Anesthesia and Chewing Gum

I’m just here to complain a little.

During the strip-down, put on the silly gown, answer the same fifty questions fifty times, “it’s my left breast you’re removing, nothing else, but thanks” process of being admitted for surgery, the pre-op nurse caught me, red-handed in the midst of mortal sin.

“Are you chewing gum?” she demanded, horrified.

I chew gum quite a lot these days.  Between menopausal dry mouth and chemo weirdness, it’s the only way my mouth can tolerate its own existence.  Throw in some pre-op anxiety, and my oral orifice becomes a non-functional, sticky-dry cave that tastes like it’s full of bat guano.  Nice.

Feeling like a guilty schoolgirl, I came clean.  “It’s the only way I’m able to talk,” I explained.

“SPIT IT OUT,” she ordered, actually holding a tissue under my mouth.  I spit.  “And tell your anesthesiologist.  If you don’t, I will.”

Now, this is a little ridiculous.  The theory is that chewing gum stimulates the production of gastric secretions, which belong nowhere except the inside the stomach.  Let a few dribbles of stomach acid disregard the rules and roadmap, and wander into the lungs, there’s bound to be trouble.  But this is taking things a bit too far.  In the whole airway protection way of thinking, a couple of hours of chewing gum is not comparable to wolfing down three cheeseburgers and chasing them with a bucket of beer.

In my career as a flight nurse I have managed the airway of lots of individuals whose plan for their day included, “I’m going to get really, really hurt pretty soon; I think I’ll eat a lot and get drunk.”  Inserting a tracheal tube to help these guys breathe is like battling the slime monster.  Stick a laryngoscope down their gullet to have a look and you better have a wet-vac in the other hand, because here comes the tsunami of used Big Macs and Budweiser.

Chewing gum for a few hours is not an evening of burgers and beer.

Now chastened and sans gum, I fessed up to the anesthesiologist, who looked like a hypbrid of my high school math teacher and Santa Claus.   “Ho, ho, that’s alright,” he declared.  “I’ll just put a little tube in your throat and everything will be okey dokey.”


So I got intubated for a simple, hour-long procedure.  And when I woke up, I discovered math teacher/Santa had dinged my lip in two places during the intubation.  To his credit, he called my cell phone a couple of weeks later and apologized for the lip-dings.  Thanks.

And next time, I may still chew gum, but I’ll spit it out before anybody catches me at it.  Oh, and you know what else?  On general anesthesia days, I always drink a cup of black coffee early in the morning, at least four or five hours before showtime, and then I lie like a rug to the nurse and anesthesiologist.

I mean, come on.


3 thoughts on “Anesthesia and Chewing Gum

  1. I love this so much I may just chew five wads of SuperBlow in your honor. And I LOVE that you shared the coffee secret. Got me through my knee secret. Power to the caffeine addicts. xoxox Love you Girlfriend.

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