Monday, July 2, 2012

Saliva Trivia

Nicholas’ speech therapy sessions involved learning how to eat and swallow.  In my first observation, Pringle’s potato chips, strawberry yogurt, and goldfish are on the therapy menu.  I’m sitting in a chair at the end of the table where Nicholas sits, with Michele on the other side of him next to the big electrical stim machine.

You’ve heard people say it; and you’ve experienced it yourself.  Hear about a food you really like and your mouth begins to water.  A research study revealed how exactly the thought of food influences one’s saliva production; get this!  You can’t taste food unless it’s mixed with saliva which is a lubricant that helps to process food in your mouth, actually starting the digestive process.  We generate 1.7 liters of saliva in our mouth each day; our body will roughly produce 10,000 gallons of saliva in an average lifetime.  AND our saliva has a boiling point three times greater than that of regular water, meaning it takes longer to boil.

Now you’re ready for that Trivial Pursuit game or a rousing conversation over dinner.

Nicholas couldn’t wait to eat, and his impatience was growing.  No wonder after working up an appetite playing T-ball earlier!  Michele is having trouble getting the electrical stim pads to stick under his jaw bones, despite ensuring his neck is dry.  After a few tries, and some melodramatic resistance from Nicholas, the stim pads are in place and he’s ready to go.

You know that fact about salivating when you are about to eat?  I believe it.  Our salivating glands go into overdrive when you know you’re getting ready to eat, and/or put food in your mouth.  So when Nicholas takes his first bite of strawberry yogurt (the mysterious pink stuff in the Tupperware bowl), his saliva went into full throttle.  As Nicholas raises a spoonful of yogurt in his hand, moving it up to his mouth, his extensor tone kicks in.  His body goes one way, the spoon goes another, and the yogurt, well, everywhere.  This scene isn’t uncommon, for the coordination of this simple task you and I take for granted three times a day challenges many people with cerebral palsy.  Nicholas fast becomes a mess but he doesn’t care, and frankly, it’s the best he can do given his physical challenges.  Michele reminds him of a technique his family figured out at home in which he rests his elbow of the hand holding the spoon on the table and moves his body to the spoon to take a bite.  Still challenging but with less flying yogurt, Nicholas finally gets the bite in his mouth.

Michele coaches him on chewing, reminding him to keep the yogurt in his mouth, describing how to manipulate his tongue to bring it back into his mouth.  Nicholas faces Michele who’s watching closely what he’s doing with his mouth and tongue, so I’m not seeing what’s going on.  But when he faces the table working on the spoonful of yogurt in his mouth, I’m struck by “kryptonite.”  The saliva hanging from his bottom lip was tolerable; but now . . . gulp. . . . breath in. . . . now it’s milky with pink yogurt.  I feel that familiar feeling in the back of my throat as my neck muscles tense under mutinous threat of my gag reflex.  I take a slow deep breath in and silently talk to myself, Don’t react, Ferber. Do not hurt Nicholas’ feelings!  And don’t get sick and look like a wimp!

I’m holding my own, and rationalize I can’t see a lot of it so I relax; it could be worse.  But then, Michele says to Nicholas who’s been mostly positioned facing her, “Turn around and let Miss Carolyn see how you do with your swallowing.”  AUGH!  I’m mortified when I hear her say it, and I take another deep breath to steel myself as Nicholas proudly obliges with big brown eyes intent on effort and success.  My heart instantly melts as he looks at me to show me what he can do. The milky saliva taunts me. I suppress my gag reflex with my own big swallow and yet another inhale of calming air.  I see Nicholas working so hard at manipulating the yogurt in his mouth, how can I disappoint him?  Suddenly I remember, You have two theater degrees, Ferber!  Show time!  Game face on, I plaster it with a smile as I watch, bound and determined not to give Nicholas any kind of expression that would discourage him or make him feel self-conscious.

I breathed deeply a lot during this first observation with Nicholas, with my biggest breath taken at the end when it was over.  Fortunately, my sensitivity lessened with each session.  My respect for Michele also skyrocketed for her ability to do this job!  And Nicholas conquered yet another step in his therapeutic process towards reaching a goal, while helping me overcome my weakness to the influence of my “kryptonite.”

In the Next Blog Entry: Bad Days Happen - As I intently watched Nicholas in his efforts, I silently cheered him on, almost willing his little tongue to operate as God intended it to do.  Suddenly, as I’m watching with bated breath. . . . . ”

We want to hear from you!  Please share your responses and comments by clicking below on “Comment” – you may post them anonymously or using your profile name.
“The educated do not share a common body of information, but a common state of mind.” ~Mason Cooley
Please share our blog with others via Facebook, Twitter, or email!  Follow our blog!  Click on “Join our Site” below.

Blog content is copyrighted property of Wendell Foster’s Campus for Development Disabilities and Carolyn Smith Ferber and/or other blog authors).  Content may be used, duplicated or reprinted only with the expressed authorization of the Wendell Foster’s Campus.  Permission for use, duplication or reprints may be made to

No comments:

Post a Comment