I could spend all day listing the negatives about getting older, and you, the reader, would probably nod your head, lower and lower, until eventually you would be curled in a ball on your cubicle floor, sucking your thumb and begging the deity of your choice to send you back to pre-school so you can start your life over. Aging sucks, but for me, the worst part is accepting that my body is slowly betraying me. Well, the worst part of growing old is that it’s “creepy” and “pathetic” and “wrong” to chase 21-year-old coeds. But, for this column’s purposes, the worst thing about aging is that my body’s prime is drifting further and further away on a daily basis.
It started a few weeks ago, when I was drunkenly challenged to do a double-shot of Tabasco. This was a common party trick for me. I once drank a bottle of Cholula hot sauce in exchange for two beers, and in high school I chugged all the pepper juice from a bottle at Steak ‘n Shake for the hell of it. The mouth burn of hot peppers and spices is nothing to me, but this time, oh how my esophagus hated me for sending such fiery napalm down to my stomach. Immediately, I started hiccuping, so much so that when I tried to speak I ended up stuttering like Porky Pig. Eventually the hiccups stopped, but then the stomach gurgling started. Turns out that capsaicin, the substance that makes hot flavors hot, and stomach acid are not on speaking terms. The two were engaged in mortal combat, a battle that stomach acid would eventually win, but not before the capsaicin got in a few good blows. From there, the fight moved to my colon, which is a story for another day.
Acid reflux, oftentimes called heartburn, is a disorder of the LES, or lower esophageal sphincter (yeah, sphincter). Sometimes that sphincter can stay open after swallowing, or only partially close, and stomach acid can spew into the esophagus, which is as uncomfortable as it sounds. Symptoms include chest pain, regurgitation, an acid taste in the back of your mouth, bloating, burping, bloody or black, tarry stools, dysphagia (a narrowing of the esophagus that makes it feel like food is lodged in the pipe), and most prevalent in my case, hiccuping. Fortunately for me, my symptoms are not very frequent. Two or more cases of acid reflux in a week could be GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disorder) which might require surgery to correct. If I ever need surgery, it best be because I did something awesome, like break my pelvis jumping a dirt bike over two busses, not because I ate some flaming hot Cheetos.
Most of the time, acid reflux can be controlled with over the counter drugs like Tums (I’ve bought two bottles, one for home and my emergency car stash), Rolaids or Alka-Seltzer. Better than treating the symptoms of acid reflux, is making certain lifestyle changes to prevent it. In my case, spicy foods cause reflux flare-ups, but so can fried foods (say it ain’t so), large meals (oh God), eating 2-3 hours before bed (NO!), alcohol (just kill me now), and smoking, which is about the only vice I don’t have. Apparently, I can also try napping in a chair or sleeping with the head of my bed raised so that the acid stays in my stomach and doesn’t drain into my throat. I can’t imagine that my acid reflux symptoms will ever be so bad that I am moved to eat several small meals a day made up of green, leafy vegetables and flavorless chicken. I’m as likely to give up alcohol and bold flavors as my main man Karl Welzein. So, if we’re ever at dinner and I begin hiccuping uncontrollably, feel free to laugh at me, but please just go get the Tums out of my glove box.