GERDing My Stomach

Now that I’m getting a regular paycheck and have this fancy thing called health insurance, I decided to splurge on a doctor’s appointment to get a problem I’ve been having with my throat. According to the very nice doctor I saw, he suspects that my throat trouble is caused by gastroesophageal reflux disease, aka, GERD.

GERD is chronic reflux of the stomach acid into the esophagus and mouth, sometimes it can even get into the nose and sinuses. It’s caused by a weak lower esophageal sphincter muscle allowing the acid out of the stomach. Common symptoms include heartburn, regurgitation, and dysphagia (trouble swallowing). Other possible symptoms can include pain with swallowing, excessive salivation, hoarseness, chronic cough, and sinusitis. It can lead to esophageal damage including ulcers, strictures (narrowing of the esophagus), Barrett’s esohpagus, and elevated risk of cancer.

In short, there’s nothing sexy about GERD.

It doesn’t even have a good sound to it. GERD. The most common reaction when I told people that I had GERD was giggles because it’s a funny sounding word. It doesn’t exactly conjure up an immediate serious reaction.

It’s not a sexy disease. It’s not something you want to admit to having. Chronic heartburn plus. It sounds like something Fish on Barney Miller would have. It sounds like people in a retirement village in Florida complain about while looking over the menu at the Early Bird Special. It’s not something that people are rallying to find a cure for. It’s not getting fundraisers or charity events. It doesn’t have a ribbon. It’s an inconvenient, uncomfortable, funny-sounding disease that people snicker at.

And unfortunately, it’s kind of having a negative effect on my life, which is hard to explain while people are giggling.

First of all, there’s really no cure. I get to spend the rest of my life trying to figure out how to manage my symptoms. This can involve changing my diet to avoid more acidic foods. I can sleep at an incline. I can lose weight. I can take acid blockers.

That’s all well and good, I suppose. The doctor already instructed me to take a particular kind of over the counter acid blocker, twice a day, every day. I’m supposed to do that for a month to see if that helps. I’ve noticed that if I miss a pill (and I’ve missed one and been late for a couple), I get heartburn. So, I suppose it is helping some.

But the lump in my throat that prompted me to go to the doctor in the first place is still there. It was there for two years before I finally went and I guess it’s going to be there for a while longer. Maybe forever. I don’t know. The damage has probably been done and there’s the possibility that I’ll have to live with the dysphagia for the rest of my life.

Still laughing?

It’s not fun trying to swallow something and not be able to get it down. Ever get a Cheeto stuck? How about a piece of lettuce? That lump in my throat makes it difficult to get some things down on the first try. The lettuce was the worst. It felt like it was just laying across that lump, like a wet leaf stuck to a rock.

I suppose I can hope that the treatment works and the lump will go away and the swallowing will get easier with the treatment, but considering I’ve had the lump for two years, I think I’m passed the point of hope. I think this is it and I just have to hope that it doesn’t get any worse.

It’s not fun wondering about what’s going on in my gut. Wondering how much actual damage has been done and how much more I can expect. Struggling to remember to take my pills (haven’t quite gotten into the swing of the meds yet). Being questioned on whether I remembered to take my pills. Being questioned on whether or not I should be eating/drinking that.

The latter is par for the course. I’m also lactose intolerant to a certain extent (back in the olden days, they just called it a milk allergy), so my mother has always questioned my eating choices. That part I’m used to, but it’s still not fun.

I realize that I’m being cranky about this. I realize I’m taking all of the fun out of this for everyone else.

I guess I just don’t find it nearly as amusing as it sounds.

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