Hopefully it was going prove to be a red letter day. It was only a matter of weeks since my injury. I had a voice courtesy of Leak Speech but I was still “nil by oral”. I got all my “food” in sludge form. This sludge food ran, in a tube, from a bag on the pole next to my hospital bed. The tube travelled from the bag down to my nose. It then went up through my nose and down into my stomach. A calibrated amount of food was delivered day and night. It was always the same amount, the same colour and I guess the same flavour, although I never tasted it because it bypassed my mouth and tastebuds.
It was a strange feeling never being hungry. I never had an appetite. I never had the pleasure of satisfying my appetite. And, of course, I never had the pleasure of tasting food.
That day I was apprehensive. It was time for me to have a swallow test. I desperately wanted to pass this test. I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life on sludge. I wanted to be able to eat and enjoy food again.
I knew what to expect if I did pass the test. According to one nurse, if I passed and could swallow, I would start on thin liquids, like broths. Gradually I would move on to thicker and thicker liquids and eventually be introduced to solids. Although the process didn’t sound very exciting I would gratefully accept it if it meant I got back to eating and swallowing normally.
The swallowing test took place in the x-ray department of the hospital. I sat in my wheelchair between two large panels, one of which was obviously the x-ray machine. The Speech Pathologist who administered the test, gave me the different foods to eat. Other technicians and nurses were present, all wearing heavy lead suits to protect themselves from radiation, looking like something from the X-Files.
The first test was to drink orange juice laced with barium. I never have actually eaten chalk but barium tastes exactly how I imagined chalk would taste. Anyway, I managed to swallow the orange juice and barium mixture. So far so good. The next test was yoghurt laced with barium. Another pass. This was followed by stewed peaches with barium. Then came a dry cracker spread with barium. Just when I was starting to get a taste for barium the speech pathologist announced that the test was successful and that I could go on to FULL diet immediately.
No thin liquids, no thicker liquids, not even much thicker liquids for me. I could eat anything I liked straight away. My sister who came to visit, upon hearing the news, asked if there was anything I would like to eat while waiting for lunch to arrive? I said “a Cherry Ripe, please”. In a few minutes she arrived back from the downstairs kiosk with a selection of the sweetest chocolates known to man.
In the space of an hour I went from chalk (barium) to the ecstasy of chocolate. Not a bad day’s work!
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