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 happened when I worked on an ambulance.
We were called to a nursing home to pick up a cute little old lady and take her to the hospital.
When we arrived, she was just finishing her lunch and was pushing a huge spoonful of cottage cheese into
her mouth. The nurse mentioned she was deaf so I yelled, “Are you ready
to go to the hospital?”
She looked up, squinted at the empty space next to me and went back to 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 her mouth was in perpetual motion. Something
was stuck in a tooth or behind her dentures.
When we arrived at the hospital, my partner and I pulled the gurney out of the back of the ambulance
and set it on the ground. I bent down and asked her, “How are you doing?” Then I remembered she was deaf so I
put my face directly in front of hers. I took a deep breath, opened my mouth wide and started to shout, “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.
I saw her mouth suddenly stop moving. Whatever she had been hunting for with her tongue, she had
found it. She stuck the tip of her tongue out between her dry, crusty lips. Then her cheeks puffed out as the air pressure
inside her mouth increased.
She looked up and squinted at the empty space next to my head. And then…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
screamed, “Mike cloooose yourrrrrr mouuuuth! Ohhhh NOOOOO! Close youurrrr mouuuth!”
Time raced back to normal as the cottage cheese asteroid entered my mouth’s atmosphere, became
a cottage cheese meteor and slammed directly into the back of my throat.
I immediately made the international sign for choking. 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 saw this and turned the color of a thick bank of fog. He involuntarily made the international
sign for choking around his neck, and he too began gagging. This is known as, “Sympathetic Choking.”
I performed the Heimlich maneuver on myself by throwing
my body 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 the texture of the curd with my tongue.
This was the second grossest thing that had ever happened to me in my entire life. I instantly spit 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 and immediately started dry heaving. That would be, “Sympathetic
A crowd had now formed around us. Between heaves I sputtered, “Everything’s fine, shows over,
move along.” I got to my feet and tried to pretend nothing had happened. This was difficult since I was retching loudly
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 supermarket.
I used to like cottage cheese. I used to like a lot of things; milk, spitting watermelon seeds,
talking to people without flinching and holding my hand over my mouth, white chocolate-covered raisins and little old ladies.