Even More ICU Adventures: The X-Ray Swallow Test

The morning of the eighteenth finally arrived. The night had been perfectly awful and I had been so focused on trying to swallow that I hadn’t slept much – if in fact I had slept at all.

This morning Kerrie and I had visitors.  Dale and Rene visited from church. Over the past eighteen months or so God has done something really neat at Church in the Canyon where I serve.  He has brought along three very experienced pastors who are in various ministry transitions.  Dale is one of these pastoral veterans.  Providentially, I had been able to line these dear men up to supply the pulpit and continue pastoral care for the church during my surgery and recovery. But driving down to Sunset to visit the banged up pastor was certainly a step beyond the call of duty.

Later Bob and Marilyn from church wandered into the ICU.  What a blessing to have these dear folks come down to share some time and encouragement with me and Kerrie.

But I was also expecting a visitor whose arrival gave me no peace.  Heather.  She arrived just after Kerrie stepped out to get some Burger King for herself.

“Hi Bob, how are we doing today?”

I smiled and nodded, projecting my airy whisper as best I could.  “I   am    fine.”

“We are going to take you down the hall for your x-ray test.  Let’s get you up and into this wheelchair…”

And we were off!  And quite the entourage we were.  Heather was in the lead.  An orderly was pushing my wheelchair.  And a nurse was walking beside me with the large metal tree with bags and wires hanging off of it.

Down the hall, out of the ICU, a floor or two down in the elevator, another hallway and we were there.  My chair was positioned behind a very small machine that had a lens aimed at my throat.  There were no lead aprons involved, so the radiation must have been minimal, and the new swallow test began immediately.

“OK Bob, we are going to try ice chips again.  Are you ready?”

I nodded and started crunching that ice cube up.  In my mind it was last night again.  Swallow one, swallow two, swallow three…  Ignoring the numbness in my throat, I forced my muscles to do the closest approximation to a swallow that I could imagine.

“Wow, that was really good.  Let’s try that again.”

Again I swallowed the crushed ice.

“Apple sauce?”


“Chocolate Pudding?”


“Wow, let’s try a cracker.”

And done.

Heather wheeled her chair from behind the screen and showed me the video of my swallowing.  Not a single bit of ice, water, apple sauce, pudding, or cracker crumb had gone down the wrong pipe!

“That was amazing!” Heather, with her non-poker face, was genuinely pleased!  “What did you do differently?”

“Well,” I exhaled, “I stayed up all night long praying and practicing.”

A short trip back to my room in the ICU and Kerrie is there – back from the Burger King.  “I passed the swallow test!”

In short order the feeding tube was removed and the duty nurse brought in a couple of lunch items.  Diced peaches, an applesauce, a cup of chocolate pudding, and a boxed juice.

It was my first win.  Swallowing was hard.  Unbelievably hard.  And it wasn’t pretty.  First I would work hard to get all the food to the right side of my mouth – without being able to move my tongue to the left to pull it over.  Then I would literally squeeze every muscle in my lower face to push the food down.  And, then my eyes would apparently bug out  as the food went down!  Sorry, no picture of that.  Awkward, painful, unsightly… but I could swallow.

My father and mother in law, for as long as I can remember, have had hanging in their living room a small piece of artwork in which a beautifully biblical doctrine is simply stated: “Pray Devoutly, Hammer Stoutly.”  As Nehemiah modeled the life of faith when Jerusalem was rebuilt after the Babylonian captivity, we work and pray.  I had begged God for my swallow and worked in expectation of his blessing.  Thank you, Lord.

The remainder of this day involved a couple of walking trips around the halls of the ICU.  The nurses by now knew that I was a lacrosse coach and were quite impressed with my quick turnaround on the swallow test.  I am not going to lie, I was quite pleased as well!  I pushed hard.  Every walk was further than the last.

After school got out, the kids came down again – and again brought another one of our great neighborhood friends – Jacob.  Reading the Psalms together and praying with my family was the highlight of the ICU experience.  But every day after the kids would leave, I would find myself battling weariness and frustration at how much work remained for me.  And how would I get my voice back?  Would I sound like me?


Coming Soon: Leaving the ICU for the Neurosurgical Unit.


N.B. The top photo is a photo of me walking shortly before the feeding tube was removed.  It sure was good to get rid of that.  In the picture I am trying to be a hero and go one-handed on the walker so I could wave at Kerrie.  The physical therapist to my left did not approve.

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