Make mine a Gaviscon on the rocks

The highlight of lockdown 3.0 for me so far?

Nope, it wasn’t saying bye bye to Dry January by wetting February’s head, as if a 31-day abstinence from booze was some Boris-mandated restriction in the ongoing fight against COVID-19 rather than a self-imposed avoidance of alcohol after the overindulgences of the festive season.

But said season was not so festive this year for we rule-obeyers and personally I’ve never grasped the concept of Dry Jan. Cutting down? Absolutely. But cutting out? Why, when as soon as the calendar flips over to February 1st you reward yourself with gallons of Gavi or barrels of Budweiser?

My motto is: Follow a Drenched December with a Moist January. Have more days on the wagon than off it and ride the moderation bus, not the intemperance train. The liver, they say, is the most forgiving organ but you don’t want to be begging it for forgiveness.

Plus if you’re gonna go booze-free for a month February seems like the better choice. Depending on the year, it’s only 28 or 29 days long.

Not that I’m doing Dry February either. More a lightly-spritzed one.

As chronicled here, over Christmas itself I barely went near the bottle. I sort of got my Muscadet mojo back in January but I’ve cut way down on 2020’s excesses. Why? Because I’ve been diagnosed with something called ‘silent reflux’ and too much alcohol ain’t good for controlling it.

Which brings me to my highlight of lockdown 3.0, namely something with the very unsexy name of a Flexible Nasal Endoscopy. To the uninitiated, it involves having a camera shoved up your nose and down your throat.

Sounds painful, right? Wrong. The Ear, Nose & Throat specialist doesn’t use a Kodak Instamatic; the camera is attached to the thinnest of telescopic wires that creates a weird sensation but not a horrible one. Just as well given that my gag reflex is off-the-chart high. Whereas some might gip if they accidentally swallow a whole banana, I retch if I inhale a stray hair.

Somehow, though, I managed not to up-chuck the endoscope the very nice ENT lady used to invade my nasal passage and cakehole, probably because it all happened so quickly. She could have wined and dined me first but no, the wired camera was inside me quicker than you could say ‘But I hardly even know you!’

There were a few “Say ooh”s and “Say aah”s and then it was done.

So why was it my lockdown 3.0 highlight? Because I’d been worried something was wrong with my throat for months and, as the specialist explained after a very COVID-safe examination, something is kind of wrong but not worryingly so.

Slight redness on one of my vocal chords shows I have silent reflux, which is like acid reflux’s quieter, shyer sister. It doesn’t have me reaching for the Rennies with scorching heartburn, more it manifests as the on-off feeling of a having a lump in the throat (which I thought was all down to my anxiety), dry-mouthedness and post-nasal drip - which isn’t something you’d call on a plumber to fix but excess mucus (yuk, sorry) that makes you want to keep clearing your gullet.

For a while I thought it was oral thrush. Bear with me. I’ve not been engaging in what Paula Wilcox’s Beryl used to call Percy Filth on 70s TV sitcom The Lovers. I mean, that’s not something you can do from a social distance and I’m all about obeying the rules. Also, I’m so over-the-hill when it comes to libido levels I’m halfway down the other side heading for the loos and a takeaway cuppa. I never understood when Boy George declared in the 80s that he’d rather have a cup of tea than a bit of how’s-your-father. Now, my idea of a bit on the side is a chocolate biscuit or a chunk of carrot cake.

Oral thrush can be caused by all manner of things, including being rundown - which I definitely was over Christmas. And, unable to get a face-to-face with a doctor, the first pharmacist I showed my goop-coated tongue to said it was indeed oral thrush and to use Daktarin gel.

‘I’ve had it and it’s horrible,’ her helpful assistant chimed in as the pharmacist charged me for the gel and reassured me ‘It’ll clear up in a few days’.

It didn’t.

Pharmacist number two told me I needed something stronger and advised Nystatin drops. They tasted nice. And they didn’t work either.

So I called the doctor, who gave me a prescription for anti-fungal Fluconazole and the promise of progress within a day or two.

Guess what? It didn’t work.

The next doctor I spoke to asked me to take an iPhone snap of my tongue and message it over, just to be sure it was oral thrush and not something else. Despite using my state-of-the-art iPhone 11 camera with the flash on full blast, she couldn’t fathom what was going on so - oh blessing of blessings - agreed to see me in person the very next day.

Head-to-toed in PPI, she had a good tootle around my trap with various instruments, only to declare ‘It doesn’t look like oral thrush’. She took a swab to send off to the lab for further analysis, assured me ‘It’s nothing serious’ and bade me farewell.

Not so fast, I thought. Face-to-face appointments are like gold dust in these COVID times so while I have your attention… and proceeded to tell her about my throatal worries and could they be a result of anxiety? I may have imagined it, given her perspex visor and face mask, but I think I heard a sigh as she said ‘It could be anxiety-related but I thought I called you in today to look at your tongue, not talk about your throat’.

I had a vision of my name on the surgery computer with a red flag next to it and the words BEWARE! HYPOCHONDRIAC! flashing on the screen. I had, after all, spoken to two other GPs about my constant swallowing and mucus-filled mush and they both said it could be acid reflux or silent reflux - prescribing tablets that in the first instance gave me [LOOK AWAY NOW, SENSITIVE READERS] the all-night squits and in the second instance, when I switched to a different type, made me nauseous and tired.

Maybe they didn’t. Maybe my hypochondriacal self imagined that. But, as I kept testing the patience of friends with my I-just-don’t-feel-right whingeings, I’d asked for a blood test to see if the tiredness that had been plaguing me since the not-so-festive season was down to mineral deficiencies maybe, or the diabetes that runs through part of the family, or just poor nutrition, or what one of my snarky friends calls Attention Seekingitis.

The result? Everything was fine except for slightly elevated cholesterol levels (damn you Mr Kipling!) that nonetheless were lower than a couple of years ago. The advice: Eat a little healthier and drink a little less. The fatigue? Now very much on the mend, I’ve concluded it was a mix of too much vino, too many French Fancies, too much sofa-slobbing, not enough exercise and a hearty wallop of lockdown lethargy.

Anyway, long story medium length, I told the GP that yes, she did call me in for a tongue inspection but would she, just to ease my mind, refer me to ENT for a check-up?

Was that ‘Anything to get rid of you’ she muttered under her breath? Perhaps, but she agreed and I left the surgery steeling myself for a long wait. Then, quicker than you could say ‘God bless the NHS’, I got a call asking me to come in the following Saturday.

I panicked when, after the silent reflux diagnosis, the specialist handed me a fact sheet of acid-triggering things to cut down on and I saw wine prominent among them. ‘But you don’t have to cut them out entirely,’ she assuaged me as I headed for the door, happy to know that it wasn’t all in my head and I now had a checklist of dos, don’ts, do-sometimes and don’t-do-oftens.

Eating better and drinking less dovetails nicely with the steps needed to keep the cholesterol under control and if the fact tomatoes can be a reflux trigger means I can’t mainline Bloody Marys, I must say Gaviscon Advance makes for a rather tasty pre-bedtime tipple.

The tongue swab test, by the way, came back as ‘normal’ but I’m sure my hyperchondriac self will soon find something else to fret about.

Wait, my eyelid just started twitching. Best call the optician.

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