The Barium Swallow

June 9, 2006

So the biggest drag, I figure, about this Barium Swallow thing is that I have to get into the hospital at something like 9am with no coffee. Alta Bates in Berkeley is a quick, short drive from my house, so there’s no drama there… just no coffee.

I’m fairly jovial with everyone since I’m still thinking this is nothing. The X-ray machines are really cool these days — huge beasts made by Phillips that can take 8 frames a second. Cool, I think, an X-ray movie! Here’s what the machines looked like, for the geek at heart:

Philips X-ray machineMore X-ray machine photoseven more x-ray machines

I’m told in advance how vile this Barium stuff is supposed to be, but I’m a bit strange and actually like the taste and consistency ofPepto Bismol. I also can’t drink or eat dairy (lactose intolerant), so I’m also used to things like soy milk, soy yogurt and soy ice cream.

So I get presented this rather pleasant, berry-flavored “milkshake”, and told to take a sip. The technicians start to film, but I keep drinking it — gulp, gulp, gulp, yum! It’s really not bad, from what I understand the berry flavored is much better than the banana. The tech’s ask me to only gulp once — but I’m hungry, this is breakfast, and it’s after 10am already! “Only one gulp at a time, please”, I’m told.Mmmm, berry-flavored barium… mmmmm.

We’re all joking around and watching blobs of dark goo get processed by my esophagus. It’s really neat — first your whole mouth is silhouetted by the barium, then the throat. The esophagus is really like a snake, pushing food all the way from the turn in the throat down into the stomach. I had no idea that it really does grab the stuff and push it down. Its neat to see in action. If you wait long enough, the stuff goes into the stomach and then it gets silhouetted too, along with the small intestine. Really very cool.

This was all fine until the goo hits the stomach. Then we saw a considerable, well, something. Kind of like an uneven funnel or something. There was a blockage of some sort, all right. The tech’s faces completely changed expression. I got apprehensive, but they said there’s no knowing it could be serious or not yet, but there’s something in there. That meant more barium, which was fine with me… more creamy berry goodness!

But it did mean drinking this thing from all angles while they took more X-ray movies. The techs were nice enough to point the screen over my way so I could watch, but the bottom line was I drank and swallowed this stuff in virtually every position imaginable. They told me I’d need to have an endoscopy, which is where they stick a camera down your throat. That got me nervous, although in retrospect getting “scoped” is nothing.

Things started to kick into high gear. My Doc Rothman, my GP, got notified immediately, and he referred me to Doctor Berjis, the GI specialist. I got an appointment just a few days later, Wednesday the following week. I thought that was quick, but there was a sense of urgency around this now I could feel, and it started to make me a little nervous….

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