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CASE STUDY: C’est Moi

If I hadn’t been experiencing an annoying sensation in my throat with every swallow that in my fears had escalated to advanced throat cancer, the week would otherwise have begun quite nicely.

For example, while talking to a new patient with some longstanding neck and shoulder issues, I asked if she would mind if my associate, chiropractor Dr. Paul Rubin, stepped in to help with the diagnosis. This is called a curbside consultation, a freebie because he just happened to have a lull in his otherwise busy morning.

A chiropractic exam is significantly different from an internist’s, and I always enjoy watching Paul carefully going about his business. He explained (to both of us) what he thought was going on, and what next best diagnostic steps would be needed. It took him about ninety seconds to diagnose what apparently had been going on for more than a year with my patient.

When Paul left, I commented that it was really great to have a chiropractor as an associate, that our fields complemented each other. The patient agreed, adding that this was exactly what had led her to WholeHealth Chicago: conventional and alternative practitioners working together, diagnosing and treating patients as a team.

So that was all well and good, except for this feeling in the back of my throat: a sensation, not a pain, an awareness that something was off when I swallowed. I’ll admit right now that doctors can be the worst patients. When you, my readers, get a symptom, you often race to the internet, look up the worst stuff, self-diagnose into despair, and show up in your MD’s office with beads of sweat on your foreheads, clutching a handful of internet printouts.

Doctors don’t need the internet for our personal worst-case scenarios. We have it all in our heads.

In my personal (not professional) life, one of my less attractive attributes is a tendency toward high-gear catastrophic thinking. To me, all registered or certified letters must be delivering bad news, not a big check from Publisher’s Clearinghouse. A knocking sound beneath the car hood means a repair so costly that it’s mac and cheese for the next month.

So this swallowing thing escalated in my mind in a matter of minutes to throat cancer, disfiguring surgery, crispy critter radiation, the loss of my few remaining tufts of hair, my family penniless, and my kids on the street.

I headed first to the ear/nose/throat specialist next door. We chatted about the stuff doctors chat about before he grabbed my tongue, stuck a mirror into the back of my throat, and said, “You’re fine. Nothing to worry about.”

Although I was relieved, the swallowing sensation was still there.

So I discretely asked Dr. Rubin. “Paul–I can’t remember–can an imbalance in the cervical spine (neck bones) affect swallowing?” The “I can’t remember” wasn’t exactly true. I had never heard of such a thing, but was covering my ignorance by pleading amnesia. That the spine affects internal organs is pooh-poohed by conventional physicians as “part of that chiropractic stuff.”

“Sure. Happens a lot.”

“I have this swallowing thing…”

“Lie down and let me check your neck.”

He poked and prodded, touching a tender spot in the back of my neck I hadn’t noticed before. Gave a doctorly “Hmm.”

“What…hmm?” I asked. “What does hmm mean?”

“You need an adjustment. Somehow your spine has become restricted. Here, let me just get this joint moving again…you’ll hear a click.” He held my head and gave a quick twist that I assure you I did not learn in medical school. Click? A mini-thunderclap went from the back of my neck to the back of my throat. All the muscles involved in swallowing seemed to breathe a collective “Whew!” and suddenly relaxed.

When I sat up and swallowed, my throat sensation had completely vanished, and has remained gone ever since.

My mental catastrophizing reversed itself like a movie running backwards. No radiation, no kids on the street. I went back to work.

“Thanks, Paul.”

“Any time, David.”

Leave a Comment


  1. Betsy Davenport says:

    This is a terrific story, not the least because this very afternoon my husband went to an ENT doc for a swallowing problem and was told he should see another type specialist who could evaluate his spine’s effect on his throat. I am sending him this article forthwith. I only hope he is directed to the right sort of specialist.

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