By: Jean Johnson for Reflux1
It’s four in the afternoon and a furious November rain slants down in great splats on the window glass. The bedroom is cozy though, and a sandwich made from rare deli roast beef, mayo, thin slices of fancy dill pickle and hazelnut bread sits on the plate by the bed. Four circles of pale, out-of-season tomato, one for each quadrant of the sandwich, decorate the top slice of bread.
| The International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders says that: GERD is a disease, not caused by lifestyle decisions. So, if you answer yes to two or more of the following questions you may have GERD and should consult a physician. |
1. Do you frequently have one or more of the following:
An uncomfortable feeling behind the breastbone that seems to be moving upward from the stomach?
A burning sensation in the back of your throat?
A bitter acid taste in your mouth?
2. Do you often experience these problems after meals?
3. Do you experience heartburn or acid indigestion two or more times per week?
4. Do you find that antacids only provide temporary relief from your symptoms?
5. Are you taking prescription medication to treat heartburn, but still having symptoms?
“That’s my lunch but I haven’t been able to eat it yet,” said Betty Springer of Salem, Oregon. Springer takes all her meals in bed since getting up to the table brings on acute pain in her neck. “I arranged the tomatoes like that to keep the bread moist, and I’m happy to wait even if it ends up being a midnight snack.”
That last bite
She says that she’s learned not to push the food factor. “You can tell with the last bite. I know that if I take one more bite I’m going to have a problem.”
Springer is a gentile lady with silver hair swept back off a restful brow. She carries considerable weight and reclines her 5 foot 8 frame under a flowered sheet, almost diva like amid well oiled furnishings and framed art that speak of earlier years when she collected “all my beautiful things.”
An acid reflux attack
By “problem,” she explains as delicately as she can that when she has an attack there is “choking and gagging, and sometimes even sputtering and spitting out. There is probably a tightening in the throat or something,” Springer said. “But I really don’t know for sure.”
“I do know even one more bite can trigger the acid reflux. It starts in your upper abdomen – like a lump in your esophagus that won’t move down. I can breathe when it happens but there is pain. You just feel like the last bite of food won’t go down. And sometimes I cough it up along with fluid. And when I have a really bad spell like that I almost vomit.”
Springer’s reflux is as horrible for her to experience as it sounds. “Oh, yes,” she said pleasantly. “It’s just awful, and I want to avoid it at all costs.”
She was diagnosed with acid reflux or GERD (gasteroesophageal reflux disease) a year ago by an emergency room physician. “I’ve have the problem for years, but just not this acute. I guess now that I eat in bed all the time it’s been aggravated,” said Springer, adding that “I really do not like having to eat in bed, but it’s what I have to do to manage my neck.”
Acid reflux or heart attack?
“What happened was I thought I was having a heart attack last year so we called 911, and the ambulance took me to the hospital. There was chest pain, and I was so short of breath I didn’t know if I was going to make it. I do have heart trouble too, so I really didn’t know what was going on even though now I realize that the chest pain did feel more like what we used to call heartburn.”
The ER physician ran Springer through all the appropriate heart tests but the net came up empty. It was only after they started questioning the patient about GERD symptoms that diagnosis emerged. “Now I take a pill for it that I guess helps my throat,” said Springer. “Even still, I eat up to a point that I know it’s going to act up, and then I stop right then.”
Quality or Quantity?
When asked about specific foods, Springer says everything still goes. “With me it’s not what but how much I eat at a time. I know one lady who has reflux and says she can’t eat onions and various other things, but I thought my doctor said I didn’t need to avoid anything so I haven’t. And I haven’t noticed that any special things like onions or what have you triggers an attack. In my case it’s very much related to quantity. I can eat anything, but just have to moderate the amounts.”
Slowing things down
Springer says she’s learned to listen to her body. “When I get very many mouthfuls of food, I know it’s time to stop and take a survey and listen to what’s happening,” she said. “Also I’ve learned to eat very gingerly and try to take smaller bites. That does make a big difference – taking my time with my food.”
The reading lamp at Springer’s bedside shines onto her big print copy of the New York Times and one of the mysteries she is always reading. “I’m just so very grateful that I at least still have my marbles – or most of them anyway. Besides, what time I don’t spend eating I can use to read. And I enjoy that, I really do.”