Every once in a while, something happens to you that changes the way you think, feel and eat for the rest of your life.
My life-changing event took place when I worked for a private ambulance company. My partner and I were called to a nursing home to pick up a little old lady and take her to the hospital for some tests.
We stopped at the nurse’s station, grabbed the patient’s paperwork and headed down the hallway, weaving our gurney around wheelchairs filled with slumped over sleeping old people.
We found our cute little old lady in her room, finishing her lunch. I walked up to the side of her bed as she pushed a huge spoonful of cottage cheese into her mouth.
A Nurse had told me to, “Get in her face so she can see you, and yell.”
So I leaned down in front of her and yelled, “Are you ready to go to the hospital?”
She looked up at the empty space next to my head, and went back to finding the large curds of cottage cheese she had spilled on her shirt and getting each one in her mouth.
On the way to the hospital, I couldn’t help but notice that she seemed to be having trouble with something in her mouth. Something was stuck in a tooth or behind her dentures and she couldn’t get it dislodged with her tongue. Her mouth was in perpetual motion.
At the hospital, my partner and I pulled the gurney out of the back of the ambulance and set it on the ground. I bent over and asked in a normal voice, “How are you doing?”
I remembered what the nurse had said, so I put my face directly in front of her face. Taking a deep breath and opening my mouth wide, I began to yell, “HOW…”
That’s as far as I got.
At times like this you have to marvel at what an amazing organ the brain is. Sensing imminent danger, my brain went into emergency mode. Time and space was now an ultra slow motion movie.
In that split second period of time, I saw her mouth suddenly stop moving. Whatever she had been hunting for with her tongue, she had found it.
I saw the tip of her tongue protrude between her dry, cracked lips. Her cheeks puffed out from the increase of air pressure in her mouth.
She looked up at the empty space next to my head, and then a huge curd of cottage cheese exploded from her mouth.
In slow motion the curd came at me, like a huge asteroid tumbling through space, throwing off little balls of spit in all directions, slowly, tumbling, toward my open mouth.
I could hear my brain trying to warn me. In a deep, slurred, drug induced dreamlike voice, it said, “Cloooose yourrrrrr mouuuuth! Ohhhh NOOOOO! Close youurrrr mouuuth!”
Time raced back to normal as the cottage cheese asteroid entered my mouth’s atmosphere, became a cottage cheese meteor and slammed directly into the back of my throat.
I immediately made the international sign for choking. I stumbled backwards and dropped to my knees, gagging and coughing, trying to dislodge the curd from the back of my throat.
There are seven different types of shock. I was in five of them. This was the grossest thing that had ever happened to me in my entire life.
My partner had witnessed the whole thing. His hands instinctively made the international sign for choking around his neck, and he too began gagging.
This is known as, “Sympathetic choking.”
I was now rolling around on the ground about to lose consciousness. Not from lack of oxygen, but from the realization of the enormity of the grossness of what just happened to me.
I tried giving myself the Heimlich maneuver by throwing myself against the side of the gurney. This dislodged the curd from the back of my throat and moved it into my mouth. I could feel with my tongue the texture of the cottage cheese curd.
This was the second grossest thing that had ever happened to me in my entire life.
I wasted no time in spitting every molecule of moisture out of my mouth. But not before I reminded myself that this curd of cottage cheese had just been in a 90-year-old mouth.
I began to dry heave.
My partner saw this, rolled around the side of the ambulance and also started dry heaving. That would be, “Sympathetic heaving.”
A crowd was now forming around us. Doctors and nurses wondering why these two highly trained medics had abandoned such a sweet little old lady, and were rolling around on the ground heaving their guts up.
A nurse stood over me and asked, “Are you ok?” In between heaves I sputtered, “Everything’s fine, shows over, move along.”
Getting to my feet, I tried to pretend nothing had happened. It was difficult since I was retching every few seconds. I wanted to rinse my mouth out with gasoline.
I looked at Grandma Spitty-Poo. She was oblivious to the near death experience she had just caused. She laid there on the gurney searching the front of her shirt for more of her lunch.
I didn’t eat cottage cheese for ten years. It took me two years and a lot of therapy before I could walk down the dairy isle at the supermarket.
I used to like cottage cheese.
I used to like a lot of things; milk, spitting watermelon seeds, talking to people without flinching and putting my hand over my mouth, white chocolate-covered raisins…and little old ladies.