time to enjoy each of the courses and not rush through them. Trying to eat a steak in one bite will not only land you in the ER, it will also rob you of the joy of enjoying each savory bite.
Some speak of biting off more than one can chew. I had bitten off more than I could swallow. The same principle applies. But as grace would have it, I got to go back to campus that evening with no scars and only an embarrassing story to share. Ever since, I’ve tried not to eat the whole steak at once (literally & metaphorically). I must confess that I have failed a time or two though.
Oh and I did get to speak in chapel the next day. I guess they trusted that I wasn’t really going to choke. ;^)