Blog | Friday, September 22, 2017

There's food stuck in my throat! 'Steakhouse Syndrome' explained

While I typically offer readers thoughts and commentary on the medical universe, or musings on politics, I am serving up some lighter fare today. Hopefully, unlike the patient highlighted below, you will be able to chew on, swallow and digest this post. If this blog had a category entitled, A Day in the Life of a Gastroenterologist, this piece would reside there.

I was called to the emergency room yesterday to attend to an elderly woman who had steak lodged in her esophagus. While this sounds life threatening to ordinary folks, it poses no mortal danger. The airway is uninvolved and normal respirations proceed without interruption.

These patients, while fully alive, are rather uncomfortable.

This is one of the tasks that gastroenterologists are routinely called to undertake, often at inhospitable hours.

Sometimes, these folks have known esophageal narrowed regions where food that is not masticated with enthusiasm can hold up. On other occasions, a person with a totally normal esophagus tears into a steak like a famished wolf and forces down a mass of meat that has no chance of passing through. Bar patrons who are inebriated and then grab a handful of chicken wings are prime candidates for an emergency room visit with a gastroenterologist when the wings just won't fly through. And, if granny forgot to put in her dentures before biting into a chicken sandwich …

No one involved enjoys the experience, and the procedure has more risk that our routine scope examinations of the stomach and esophagus. Usually, these episodes can be prevented with proper attention to making wise food choices and chewing well.

How do we get the job done? Basically, we serve as plumbers and use our usual scope instrument to unclog your food pipe. (Reminds me of a joke when a customer complained to a plumber over his bill. ”I'm a doctor,” the customer said, “and I don't charge that much!” The plumber replied, “I used to be a doctor also, but I wasn't earning enough money.”)

The curious aspect of this case is I asked the woman prior to the procedure if she has difficulty swallowing foods with regularity. She responded that the only food that she has consistent difficulty swallowing is the type of meat she ate that day.

Can you guess my next question?

This post by Michael Kirsch, MD, FACP, appeared at MD Whistleblower. Dr. Kirsch is a full time practicing physician and writer who addresses the joys and challenges of medical practice, including controversies in the doctor-patient relationship, medical ethics and measuring medical quality. When he's not writing, he's performing colonoscopies.