My Awkward Esophagram Experience

One week ago I had to see a Gastroenterologist per my primary doctor’s insistence. Her exact words were, “you need to see one, like, yesterday.” Now, my doctor is by no means a “valley girl”. She’s an amazing doctor and I have never had more trust or comfort in a primary physician. So her manner of telling me to get my butt to a Gastroenterologist’s office made it seem that much more important. (Now that I re-read that last sentence, I really should have explained my medical issue beforehand. I have no problems with my “butt” that would require me to see a specialist. I simply meant that I needed to get myself to one quickly. Not my butt specifically. Whatever. You know what I mean.)

I quickly made an appointment with a Gastroenterologist and discussed the issues that I am having. For the past 3 months I have had MULTIPLE instances of solid foods getting “stuck” on the way down to my stomach. I can’t eat anything without a large glass of water next to me, because if the food gets “stuck” I need to chug lots of water to push it down. (Sounds weird, right?) The doctor told me that due to my age, description of my issue and the frequency, he believes I have something called Shatzki’s Ring. (More info on this in a future post…) Basically, it is a ring that forms in the esophagus, narrowing the diameter and causing food to sometimes get “stuck”. I left the Gastroenterologist’s office with an appointment for an Esophagram (see below) and Endoscopy (procedure with a scope down my esophagus).

In short, the Esophagram is an x-ray taken of your esophagus and stomach while drinking a barium fluid. Barium is a safe metal that in the fluid will contrast on the x-ray to show any leaks, blockages, etc down the esophagus. Doesn’t sound like a big deal, right? In all honesty, the process wasn’t. But for me… It was an experience…

I had my Esophagram done at my nearest hospital which has an entire outpatient diagnostic center. I am WAY too familiar with this hospital. I could probably give tours. Or I can be hired to guide people who are lost in the hallways. I have had multiple physical therapy sessions, doctor visits, diagnostics and emergency room visits. Multiple. I digress…

I arrived to my appointment and was immediately called in by a registration staff member. Immediately after saying her polite “hello” she follows it up with “BOY! You must REALLY hate your last name.” Let me share some background info. My last name is 13 letters long, of Spanish origin, and only 1 in about 25 people can say it correctly. I have heard my name mispronounced a million ways and I have heard “HOW do you say your last name?” about a million times more. Yet, I have NEVER had someone flat-out tell me, “BOY! You must REALLY hate your last name.” Especially someone who has only known me for about 5 seconds. My attitude went from Zero to 60 in 1.5 seconds. How dare she make such an assumption! She immediately got a nasty look and an “excuse me?!?” that was dripping with poison. She quickly changed the subject and processed my registration. I doubt she’ll be making such a naive statement again.

When my insurance papers were signed she walked me over to the women’s changing room. My exam appointment was scheduled right after work, so I made sure to dress comfortably but also office-appropriate. I wore a plain black long-sleeve top, dark grey knit pants, and 2″ simple black platform sandals. Being that the x-ray was to be of my esophagus, I assumed I would have to remove my top and wear a hospital gown. I was quite surprised, and unprepared, when she told me to strip down to my undies and put on a gown. I looked around the waiting area and there were three other ladies (in hospital gowns) waiting to be called for their exams. All I could think of was I forgot to shave!

I quickly changed into my mumu/hospital gown, threw my stuff in a locker and took a seat. Correction: I contorted myself around a chair.  I had to sit in a manner that I had my legs crosses and tucked completely under the chair and away from everyone’s line of sight. I was SO not prepared. I never once thought that I would have to go sans-pants for a chest x-ray. Normally this wouldn’t have been an issue, but it has been a hectic week. I haven’t hit the blade as frequently. Sue me. I had that nervous, crack-addict, suspicious look going on. I was constantly shifting and looking at the other women to make sure they didn’t DARE glance at my prickly legs.

One by one, each lady was called for their exams. I sat there patiently waiting. After a few minutes I started hearing a sound in the hallway… As it got closer it sounded like an older woman who was saying “aaaaah” (a painful “aaaah”, not a relaxing “aaaah”) with each step she took. Half a minute later the older woman came in the room with her walker. She was, as I assumed, moaning in pain with each step. I felt so bad. She looked as if she suffered from arthritis throughout her whole body, and my heart went out to her. No one should be in that much pain. Then I took a closer look at her. Grandma was rocking some Juicy Couture pants with the word ‘JUICY’ on topped of her obviously diapered behind. She also had about a pound of eye makeup on and tons of jewelry. Even though she was in obvious pain, she took the time to make herself her own kind of fabulous.

My turn finally came and I was called into the x-ray room. Nothing too special, creepy or weird about that. The technician that helped me was kind and courteous… But it ended up being one helluva photo shoot. The technician prepared the barium “drink” which I had heard tasted horrific. He gave me clear instructions: take a mouthful, wait until I tell you, then swallow. No biggie. I didn’t expect to have to have about 15 different scans taken in 15 different positions… “Turn to the right.” “Turn more to the right.” “Face forward.” “Lay on your left side.”

On and on and on it went. Quite honestly, taking so many different scans wasn’t the issue, it was the barium. The first gulp was incredibly misleading. It was tasteless, but very thick and a little chalky. After the first gulp I imagine that the x-rays would be a piece of cake.

WRONG!!!!!

After over 10 gulps I felt like I was hooked up to a cement truck. It was disgusting and uncomfortable… It was hard to not throw up…

I had to turn and move so much that my mumu/hospital gown didn’t want to cooperate and I had to be TAPED into the gown. It was enough trying not to hurl on the very expensive equipment, but it was mortifying that the technician had to quickly tape my gown together to not see any of my goodies.

As soon as I was done with the exam I hauled booty to the changing room and was back to “normal” Angie in about 15 seconds.

Lessons learned: Shave your legs before ANY appointment…

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