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My Stupid Mouth
Author: Steven Shelton (6:55 am)
So this morning, I wake up. Not unusual, since I do that most mornings. But this morning was different.
First of all, the radio station to which our alarm is normally tuned (WFUM, the local NPR affiliate, thank you very much) is apparently off the air because all we get is static. Second, I'm choking to death.
Okay, not really choking to death, but it feels like it. See, I have really bad sinuses, and as anyone with really bad sinuses can tell you, this condition often causes you to wake up with all kinds of semi-dried sinus drainage clogging the back of your throat. Sometimes--and this is gross, but it's what happens--this semi-dried drainage kind of hangs in the back of your throat until you can clear it out. This causes the kind of choking sensation that's affecting me, so I try to do what you normally have to do to get rid of it: a kind of hard sucking action to draw it out.
The results are less than expected. In fact, they're darn-near catastrophic, because now I really am choking to death. As in, can't breathe at all. So I freak out a little and try swallowing a couple of times. It works--I can breathe now--but it hurts and now I've got lots of blood in my throat and I'm gagging. So I run into the bathroom and spit out the blood, expecting to see the dried sinus drainage I thought was clogging my throat. Nothing. Just blood and spit. But the back of my throat is screaming and I can feel something drooping down on the very back of my tongue.
By this time, my wife is awake and getting a little scared because she can see I'm having trouble breathing. I briefly tell her what's going on as best I can, and ask her to grab a flashlight. She vanishes and comes back a moment later with the flashlight. "I can't see anything," she says, peering into my throat, "but it's all red and irritated."
So I take the flashlight and angle the beam down my throat in the mirror. I don't see what I expect to see, but I do notice that my uvula is huge. It's literally about the size of my thumb and very misshapen. It becomes very clear that this is the source of my problem; my uvula is so swollen that it's literally resting on the back of my tongue and blocking my throat.
I point this out to my wife, who immediately asks, "Are you going into anaphylactic shock?" Being allergic to the stings of certain kinds of bees, she is very familiar with anaphylactic shock and instantly recognizes that this is potentially one of the symptoms. "Do I need to call 911?"
"I don't think so," I tell her. "But why don't you call 'Ask a Nurse' and see what they say?"
She hops to it, flipping through the phone book for the number to a local hospital. In the meantime, I jump onto the computer to do an internet search for "swollen uvula" to see if I can come up with anything.
As it turns out, my wife strikes out. Hospitals in Michigan no longer do any kind of "Ask a Nurse" program as of January of this year because of the liability. (Damn lawyers!)
I, on the other hand, have better luck. The first thing I find is Neill O'Brien's blog about his case of swollen uvula. He noted that he woke up with a dry mouth, probably because he'd been out drinking, and was in the same state of panic in which I found myself when I woke up with this fleshy abnormality this morning. Three things about his blog calm my nerves a bit:
First, he says his friend has had this hundreds of times. That being the case, I'm assuming it's not the sort of thing that causes one to suffocate. And, really, how embarassing would that be, to suffocate on your own uvula? You could never tell your friends in the afterlife how you go there. You'd have to make something up, like "I was poisoned" or "I was kidnapped" or "I was beaten to death by a stripper's boobs." Anything other than "I choked to death on my own uvula."
Second, he said he drank lots of water and the problem went away within a few hours. What a relief! I've got about a thousand things to do today, most of which involve talking and (oddly enough) breathing. I don't need this today.
And, third, he said his post about this problem had generated thousands of hits and hundreds of comments. Again, a relief: I'm not the only one who has never heard of this and who was a little freaked out about it.
My curiosity piqued, I did a bit more reading. Turns out, the drinking may have been Neill's problem: according to an article on "associated content", the most common reason for a swollen uvula is dehydration. The wikipedia says the same thing, and notes (correctly) that dehydration may be caused by simple drying of the mouth (which is probably what happened to me) or by consumption of lots of alcohol (which is what Neill says happened the night before his problem). A post from a doctor (or someone purporting to be a doctor) on the AskPhysicians.com site notes that "there is a college fraternity contest where much beer is drunk before going to sleep, then seeing who has the biggest uvula in the morning. There is apparently a relationship between uvula swelling and beer ingestion." Not that this relates to me; I don't drink often, and I wasn't drinking at all last night. More likely, I was sleeping on my back with my mouth gaping open, snoring like a chainsaw (another side effect of my crappy sinuses). This not only causes the uvula to dry out (because of the air passing over it), but also irritates it (because of the way the uvula is battered during snoring) and that combination of factors makes a swollen uvula a very strong possibility.
So, if you're encountering this blog entry because you have a swollen uvula and you're a little freaked out, here's what I can tell you:
1. Don't panic. (Hey, it's good advice for intergalactice hitchhikers, and it's good advice for people with uvulitis.)
2. If you are having severe problems breathing--that is, if you might be going into anaphylactic shock due to a severe allergic reaction--go to the E.R. as soon as humanly possible. Although uvulitis is not itself dangerous, some of the other conditions that can cause a swollen uvula (such as anaphylactic shock) are potentially lethal.
3. If the problem seems to be more one of straight-ahead uvulitis and it's more of an annoyance than anything else, then you can try the following remedies:
4. Try to breathe through your nose. This will not only make breathing easier (since, if your uvula is as swollen as mine, it's difficult to get air past your throat and into your trachea), but will also prevent the uvula from becoming dried out again.
5. If you are still having a problem when more than twelve hours have passed, or if the condition becomes noticeably worse, or if you start having serious trouble breathing, contact a doctor immediately.
In the meantime, you might do what I've decided to do: get in a good laugh or two about it. I found a great Tom Jones song parody from Mason Resnik called "The Ballad of Mason's Swollen Uvula" that made me smile. (I actually enjoyed the "Delilah" parody posted in one of the comments better.) I also found a bizarre suggestion that there might be a market for swollen uvula fetish porn, an idea for a "swollen uvula support group", and a description of the problem as "gagging on an alien." Funny!
And now . . . off to slay the dragons of the day! My friend and business partner, Kathryn, is coming down today so that we can check out office space and furniture. Kathryn and I went to law school together and we've worked on a couple of cases together in our independent solo practices, and we've decided that we would do well to join forces and form our own firm. Ha! It takes some people years to become a senior partner in a law firm. We're both doing it in less than a year! The numbers look really good for this venture, based on what we're currently independently, and by joining forces we should be able to have a much more diversified practice and cut significant costs. It would also give us a little stability, which people in solo practice never have. We're both very excited about it.
Also, my friend Alan is coming in from Kansas City to spend a few days at Casa de Shelton. Should be a lot of fun, assuming I get to spend some time with him between work, rehearsals (I'm playing Martin in the Fenton Village Players production of Social Security in mid-October), and business planning.
So, dear reader, have a fun-filled, swollen-uvula-free day!
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