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Monday, 29 July 2019


Available for freelance writing commissions on a variety of subjects including family history, nostalgic Belfast and its famous people, shops, shoppers & shopping, the golden age of Hollywood (esp westerns) and humorous pieces on life's weird and wonderful. Op-eds, columns, non-fiction book reviews too. 
CV of published material available on request. & @JoeCushnan

For a year or more, I have had trouble swallowing some foods, the sort you have to chew into submission like steak. Liquids and 'wet' food such as pasta have been okay. But after a few quite anxious moments of trying to dislodge food from my throat or feeling on a couple of occasions that I was completely powerless to stop choking, despite gulps of water which only seemed to make matters worse, I finally did the right thing and consulted a doctor.

I was on some one-a-day pills but they were pretty useless. I became quite scared of eating, especially the aforementioned chewy foods. I lost weight, estimated at around a stone. I always enjoyed my food but I didn't enjoy the feeling of being strangled by it.

Any road up, the doctor recommended an endoscopy which in layman's terms (for that is what I am, medically speaking) is a way of making movies of your innards. The routine is that you show up at hospital, choose from the medical menu whether to have a sedative or a throat-numbing spray that, they suggested, tasted like banana. I shunned the sedative because I was lucky enough to see a man who had opted for the drug. His body was rubber and he had to be accompanied by a carer. He would not be in control of his functions for twenty-four hours. I chose the spray. And no, I didn't get no banana taste. Can't describe its disgustingness. But it froze the throat.

So, there I was all throat-sprayed and lying on my side on a bed. I was told to bite on a thing with a hole in it and await the endoscopy cable which is about as thick as an adult's little finger. I was expecting a more wiry affair. This cable has a light and a camera, as well as some tools to take samples of tissue between throat and stomach.

In went the cable and, jeez, the first few seconds as it negotiated the turns of the throat to the straighter food channel were extremely uncomfortable. I gagged and coughed but was reassured (not) that I was doing great. This cable jiggled about inside as the endoscopy person (EP) watched a screen that I couldn't see.

When the torture was over, the EP gave me the results. She said there were some worrying things down there, a too-narrow food channel, ulcers and stuff and, emphasising that she was erring on the side of caution, she said she could not rule out cancer. Feck. The C-word. She said the notes of the tests would be sent to a consultancy panel and I would hear their results in a couple of weeks. The EP said she was amazed that I was not in more pain. I was prescribed fairly strong two-a-day pills.

Moving on, I got the results, mostly benign, but I was invited back for a follow-up endoscopy. I looked forward to it rather like a wasp on a window looks forward to being battered by a rolled up Belfast Telegraph.

To keep this short, the second endoscopy gave me the all-clear. The pills worked a treat and I had been eating and swallowing much better anyway. The EP showed me comparison photos of the first and second endoscopies. The first snap showed a very badly ulcerated patch somewhere inside. The second photo showed all the ulcers had gone. Zapped. I was discharged, and delighted! And thank feck, no C-word.

I still take the pills but I am no longer apprehensive at meal times. I put on half a stone.

So people, if something's wrong, go to the doctor. They know stuff. And thank God they do.

Oh, and as if I could forget, three cheers for the NHS endoscopy department's team, so welcoming, friendly and calming. 👏👏👏👏👏👏

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