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Pay attention to your body’s warning signs

Fitness Columnist

Photo by Vicki Harris

Photo by Vicki Harris

I work out of my house most of the time. It’s quiet and peaceful and I usually get more work done at home than I can in my office. About a month ago, I was working at home when I remembered that I had not taken my vitamins that morning. I had purchased some new vitamins and didn’t realize how big they were. They were huge! I had a bottle of water to help wash it down so I didn’t think much of it. I tried to swallow it, and I immediately felt a huge knot in my throat. I tried drinking some water and the water came right back up. I could not breathe and immediately started to panic as I was at home by myself.

I grabbed the landline and dialed 911. I couldn’t breathe, much less talk, as the operator began asking me questions. I vaguely remember trying to cough and talk but couldn’t. I must have been making some sort of noise because the operator told me to walk outside, open my garage if I had one and sit down. I was scared and did exactly as she instructed. I don’t know what I did to make that vitamin move, but it finally made its way a little further down my throat. After about 20 seconds of pure panic, I was finally able to breathe and talk!

I still had a huge vitamin sitting in my chest, but I cannot describe the sense of relief that came over me. Those 20 seconds felt like 20 minutes. The 911 operator was the nicest lady. She talked to me through the whole process and waited on the phone until the ambulance arrived (Yes, an ambulance came to my house because of a vitamin!). I was crying, sweating and beginning to feel really silly for calling 911 by the time the EMTs made it to my house.

If you are like me, then you don’t worry about what you look like when you are at home by yourself. I had not done anything to my hair. Bedhead is always a good look. I had on a pair of old, cut-off jogging pants, a ratty t-shirt and no shoes. And I hadn’t had a pedicure lately either! By the time the EMTs arrived, I had been crying for a good 4-5 minutes. I can only imagine what the EMT was thinking when he saw me, a blubbering train wreck that couldn’t swallow a vitamin! I am positive he called his wife when he got back in the ambulance and said, “Honey, you aren’t going to believe the call we just got ...”

Most of you may be wondering what the big deal is about not being able to swallow a vitamin. My problem was that I had been having issues swallowing food and vitamins for years, but never thought much about it. I noticed about 10 years ago that food would occasionally get hung in my throat. I would have to stop eating, take several sips of water and patiently wait for the food to make its way down. This started happening more often through the years and I remember a couple of times that it would take 30 minutes or more for that pain in my chest to go away as food would finally push its way through. I ignored all of these warning signs that something wasn’t right ...until the big vitamin day. I honestly thought I was going to die in my kitchen because of that vitamin.

I made an appointment with a gastroenterologist as soon as the EMTs pulled out of my driveway.

It turns out that I have a fairly new condition called eosinophilic esophagitis. What the heck does that mean? My esophagus is restricted and lined with allergens that aren’t supposed to be there. We discovered this when I had an EGD, a test that examines the lining of your esophagus. I was on a liquid diet for several days after the EGD and couldn’t swallow because of the inflammation and issues that were found.

I’ve also had to see an allergist and have the “prick” testing done. I’m highly allergic to basically every grass and tree they tested, plus peanuts (peanut butter!), peas, soybeans, tree nuts and few other things that don’t really affect my life. I also had some blood tests done for additional testing.

As I am writing this article, I am waiting on the results from the blood tests so we can decide the best way to tackle my problem. The doctor hopes that by eliminating some of these foods that I’m allergic to that my esophagus will open up. Weird thing is I’ve never had an allergic reaction to any type of food and had no idea I was allergic to anything except cats and really bad pollen.

I didn’t think much of my diagnosis until the doctor said one word. Cancer. He explained that my condition was just discovered about 10 years ago, which is very “young” compared to most other esophageal issues. He told me that my esophagus has been chronically inflamed for a very long time. Chronic inflammation causes cancer. Wow. That is a scary word to hear even when it’s just a warning and not the real thing.

I consider myself to be extremely healthy. I exercise religiously. I eat right. I don’t smoke. I don’t get sick often.Unfortunately, I’m not immune to health problems. None of us are.

Do not ignore any warning signs that your body may be sending you. If you have been noticing little quirky things happen (like not being able to swallow a vitamin!), go see a doctor. The worst thing that could happen is you waste a couple of hours and you have to pay an insurance co-pay. Your health is worth much more than that. I wish I had gone to a doctor years ago. Take care of yourself. You may think you are too healthy to get sick. Don’t be fooled. Looks like I’ll be backing off on the peanut butter. Life is worth more than a jar of Jif.

Michele Moulton is a certified group fitness, boot camp and Spinning instructor with over 23 years of experience in the health and fitness industry. She operates Bodystrong Fitness offering group fitness classes at the Stardust Skating Rink facility. She is a Category 1 cyclist and the PCP Race Team Director. She is also a state auditor and the mother of two boys, Austin and Harrison.