The Strange Gastrointestinal Sounds of Scleroderma
I remember it like it was yesterday. The classroom was quiet. My stomach suddenly decided it was angry with me for skipping lunch. The grumbling gastrointestinal noises were like thunder to my easily embarrassed self-esteem.
Acting nonchalant, I looked around to see if anyone had noticed, hoping it was only loud inside my head. To my right, I saw the boy I had a crush on giggling and glancing in my direction. Instantly mortified!
Ah, to be young and healthy again, when the only embarrassing sounds coming from my body were normal bodily functions.
I’m eternally grateful my disease didn’t manifest itself until after pregnancy and childbirth, which somehow helped me feel at ease with strange bodily functions. Or, perhaps I’ve just aged enough to know there are more important things to worry about.
Another scleroderma surprise
A third of scleroderma patients have esophagus issues, and I’m no exception. I have zero muscle function in my esophagus. It’s just a scarred, nonfunctioning tube that makes a lot of interesting gastrointestinal sounds that leave me bashfully trying to cover up noises that healthy people don’t make.
After I eat or drink anything, I have to stretch my torso upwards. With gravity being the only force working in my favor, lengthening my torso helps to straighten out the track liquids and solids must pass through to enter my stomach.
But let’s remember I’m human, and I sometimes forget to stretch after each sip or bite. Things immediately begin piling up like a mound of garbage at a dumpsite. If I’m lucky, I’ll remember before it’s too late and slowly sit up straight. That releases the tiny clogged drain, and a soft gurgle will signal that everything has cleared and entered the stomach.
It’s the times when I forget to sit up straight that I have problems, like when I’m distracted by a funny conversation, my body relaxes, and my posture follows the contour of the chair I’m sitting in. I will continue my slow eating, blissfully unaware that I’m about to make a whole room of unsuspecting people very uncomfortable. All it takes is to straighten up slightly and reach for my water, and just like that, the dam has been breached!
It starts with the sound of bubbles gurgling at the bottom of my rib cage and slowly making their way up the esophagus. The rumbles increase in intensity, as if my body is giving everyone time to figure out who’s making the ruckus. By now, all eyes are on me. Even if it’s a noisy restaurant, it’s the kind of sound that people notice.
There’s nothing that can be done, and I know it. Even if I clench my lips tightly, there’s no keeping the volcano of embarrassment from escaping. The pressure cooker is about to explode!
By the time the growing balls of air are ready to escape, they’ve built up the momentum of an avalanche. I close my eyes and brace myself for the inevitable.
I’m rare with rare sounds
It’s difficult to describe the sound that emerges from my clogged stomach drain. (Even the sounds my body makes are rare.) It’s not a belch. It more closely resembles a toilet getting unclogged after being plunged — only it’s coming from my mouth. In public. And there’s no way to downplay, control, or lessen the severity. (Insert red face here.)
And what do you say after it’s all out in the open? “Excuse me” doesn’t cut it. Strangers look at me as if they’re waiting for an explanation. They appear confused and bewildered. Like they’ve just encountered a newly discovered wild animal. They want answers!
The teenage Lisa would’ve slid under her desk and hid until the bell rang. Then she would have figured out a way to be home-schooled for the rest of her life. Luckily, the grown-up in me has adopted a more nonchalant response. I simply laugh and act as if I’m just as surprised as everybody else, and say excuse me.
I’m fortunate that my husband has a third-grade sense of humor. He just giggles and expresses his jealousy for my new talent. My teenage daughters are a different story. They look down at their plates and begin planning their escape.
When the body doesn’t function quite right, it certainly makes for interesting encounters in public. I do my best to remember to sit up straight at mealtimes. While I can’t avoid every mortifying moment, I can choose to laugh if my body doesn’t play nice. I’m doing my best, so I deserve a bit of leniency.
Does anyone else have a fun way to respond to situations like these? Please share in the comments below.
Note: Scleroderma News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Scleroderma News or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to scleroderma.