There are three parts of the esophagus: the cervical esophagus, the thoracic esophagus, and the abdominal esophagus. There used to be a tiny, vestigial fourth part, but Big Esophagus makes it impossible for these smaller, independently-run anatomical segments to succeed in the marketplace.
When you chew your food, saliva oozes out of your cheeks (I think, not a doctor) and your molars crush your meal with a hostile firmness not dissimilar to the way your father crushed your dreams of becoming a writer.
Then you swallow. And when you swallow, your body is pretty good at guiding that clump of nutritional sludge down your throat, past your windpipe, and into your stomach. But your body isn’t perfect. It’s probably not even average. You’re kinda ugly, your voice sounds weird, and sometimes you can’t even swallow your food without accidentally sending it down the wrong pipe. But when that happens, you can usually cough it out—and if you can’t cough it out, you’re hopefully next to a Good Samaritan with a pair of thiccc forearms who can thrust it out of you, Heimlich-style.
Less common, however, is what us M.D.’s like to call “steakhouse syndrome” (again, not a doctor, but yes, that is the name). Please refer to the highlighted portion of the esophageal anatomy figure, seen below. Just past your windpipe but not yet inside your stomach is an area I like to call “esophageal purgatory.”
Picture this: you just turned 29. Your wife surprises you with tickets to a concert in L.A. to see one of your favorite artists, Field Medic. You love his music, his vibes, his lo-fi, vulnerable spirit. Your wife went all out, too: she got you Field Medic merch and she booked a night at the historic Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel. Parking is a nightmare because 1.) it’s L.A. and 2.) the Hollywood Christmas Parade is that evening. But it doesn’t matter. MORALE IS HIGH. In a few hours you’re gonna been vibin’ to Field Medic with 250 other deeply anxious hipsters.
After parking the car, you slice across Hollywood Boulevard with a singular focus: get checked in, get some food, get to the concert.
Once you check in, you and your wife decide to have a quick bite at 25 Degrees—the low-key burger restaurant at the hotel. Fuck it—it’s your birthday. Get yourself a lunchtime Moscow Mule and the L.A. Street Dog, you think to yourself. Take care of yourself, king.
The mule is uninspired and overpriced, but the street dog is absolutely raucous. The dog is lathered in a ménage à trois of bacon, caramelized onions, and roasted peppers, then enrobed in a velvety ketchup and garlic aioli blend. In between bites, you point to people who are clearly not Brad Pitt and ask your wife if that’s Brad Pitt. A bald guy. A child. An Asian woman in her 70s. Life is shit hot. Your tank is f—ing FULL.
But a quarter of the way through the street dog, you take an inadvisably large bite. You feel your esophagus gasp in surprise. You take a gulp of water in an effort to grease your esophageal wheels, but no juice.
You throw up so hard you bleed from your eyes
You make a beeline for the bathroom and projectile vomit in the toilet. The water that’s sitting on top of the hot dog comes out, but the meat… does not. You still feel the bacon-wrapped turncoat in your throat, yet somehow you can still breathe. You spend the next thirty minutes violently vomiting up air and wondering what other Hollywood royalty blew chunks in this very stall. Sidney Poitier, probably. That goat man from 300. You leave the stall, follow your wife up to the room, and continue vomiting—but the street dog continues to dig its paws in.
In between gagging spells, you sit on the bed and watch Lone Star Law with your wife. You learn that a Texas Game Warden’s job is to protect wild animals in wild places, keep the public safe, and every now and again—put a bad guy in jail. You also learn that you’ve been vomiting so hard that you’ve popped blood vessels in and underneath your eyes. The Scobas bloodline dies here, you think to yourself. A wave of existential dread crashes over you. Life is short. Life is fragile. I am fragile, you whisper. Your red, bloody eyes well with tears.
You miss the concert.
Don’t be a statistic. Tens of men die every year from dry turkey or overdone steak. Steakhouse syndrome is real, and it’s the largest, most pervasive threat to human health the world has ever experienced. If you or someone you know experiences this evil, wicked affliction:
Do not try to induce vomiting
Do not gulp a ton of water to try and wash it down
Do not attempt the Heimlich maneuver
These actions can cause your esophagus to blow up (I think, not a doctor) or for the food to inadvertently travel into your lungs. Instead, you should:
Take a small sip of water, or a carbonated beverage
If it doesn’t pass in a few hours, go to the ER
Don’t take life for granted. Make sure to tell those close to you that you love them, and tell them often. Appreciate every day. Take risks. Find the beauty in all things.
You never know when a $17 hot dog can take it all away.
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Taking the time to quickly learn how to do the Heimlich manoeuvre on YouTube so I can help someone with a piece of meat stuck in their throat but then making the situation a lot worse sounds like a very me thing to do