Monday, September 22, 2008

Swallowing Pills

This is more of a public service announcement than anything else. All my life, I have been unable to swallow pills. In twenty-some years, I've never swallowed ONE single pill. For years I have had acid reflux disease, but it has gone untreated because I couldn't take the medicine. Now the consequences of that have become more serious, so I finally managed to teach myself how to take pills.

According to some statistics on the Internet (who knows how reliable these are), perhaps as many as 40% of all adults have trouble swallowing pills -- to the point that they sometimes skip their medication out of frustration, etc. I tried all the various techniques from all sorts of different sources. I also bought the surprisingly-inexpensive Medi-Straw to try to improve the situation. Nothing worked for me (but there are lots of good ideas on those links, and the Medi-Straw would probably do great for people with different swallowing methods than me).

But I kept at it for weeks, trying to swallow this stupid little slow-release pill that was fast turning into a demonic tormentor. The trick, for me, finally came with analyzing how I normally swallow and focusing on that. Let me explain:

Like a lot of people, I eat relatively quickly. This means I was already swallowing fairly big chunks of food while eating -- much bigger than a pill at times -- without thinking about it at all. This is something we all do, and so it stands to reason that we can all learn to swallow pills easily with practice. Two months ago I would not have believed I would say that, though!

My breakthrough came from tearing off half-dollar-sized chunks of wonder bread and chewing it, then swallowing it. No pill yet, just the bread. I noticed that I could comfortable swallow pretty much the whole thing in one go without incident or discomfort, after chewing it a bit. I focused on the way my tongue stayed out of the way (it had historically been blocking the pill from going down my throat, or keeping it pinned against the roof of my mouth), and the mechanics of how I swallowed when I wasn't stressing about something foreign (like the pill) being in my mouth.

At least for me, it was nearly impossible to swallow the pill until I paid more attention to how it felt to swallow naturally. I suspect others will find the same. Once I was comfortable with how it should feel to swallow the pill, I took another half-dollar-sized piece of bread and chewed it up. At the last second, when I was ready to swallow, I instead paused and dropped the pill in first. Then I swallowed, and presto -- I could hardly believe the pill was gone.

This remained difficult for another week or so, often taking up to 45 minutes of trying to successfully complete, but with more practice it became gradually easier. Sometimes I had to chew the bread a little more with the pill actually in my mouth (careful not to chew the pill itself), but in this general way I was able to get the pills down reliably.

Now it's been about two months, and I can easily take pills on the first try with just a bit of bread. I've also taken them with brownies, grapes, lasagna, and other random foods that happened to be handy at the time. I still can't take it with liquid, but pretty much any food can be chewed up and swallowed with the pill. It's not a matter of "disguising" the pill inside pudding, or some other sort of food -- it's a matter of suppressing my gag reflex and satisfying my subconscious that there aren't harmful foreign bodies in the food. Once I learned how to do those two things, it all became possible, and in fact surprisingly easy.

You can do it too! The last tidbit that helped me on this long road was this: evidently it is impossible to accidentally inhale a pill given the mechanics of how your mouth is constructed. This was extremely reassuring, let me tell you. Best of luck everyone out there who still can't take pills reliably -- I have every confidence that you can accomplish this thing. If I can do it, after all those years of failing, truly anyone can.

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