My dad’s a goldfish – swallowing and spitting

The Goldfish started to have problems swallowing. I did some research and found some good articles, which I printed out for me and Wee-sis to study. I also asked the GP to for a referral to the speech and language specialist. She phoned to make an appointment to see the Goldfish and came to visit within days of the referral.

The Goldfish smiled at her when she arrived and promptly went to sleep so she couldn’t check what happens when he eats or drinks. It was a good meeting and she said pretty much what we’d read. The main difference, really, is the assumption that there is loss of appetite, which is not the case with the Goldfish who continues to enjoy his food – when he can swallow it.

Apart from our worries about food or liquid going into his lungs and setting up pneumonia, it must be really scary for the Goldfish. I tried not swallowing to see how it feels and it’s impossible for me not to swallow reflexively. The trouble is his swallow reflex is no longer working as it should. It’s as if he has forgotten how to swallow.

If he has taken a bite of toast or sandwich and we see it hasn’t gone down after an appropriate length of time, it is so tempting to suggest he takes a sip of juice or water to help it. That doesn’t work as the liquid joins the food in his mouth so he starts to acquire the appearance of a hamster. His eyes look panicked, though, and of course he can’t speak.

I keep a little jar – it once had a very nice creamy dessert – near us at meal time and refer to it as his spittoon. Holding it up, I ask if he wants to “spit it out”. Frantic nodding, and sometimes he succeeds in spitting out what’s in his mouth. Very often, though, nothing emerges and I have to take action and try to hook it out with my fingers – so grateful, he’s not a biter. Once, I removed almost an entire pancake with butter and jam. If it’s liquid, there’s nothing else for it but to put a straw between his lips and suck; then I spit.

At other times the Goldfish spits. I don’t mean when he can’t swallow – he just spits. I sincerely hope it’s not an indication of what he thinks of my cooking.


26 thoughts on “My dad’s a goldfish – swallowing and spitting

  1. Oh Mary, you really did have a hard time of it. Much worse than I can ever of imagined. Your dad must have been really grateful to have you, even if he sometimes didn’t know you and didn’t show it. Not many people would do what you’ve done.

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    • I’m sorry, Nancy. It is a horrible thing when it happens. We were lucky in that with dad it seemed to come and go so very often he could eat and swallow perfectly normally. We did learn all sorts of tricks to help the swallow reflex kick in – yawning sometimes helped because he would then yawn and then be able to swallow. Touching the tip of a spoon to his lips sometimes made him swallow as he mentally prepared for the next bit of food. Stroking the person’s cheek is supposed to help but never worked for us.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Gosh, how do sufferers manage without someone like you? I’m glad to say my mother seemed to manage all right. She did forget how to eat different kinds of food though. I went into her care home one day and found her lapping cereal out of a bowl like a cat. Ashamed that I didn’t do more to castigate the staff for not feeding her properly. 😦 But other times she was reasonably ok. They did adjust her diet to a much sloppier one, because chewing became difficult – mostly because she refused to put her teeth in!

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  3. So many people I work with have ‘pegs’ fitted so they are fed by tube directly to the stomach as they can’t swallow. Food, drinking, swallowing, digesting, choosing food, enjoying food, tasting, smelling – aren’t they all such basic things that we all take for granted. I just tried not swallowing. It’s quite unbearable and of course the reflexes take over because with us they can and what a relief. Do you think some of the food that ‘melted’ or some of the liquid went down anyway by a trickle, without him swallowing, when he couldn’t? Not much would but I sometimes wonder if a little something would go down. I sometimes see the ‘peg’ fed children given a tiny piece of a chocolate button, just to get the taste of something different from the standard peg feed stuff. A terrible situation.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Yes, we do take so much for granted, don’t we?
      Dad did manage to continue eating, though sometimes his mealtimes had to be adjusted while we waited for him being able to swallow again. The biggest worry was that he aspirated food or liquid and ended up with pneumonia. I don’t think he could have coped with with peg feeding so I’m glad we never had to consider it.

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  4. Thank you for stopping by my blog. What a terrible situation for both of you. I pray that his reflexes will kick in again. You are a wonderful daughter to take care of his needs this way. Blessings to both of you.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Thanks for commenting, Judith. Glad to know your mum still enjoys the good things in life – porridge and chocolate. Despite the swallowing problems dad had, he never lost his appetite. I sometimes felt I was feeding a very hungry bird.


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