DR. HOOK- GERD: An illness that's hard to swallow

Pineapple upside down cake was something I had never experienced until my TV news producer asked me to talk about Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD) with a cookbook author. I had never heard of this cook (her name escapes me– well, more likely the trauma created by her has caused a mental block. For artistic sake, let's call her Ms. Ratched). One of my nurses said to me, "Wow! You're going to do a news clip with Ms. Ratched! I love her pineapple upside down cake. I make it every year for my husband's birthday. Please tell her I love it!"

 So I tra-la-la from the hospital to the news station and meet with Ratched. As I extend my hand, she acts like Joan Collins, saying, "Just remember, kid: I'm the star. Don't get in my way." 

What? I figured she was kidding– well, kidding without a smile or a twinkle in her eye– and I said, "One of my nurses loves your pineapple upside down cake, and she said to..." Ratched interrupted, "She doesn't get a free book. She has to pay like everyone else. Does she want an autographed copy?" 

What would Julia Child have done? I don't think she would have saved the liver on this chick.

There was more drama, but I'll move on. Eventually I saw her main purpose of being on the air was to sell a pill to treat GERD. She said, "If you take this pill, you can eat anything you want and not get acid reflux." 

She was so pushy she might as well have said, "You can swallow gasoline, drink enough Vodka to cause a potato famine in Russia, and eat until you're blue in the face– but with this magic pill, you won't have acid reflux. Cake, anyone?"

 The lower esophageal sphincter allows solids and liquids to pass from the esophagus to the stomach, and tries to prevent the stomach contents from going back up into the esophagus. If things go backward, it's GERD. About 10 percent of Americans have it right now.

 Heartburn is a common complaint of GERD. It's a burning, acidic feeling stretching from under the breast bone to the neck– something I experience daily dealing with health insurance forms. Sometimes it can be confused with angina. Usually heartburn comes on after eating and especially when lying down. 

 Regurgitation without heartburn also occurs. It's not vomiting or being sick. Things just creep up the esophagus. Some people experience water brash in which too much saliva is made in response to GERD. Sounds like rabies, doesn't it.

 Dysphagia– not being able to swallow well— can occur with esophageal damage from GERD. Things feel like they get stuck– especially after eating meat. Those who get globus feel like something is stuck in their throat all the time, even when they're not swallowing.

 GERD can be more than just uncomfortable. It can make asthma worse and can cause hoarsness. Acid can tear up the lining of the esophagus, which can lead to bleeding, scarring, or even cancer.

 Treatment consists of things like dietary changes, not eating at least two hours before lying down, elevating the head in bed, and losing some weight. A big ole belly will literally push the stomach contents back into the esophagus. 

 Lifestyle changes might be hard to swallow for some folks, like Ms. Ratched, but just taking a pill can't always prevent GERD. I've never had Ratched's pineapple upside down cake, but I have had some very good ones since that show. 

Here's a question: in Australia, is it still upside down?