I have a confession to make: the oral secretions, a.k.a. “saliva hangers” have been the most challenging for me in this whole experience at Wendell Foster’s Campus (WFC). Any bodily discharge has been my “kryptonite” since childhood. It’s why I changed my major from nursing to theater arts.
Drool, runny noses, and throw-up have long been a trigger
for my sensitive gag reflex. Evidently,
I take after my mother in this respect; I’ve never lived down the legend of the
“finger-painting” incident. During
dinner one evening when I was almost one, mom and dad smelled something afoul in the
air. Upon further investigation, they
discovered me finger painting the wall next to my crib with the contents of my diaper. My dad immediately lost the spaghetti dinner he
was enjoying earlier. A deal was made between my parents right then that dad assumed all throw-up responsibilities
while mom handled all affairs of the hind end.
Mom easily gagged when it came to vomit, and even if she had to deal with it in
his absence, she struggled with it. Poo I
can do; like mom, like daughter.
I’ve seen some pretty gnarly stuff in my day: blood; open head wounds; crazy stuff during nursing
school. No sweat. But my stomach weakens
at excessive nasal and oral secretions. Even
when my nephews were babies, cottage-cheesy textured spit-up left me grossed
out and heaving, as does dog throw-up and kitty hairballs. Before and while dealing with it, I have to leave
the room several times to calm my gag reflex.
Hocking loogies? Forgeddabout it!
My mom tirelessly tried to get me to do the “hock and spit” technique
when I was sick as a kid. Only in recent
years have I been able to cough stuff up from my chest to spit into a Kleenex; my
gag reflex still reacts, activating my diaphragm into waves of tight heaves.
So at WFC, facing my “kryptonite” has been a challenge. I know many get turned off by drool and
saliva hangers, but physically, there’s a logical and understandable
explanation for it. Without the ability
to swallow, saliva collects in the mouth, and well, it has to go somewhere! Understanding this physiological condition of
cerebral palsy helped me find greater compassion, though I still must
consciously deal with my physical reaction to it. These therapy observations helped desensitize my reaction to the oral secretions, but I remain ever mindful as to how I respond upon
As I move into speech therapy observations of Nicholas, I’d
have the opportunity to master my resistance to my kryptonite. Given Nicholas has a belly feeding tube, his
speech therapy involved learning to take food orally, how to chew, feel the
food in his mouth and essentially, learn to swallow. This process means he’d lose most of what he
puts into his mouth, both saliva and food.
And with God as my witness, I was not going to give Nick any indication
I was struggling to watch him in my observation. He’d look at me with big brown eyes seeking to impress with
his valiant efforts and, of course, to make sure I’m watching! I breathed deeply, a lot, in these sessions. My acknowledging his effort was important to
Nicholas, and I wasn’t going to let this little guy down, no matter the threat
of rebellion by my gag reflex.
Watching Nicholas in speech therapy at the Green Therapy Pavilion would be my biggest test
yet since arriving to WFC, facilitating a show-down with my
kryptonite. These next observations also help me better understand the challenges
many of our outpatients and Campus friends face with food intake. And the effort on my part was worth it as I
watched our speech therapist Michele Clouse work with Nicholas as he continues
his journey towards his ultimate goal:
eating at Chuckie Cheese.
In the Next Blog
Entry: The Swallow Breakdown - “I’m going into speech therapy with Nicholas
thinking he’s going to get some help with the pronunciation of his vowels and
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