“I can’t. It’s too big.”
“But you’ll have to. The doctor told you to.”
This, and similar exchanges have haunted my life. As a child I used to get cooing sympathy, but now I just exasperate everyone. They can’t understand how the simple act of swallowing a pill, capsule or tablet should be such a trial.
My mother wearily accepted my troublesome handicap, although I think she was partly to blame. She banned gob-stoppers and chewing gum on the grounds that accidental swallowing would result in a medical emergency. My throat muscles were now panicked into instantly rejecting anything remotely unmasticated.
To stave off winter ailments she resorted to subterfuge. Cod-liver oil capsules lurked in the mashed potato. Haliborange tablets masqueraded as Smarties and I was frequently offered spoons of strawberry jam flecked with a mysterious white substance, suspiciously like a crushed tablet. Food became a minefield of medication.
My affliction accompanied me through school and college to my first job where a minor ailment took me to the clinic. I glumly returned to the office with a course of tablets.
Despairingly I confronted the medication, which seemed to have grown from tablet to lozenge proportions. My colleagues gathered round to offer advice. “Just put it on the back of your tongue, take a mouthful of water and swallow.”
They watched in eager anticipation. I felt like the final number in the lottery draw.
I gulped down the water. “Has it gone?” they asked expectantly. Head bowed, I confessed the tablet was still clinging limpet-like to the back of my tongue.
Exasperated groans. “It must be something to do with having had my tonsils out.” I pleaded.
“Rubbish,” was the general response.
Initial attempts left me water-logged but otherwise unharmed. But by the fourth try the sugar coating had begun dissolving and the tablet’s terrible innards were released. Communication was reduced to shuddering Aaghs and Ughs as I quaffed a Niagara of water.
Trapped in hospital for a short spell I soon learned that busy nurses have better things to do than coax problem pill-swallowers. Two torpedo-sized capsules sat clammily in my hand. I suggested to the nurse that she go away and assist with a transplant to give the medication time to complete its pilgrimage to my stomach.
She made an impatient explosive sound. A matron in training, she was obviously used to dealing with awkward customers. Apparently I could be suffering from pnigophobia – a fear of choking. Not the kind of phobia that could be treated with large doses of anti-anxiety pills. Although my foible was legitimised, it did not make her any more sympathetic. Embarrassed at delaying vital medication to the rest of the ward, I did the only thing possible – I chewed the capsules. The repulsive contents exploded into my mouth, paralysing my taste buds. I choked down the water. It was too much to hope for a sweetie or a spoonful of jam.
At least no one need be overly concerned that I could become a substance abuser, or for that matter, do away with myself with an overdose of sleeping pills. I mean, one hears of people swallowing a bottle of pills, but has anyone ever chewed their way through one?
Although I’ve never had to take medication on a regular basis, I have experimented with vitamin pills. Vitamin A and E capsules are readily chewable as they have no particular taste. Iron tablets aren’t too bad, except that they are very hard and I’m never quite sure whether the crack is a tooth, or the tablet breaking. The B tablets are rather nasty and will never become an acquired taste. But the hands-down winner is the 1000mg Vitamin C. Sucking a lemon would be a positive pleasure by comparison. And I did have one ‘chew and swallow’ failure. A fibre tablet, which claimed to do miracles for the digestive system, swelled like oat bran on steroids leaving me with a mouthful of sawdust.
I have to confess though; there was a time when I thought I was cured. Maybe it was systematic desensitisation, but a course of the contraceptive pill gave me renewed determination. Placing the tiny pill on my tongue I took a large swallow of water and couldn’t believe it – the pill had actually gone!
I was ecstatic. It was akin to when I managed my first couple of swimming strokes. I walked smugly about for several days as if I had joined some exclusive club.
This is the start of something big, I told myself. Alas, 25 years on, nothing larger has slipped down my gullet. I’m still chewing, and what’s worse, it would seem that pnigophobia runs in families. My Maltese terrier SPCA special stubbornly refuses to swallow her worm tablets!
A passenger thought a good ruse
Was to travel without any shoes
The stench from his feet
Cleared the neighbouring seat
So perhaps it’s a ruse we could use