Ice Queen

Welcome to our household, ice maker. We love you.

I’ve had a handful of nicknames over the years, none of which have really stuck.

The latest? Ice Queen.

This wasn’t inspired, as might be the natural assumption, by my frigidly cold soul, but rather by something more literal.

Before last summer, I wasn’t a lover of ice; on the contrary, I actively avoided it. Frozen water diluting my tasty beverage? No, thanks.

This changed (as did many things) during my in-between time.

I understood why I wasn’t allowed these simple pleasures only when I was conscious enough to notice that I had a tube coming out of my throat and another coming out of my stomach. Being on a ventilator (and having a tracheostomy) isn’t compatible with, y’know, swallowing. Who’d have thought? Not me, apparently.

A major theme of the delirium I experienced while in the ICU was being denied food and water. I was desperate for something—anything!—to taste, to sate my unquenchable thirst, and to moisten my mouth, which was dry as a bone, but I was unable to express this need. Try as I might to get the people populating my semi-dream state to bring me an egg-salad sandwich and some fresh apple juice (specific, yes), no one would oblige. BRING ME A SANDWICH! BRING ME A BOTTLE OF TOP-SHELF JUICE, yelled my brain. Silently, of course, since I couldn’t talk or move.

For some mysterious reason, the response was without fail either a blank stare or, even worse, a one-sided guessing game. Was I cold? Did I need to be repositioned? Did I want another pillow? YES, YES, and YES, BUT ALSO NOOOOOOO! EGG SALAD AND JUICE, PLZ!

And so as soon as I had rejoined the world of the more-living, the plotting began. Though there were plenty of intolerable things happening in my universe, I for better or for worse devoted much of my mental energy to the task of mouth-moistening.

For a while, this was an exercise in pure frustration and futility. There’s only so much that can be overcome with the power of “positive” thinking. There’s only so much that can be willed into existence.

Once the breathing tube was out, my dream of swallowing inched closer to becoming a realizable fantasy.

“Closer,” not “close,” mind you.

After much persistence, I was eventually able to persuade my doctor to order a swallow test. Despite the fact that I still lacked most neck control, I was so, so confident that I’d get an A++++++ (my favourite grade) on this exam, which felt as if it were the most critical of any of the ones I’d taken in the past or would take in the future. According to my singleminded brain, which was focused almost solely on getting food down my hatch, there was nothing more natural, more instinctual, than swallowing. Wouldn’t it be like riding a bike?

Of course, just as not everyone can swallow, not everyone can ride a bike. Turns out that I’d lost both of those skills.

Indeed, I aspirated on the first item that the speech language pathologist presented to me. My doctor consoled me the next morning by telling me that she’d assumed I wouldn’t pass but had wanted to appease me by giving me the chance to embarrass myself (paraphrase). Similarly, the speech language pathologist assured me that she was 100% unsurprised by my failure. For once in my life, I kept my angry thoughts in my head.

A few very long weeks later, I made my second attempt. My hopes were again shattered.

Not one to greet a challenge timidly, I decided that I wouldn’t leave anything to chance. I needed practice. I would take things into my own hands.

I’ll preface what follows by stating that I’m fully aware—in hindsight, anyway—that my actions were reckless and should NOT be replicated. Again: I AM NOT A GOOD ROLE MODEL. LISTEN TO YOUR DOCTORS.

OK, on to the next part of my story …

Next time. (Yep, another cliffhanger. Gotta keep my audience interested. More to the point, if I don’t post this now, I probably never will.)


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