true story by Michael Cyra
Every once in a while, something
happens to you that changes the way you think, feel and eat for the rest of your life.
My life-changing event took place
when I worked for a private ambulance company. My partner and me were called to a nursing home to pick up a cute little old
lady and take her to the hospital for some tests.
We stopped at the nurses station,
grabbed the patients paperwork and headed down the hallway, weaving our gurney around wheelchairs filled with slumped over
sleeping old people.
When we arrived at the room,
our little old lady was just finishing her lunch. I walked up to the side of her bed just as she was pushing a huge spoonful
of cottage cheese into her mouth.
I waved and said loudly, “Hello.”
She looked over at the empty
space next to me, so I made a big giant wave, like I was in a parade and she saw me. I think.
“Are you ready to go to
She didn’t seem to notice
and looked back down at her cottage cheese.
A tiny little nurse came in the
room and announced, “she doesn’t hear too good.”
She stood on her tiptoes next
to our patient and in a voice that would make an Army drill sergeant proud yelled, “THESE BOYS ARE TAKING YOU TO THE
I jumped back covering my ears
and yelled “Good God almighty.”
Her voice was so loud I heard
it echo down the hall. “take…take…hospital…hospital…hospital.”
The sweet little old lady didn’t
look up but just nodded. She was intent on getting that last spoonful of cottage cheese in her mouth.
Nurse Bullhorn opened her mouth
to say something and I covered my ears again. But in her normal voice said, “She’s all yours” and left the
The next twenty minutes was spent
yelling at the top of our lungs and jumping around like clowns trying to coax this little old lady to slide onto our gurney
so we could leave.
She, on the other hand was more
interested in finding the large curds of cottage cheese she had spilled on her shirt and getting each one in her mouth.
On the way to the hospital I
couldn’t help but notice that she seemed to be having trouble with something in her mouth. Something was stuck in a tooth or behind her dentures and she couldn’t get it dislodged with her
tongue. Her mouth was in perpetual motion.
I was going to ask her if she
would like to rinse her mouth out but my voice was hoarse and my throat sore from yelling at her earlier so I just continued
doing my paperwork.
When we arrived at the hospital
emergency room entrance. Larry and I pulled the gurney out of the back of the ambulance and set it on the ground.
I bent over and asked in a normal
voice, “How are you doing?”
Then I remembered whom we were
dealing with and I put my face directly in front of her face. Taking a deep breath and opening my mouth up wide I began to
yell, “HOW …”
That’s as far as I got.
At times like this you have to
marvel at what an amazing organ the brain is. Sensing imminent danger, my brain went into emergency mode. Time and space was
now an ultra slow motion movie.
In that split second period of
time, I saw her mouth suddenly stop moving. Whatever she had been hunting for with her tongue, she had found it.
I saw the tip of her tongue protrude
just a little bit between her dry, cracked lips. Her cheeks puffed out from the increase of air pressure in her mouth.
She looked up at the empty space
next to my head and then…and then a huge curd of cottage cheese exploded from her mouth.
In slow motion the curd came
at me, like a huge asteroid tumbling through space, throwing off little balls of spit in all directions. Slowly, tumbling,
towards my open mouth.
I could hear my brain trying
to warn me. In a deep, slurred drug induced dream –like voice, it said, “Sheee hawked a looogey…Miiiike
cloooose yourrrrrr mouuuuth! Ohhhh NOOOOO! Close youurrrr mouuuth!”
Time raced back to normal as
the cottage cheese asteroid entered my mouths atmosphere, became a cottage cheese meteor and slammed directly into the back
of my throat.
I immediately made the international
sign for choking. Clutching my hands around my neck, I stumbled backwards and dropped to my knees, gagging and coughing, trying
to dislodge the curd from the back of my throat.
There are seven different types
of shock. I was in five of them. This was, the grossest thing that had ever happened to me in my entire life.
My partner had witnessed the
whole thing and he turned white as a ghost. His hands instinctively made the international sign for choking around his neck
and he too began gagging. This is known as ‘sympathetic choking.’
I was now rolling around on the
ground about to loose consciousness. Not from lack of oxygen but from the realization of the enormity of the grossness of
what just happened to me.
I tried giving myself the Heimlich
maneuver by throwing myself against the side of the gurney. This dislodged the curd from the back of my throat and moved it
into my mouth. I could feel with my tongue the texture of the cottage cheese curd.
This, was the second grossest
thing that had ever happened to me in my entire life. I wasted no time in spitting every molecule of moisture out of my mouth,
but not before I reminded myself that this curd of cottage cheese had just been in that ladies 90-year-old mouth.
I began to dry heave.
My partner saw this, rolled around
the side of the ambulance and also started dry heaving. That would be ‘sympathetic heaving.’
A crowd was now forming around
us. Doctors and nurses wondering why these two highly trained medics had abandoned such a sweet little old lady and were laying
on the ground heaving their guts up.
One of the nurses came over to
me and asked, “Are you ok?”
In between heaves I sputtered,
“Everything’s fine, shows over, move along.”
Getting to my feet, I tried to
pretend nothing had happened. It was difficult to pull it off since I was retching every few seconds. I wanted to rinse my
mouth out with gasoline.
I looked at Grandma Spitty-Poo.
She was oblivious to the near death experience she had just caused. She just laid there on the gurney searching the front
of her shirt for more of her lunch.
I haven’t eaten cottage
cheese in over five years now. It took me two years and a lot of therapy before I would even walk down the dairy isle at the
I used to like cottage cheese.
I used to like a lot of things; milk, spitting watermelon seeds, talking to people without flinching and keeping my hand over
my mouth, white chocolate covered raisins, little old ladies.