Elaine Soloway's Caregiving Series: The Screening Room
“Looks good!” says the speech pathologist. She is viewing an x-ray of my husband’s head.
I’m watching the same picture. A second pathologist, on the other side of the wall is giving Tommy instructions. He is compliant.
An apparatus is pointed at him as he swallows a spoonful of stuff. The viewer and I watch the screen as a snake-like strip wriggles unimpeded from his mouth to his throat and down into his esophagus.
“Next!” she calls out beyond the wall. The feeder nods her head. She dips a spoon into a plastic cup and offers my husband another dose of barium-laced food.
These doctors have assured me the amount of radiation used in this test is small and not harmful, and will only take about 10 minutes. I am happy to hear this because I can see Tommy is antsy.
“Are you comfortable?” the feeding pathologist asks my husband. He nods “yes” but soon rises from his chair to see what’s going on behind our wall.
“No, no, sit down,” the two doctors shout as the screen suddenly blanks.
He sits, then looks straight at the machine that is targeting his head. The feeder offers my husband another spoonful — thicker this time — while the viewer and I turn our focus back to the x-ray.
“Good,” she says.
With each “good,” my hopes rise. If Tommy gets all “goods” it will mean he, and I, will be saved from moving to a new, and unwelcome path in caregiving. If he flunks this Cookie Swallow Test, I’ll be directed to change his diet. I’ll be forced to blend his food, monitor consistencies of each dish, and have someone at his side as he eats.
With each swallow, I teepee my hands in prayer because I also wish to keep my husband from sliding further down the role of “patient.”
This test was initially sparked by a a conference for caregivers. When a nurse reported a case of a choking, I thought, Tommy sometimes coughs when he eats, is this “choking?”
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