by Harry Black-Tongue©
This isn't supposed to happen during dinner. It's not supposed
to ever happen. There's never a good time for a bump to appear on the top of your tongue. The other night I got one as sudden
and unwelcome as a speed bump. It wasn't because I bit my tongue. It just popped out - all by itself.
I knew immediately what it was. I've seen it in National Geographic.
I fled from the table in a panic without excusing myself and raced for
the bathroom mirror. Just as I feared. Pellagra.
"IH GAWH, HOOKH HAH HISCH!" I bellowed, pulling my tongue tight like
My wife arrived in time for triage. "What is it, Dear?"
A magenta pod lay grafted on the dorsum of my tongue, right on top,
in the middle, staring back at us like a dark button on a pink blazer.
"It's not pellagra. Did you bite your tongue?"
"HOH," I said, shaking my head, "ISH HELLAGRAH!"
"It's not pellagra," she sighed, leaving. I hate that. She approaches
medicine the way addicts approach recovery: from denial. I didn't get any sympathy that time I had Buffalo Hump Syndrome,
"Too much curry," she shouted down the hall.
She was probably right about the curry. Eating has become an experiment
around here since her sister came back from India. We no longer have a kitchen, we have a laboratory. We now have items in
our refrigerator that are registered with the EPA. One of them, a jar of vindaloo curry paste is so toxic it appears to be
eating right through its own glass container. There's always a pool of it on the shelf no matter how often it's wiped
up. I had a dream the other night that it ate right through the floor into the garage and Sigourney Weaver was sent out to
check for Aliens.
These are the chemicals we put on our food. My belly has been burning
for weeks. It's like trying to digest hydrochloric acid. If you spilled this stuff in the street they'd call HazMat.
After dinner I disappeared into the study to research tongue disease.
Just to be sure. This usually doesn't take long. My entire medical library consists of a garage sale version of "Gray's Anatomy"
the kids used for their sex education, and a 1955 edition of the "Merck Manual" that's so old it has hieroglyphics on the
cover. I think it came out of a pyramid. This is the same as consulting "The Congressional Record" for the Meaning of Life.
What I read about pellagra gave me a headache. I was right. It was
pellagra, the first signs of which are lesions on the tongue, accompanied by an assortment of dementia, cutaneous, mucous
membrane and gastrointestinal symptoms. I had them all: a stomach ache, a head ache and a dark lesion. It left no doubt. Never
mind that pellagra is caused by eating nothing but corn.
Then it got worse.
The symptoms also indicated sprue. You don't want to know about sprue.
Glossitis was next. Glossitis is an acute inflammatory disturbance of the tongue. The book said this disturbance "may be either
a primary disease of the tongue or a symptom of disease elsewhere." That pretty much covers it, huh? Something was wrong.
I should have quit then and begun vitamin B therapy. Instead I continued
to explore the etiology of the murrain in my mouth. The path lead directly to Lingua Nigra, a.k.a., Black Hairy Tongue. The
prognosis: "Swelling, protrusion, obstruction, suffocation. Articulation, mastication and swallowing at first become painful,
then impossible. Suppuration may occur." I have no idea what that means but I think it's a form of strangulation, caused by
trying to swallow a mitten. I was doomed.
I stared at the wall, fast-forwarding to the end of my life, seeing
myself lost and alone, somewhere in the Congo, coughing up fur balls.
By this time my wife had retired and I found her dozing in bed with
"Leaving Home" lying open against her. The reading light was still on. At least she hadn't started to pack.
I sat down and read to her about Black Hairy Tongue.
"Hmmmm?" She stirred, rolling toward me, touching my arm softly.
"Are you listening? My tongue is growing hair. It says I'll strangle
on it - on the hair from my own tongue!"
Her eyes were still closed. She was smiling softly, the way she does
when meditation permits only pleasant thoughts. She hadn't heard a word.
"Did you hear me? It's Black Hairy Tongue. I've caught Black Hairy
Tongue." My voice shuddered and disappeared. Flaunting visions of my own demise shimmied in front of me again. In the end
they would find me hunched over my desk, face-down in the Merck Manual, attempting to breath with something resembling a badger
in my mouth. Rescuers wouldn't know whether to call the paramedics or the Humane Society.
She snuggled closer. "Is that a new character in your novel?"
"Come to bed, Dear."
Harry Black-Tongue, a.k.a. Douglas Page, writes about
marriage peril from Pine Mountain, California. It's a full time job.