Sam Bauman: Trying to live with constant coughing
As seniors, we often get to explore new medical techniques simply because we go to doctors more often. That was my personal case after complaints about coughing whenever I ate or drank.
Many things were tried at the VA in Reno — changing my medications for instance, but nothing worked. Finally, it was suggested I see a speech therapist, which is how I wound up on the fourth floor with Leah Skladany, a speech and language therapist for the VA.
First thing she asked me was, “Do you have any problems with dogs?” A placid pooch rested. “She’s a long-hair German shepherd; they used to put them down at birth before they found they were a natural part of the breed.”
She asked me about my coughing problem, details. I explained whenever I ate or drank anything I would suffer hacking coughing spells, no pain or discharge but upsetting to friends and me.
No mucus or discharge from the coughing, no breathing problems. I had earlier difficulty in swallowing, but I had cured that by forcing what was in my mouth down my throat.
She bustled around her office, setting up a video screen near me. “I’m going to insert this in your nose, uncomfortable, I’m afraid.”
She held up a small cord with a glass bulb on the end. “There’s a camera eye on the end that will enable me to see how well your throat functions.”
She carefully threaded the tip into my nose, uncomfortable but bearable. Then she turned on a recording device to capture my throat movements. She then put out three things in front of me: a glass of fruit juice, some applesauce and a large cracker.
“I want you to, one at a time, take a swallow of each, while I record your actions,” she said. “Go ahead.” And I did … then again. She was looking at the video screen as I did so.
After doing the tasting twice she stopped recording and moved the screen to where I could see it. “Now we’ll look at how your throat muscles moved.”
She removed the tin camera from my nose.
The screen flashed images until she slowed it and the elements of my throat became clear.
We could see how the muscles worked, not clearly to me until she pointed sections out.
It was weird seeing one’s body, colors vivid, moving about. She pointed to a strain of muscle, then to a white blob.
“That’s food left over from when you swallowed most of it,” she pointed out, “and that may be your problem. You didn’t clear the throat chamber in swallowing. Your cough may be the body’s reaction to the foreign matter left behind. Your body wanted that matter removed and tried to do so with coughing.”
It was macabre seeing one’s own body at work, looking like some of those computer-generated images so common in films these days (more on that below).
“I don’t think we can make you swallow more strongly but I think there’s something you can do that will help,” she said. “When dining always take a sip of water after each bite of solid food. That will probably clear that leftover food in your mouth which the body wants to eject by coughing.”
“Now I want you to eat and sip during all meals and keep track of how this works. And let me know how it works out. I’ll keep the tape of this meeting in case we need to do something else.”
She asked me to keep in touch and report on progress or lack thereof.
So I left the Reno VA building and headed home. I tried the bite-and-sip system, and so far the coughing seems to be easing up, but it’s too soon to start celebrating. Might forget to sip.
A movie you might want to skip
I don’t know how I managed to miss the first four outings of the “Underworld” franchise, but I did and now that I’ve seen No. 5 I don’t think I missed a whole lot.
This outing now at the Galaxy in Carson City stars Kate Beckinsale as Selene the Death Dealer in the war between vampires and Lycans.
Those who have seen any or all of the first four need no intro to the cast or the war. But there’s a scene early on in the film where one man rises, after a bewildering series of events starring computer-generated images, and asks, “What is going on here?”
A good question.
The film follows Selene as she fends off attacks from both sides.
“What’s going on here?” is a good question which I will not attempt to answer. If you liked the first four installments you’ll enjoy this one. For those of us who didn’t, forget it.
Sam Bauman writes about senior affairs, among other things, for the Nevada Appeal.