I Thought I Was Choking Every Time I Ate

Have you ever choked? I have, twice.

Once, when I was about 6 or 7 years old, I swallowed a piece of hard candy at a friend's house. My mother arrived just in time and gave me the Heimlich maneuver and out popped the candy into the toilet.

That scared me. I didn't eat much for a pretty long time after that event.

woman holds throat while choking
Diamond Matzke told Newsweek that she stopped eating and drinking coffee, chocolate, Tabasco sauce, citrus and spicy fruits, tomatoes, onions, and peppers for fear of triggering a choking sensation. Stock image. AaronAmat

After that choking incident, there were certain foods I would not eat, such as hamburgers or ground beef. I would dip my steak and other types of meat in sauce and then once it would not get any smaller with chewing, I would spit it out in a napkin.

This continued until about 8th grade or so and then I would no longer spit my food out. However, I would never end up eating a hamburger again until I was about 18 years old. I was young but I remember it as if it had just happened yesterday.

In 2014, I was diagnosed with a small hiatal hernia and GERD, also known as gastroesophageal reflux disease, a chronic disease that occurs when stomach acid or bile flows into the food pipe and irritates the lining.

I was put on a medication called Protonix twice a day and my chest pain and nausea went away within a month. I felt back to normal. I was still able to eat the same foods that usually cause GERD and heartburn symptoms such as coffee, chocolate, citrus fruits, tomatoes, and my Tabasco sauce.

For the next few years, I did not have any issues with my GERD or any more choking incidences. That was until September 2018.

I had eaten a whole bunch of chocolate and went for a walk outside. I suddenly felt like I couldn't breathe. I rushed myself to the hospital where the doctors chalked it up to my GERD.

This happened a couple more times and finally, the doctors diagnosed me with asthma. I started seeing an asthma specialist who prescribed a rescue inhaler. I cut out all the food that the doctor said could potentially cause my GERD to flare up.

No coffee, no chocolate, no more Tabasco sauce, no citrus fruits, no tomatoes, onions, peppers, or spicy foods.

My doctor prescribed new medications to help control my GERD, but nothing was working. My asthma went from mild to severe. I was put on a daily inhaler.

While eating, my throat would feel funny as if something was stuck in it. I started burping a lot and had other GERD symptoms that I'd never had before.

My symptoms persisted and from September 2018 to July 2019, by cutting out so many foods and the chocolate I used to love, I had lost 50 pounds.

Fast forward to July 2019, I began coughing and gasping for air while swallowing my crackers and applesauce at work. Both were usually very easy to chew and swallow for me. I sought out my manager and told him I had to go to the emergency department.

The doctors did not find anything wrong but they ordered an emergency upper endoscopy. A week later, I received the results of the procedure and of course, nothing was found that would explain why I felt like food was getting stuck in my throat.

I was scared to eat, I was scared to swallow. I was a mess. I was having a nervous breakdown. I was so hungry but the fear of feeling this choking feeling was absolutely terrifying.

That's when my gastroenterologist (GI) doctor suggested doing a motility study. About a month later when I arrived at the appointment, I had no idea what to expect.

The nurse squirted some numbing solution up both my nostrils and explained to me that a thin tube would be inserted through my nose and down into my throat. Then, I would drink and eat as they collected results on the computer.

She slowly fed the tube through my nose and into my throat—I freaked out! It felt like I was choking all over again and they were not able to complete the study.

Over the next two months, I had started back at school and was still only consuming liquids. The doctors said I absolutely had to complete the motility study and in October I returned to the doctor and completed the testing.

Diamond Matzke chokes while eating
In 2019, Diamond Matzke (pictured) was diagnosed with an esophageal dysmotility disorder. Diamond Matzke

A few days later, the doctor's office told me they wanted me to see the surgeon to get my hiatal hernia repaired because my procedure showed I had an esophageal dysmotility disorder. The doctor also said I had visceral hypersensitivity of my esophagus.

The doctors told me that my esophagus was not contracting properly and thus I felt like food was getting stuck in my throat. My esophagus was overly sensitive due to the years of GERD and acid exposure which the doctors said messed up the nerves in my esophagus, creating this hypersensitivity.

They felt that if they repaired my hiatal hernia, it would fix my swallowing issues. So, I finally did the surgery on November 22, 2019. After the surgery, I had six small incisions on my abdomen. It was painful for about a week and I couldn't lift more than 10 pounds for 6 weeks, which meant I couldn't pick up my 4-year-old daughter.

I did what the doctors asked me to do. I tried eating other soft foods to help work and stretch my esophagus. Months later I still was having issues with my swallowing but it was indeed better.

I then got referred to a specialist who knew more about dysmotility disorders. They did another motility study about two years after my procedure and even though I still have a dysmotility disorder, the surgery worked for me as I can eat solid foods again.

Almost three and a half years later, I still have the disorder, but at least I can now eat. This is something that I will always live with. Sometimes when I eat, I still feel like food is getting stuck in my throat. I have to stop eating and drink something to refocus myself so that I don't have a panic attack.

I fear losing the ability to eat again. Food and this burden of my throat issue have caused me such anxiety and pain and trauma.

It messed me up mentally. It scared me so much. I still can't eat what I used to eat and I am an extremely slow eater now. I get anxious eating in public so I don't really go out to eat at all.

I don't eat steak, seafood, bread, buns, bagels, hard raw veggies, and many foods that would feel funny going down my throat. I had to cut out a lot of what I used to eat and the doctors advised on some foods that would be hard on my throat as well.

Food was once a joyful experience for me. I loved trying new foods and going out to eat at new restaurants with family and friends. Now, I get so anxious when trying new foods because I never know how it will feel on my throat.

Each day is different. One day my throat will not bug me at all and then the next I am having symptoms again. It has been hard to overcome this fear of eating but I will persist and push forward and continue to work with my GI doctors to ease the symptoms.

I will not let this fear control my life—I will not get all choked up.

Diamond Matzke is a physical therapy assistant and therapy aide.

All views expressed in this article are the author's own.

Do you have a unique experience or personal story to share? Email the My Turn team at myturn@newsweek.com

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Newsweek is committed to challenging conventional wisdom and finding connections in the search for common ground.

Newsweek is committed to challenging conventional wisdom and finding connections in the search for common ground.

About the writer

Diamond Matzke

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