Friday, June 22, 2012

Facing My Kryptonite

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 seeing it.
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 consonants.  WRONG!

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