Danielle's Writings

My NMES Story

I was coughing every time I would drink anything.  It didn’t matter how quickly or how slowly I drank it, I was almost guaranteed that it would end in a coughing episode.  If by chance it didn't, something just always didn’t feel right when I went to swallow any sort of liquid.  I can’t exactly tell you what the turning point was, but at some point I got so fed up with it that I decided to take it to my neurologist and see if he could help me figure it out.  Initially I thought it could have something to do with my seizures.  When I got to my appointment with him I explained that I could eat anything and not cough, but if I was drinking, it was almost a guarantee.  He suggested that I have a video swallow study done to make sure I wasn’t aspirating.  With that thought never having crossed my mind before he said it, it was almost as if a light bulb went off in my head the moment he did.  He wrote the order for it before we ever left his office.

On July 10, 2012, the swallow study was done.  Though I didn’t have a coughing episode during the course of the study, the all-too-familiar feeling that just didn’t feel right did happen.  It was at that moment that one of them (either the tech or Tracie) confirmed that they saw aspiration.  This meant that that feeling that just didn’t feel right had actually been aspiration all along, and I just didn’t realize it.  As a result, it was recommended that I thicken my liquids to either nectar or honey consistency until we got NMES started.  If I was still aspirating with the nectar consistency, then I was to go to honey.  Though I by no means liked the fact that I was aspirating, at least now I had an answer for the feeling I just couldn't explain.

Over the next eight weeks or so, I was adding five scoops of thickener to 32 ounces of liquid and had no more problems with aspiration.  The feeling was gone.  Tracie and I had our first NMES session on October 17, 2012.  From the very beginning we both knew that it was going to do some good because on the very first day, with the help of NMES, I was able to do thin liquids!  Over the course of our next couple of sessions, I had big news to report each week (less trouble swallowing secretions when lying down, less trouble swallowing my toothpaste when brushing my teeth, etc.).  At one point, about four sessions in, I started telling my mom that five scoops was too much… Liquids were just getting too thick.  She was a little leery of this and didn't possibly know how we could be seeing any effects so quickly.  So, I brought this to Tracie and asked her what she thought.  She said it really didn't surprise her.  After that conversation, I continued to back down the thickness with her guidance and as I felt it appropriate.

As of today, December 28, 2012, I'm doing completely thin liquids both at home and in therapy with no problems!  Also, toothpaste and secretions are no longer an issue!  Our last scheduled session is January 2, 2013.  I know my progress would have never been possible without the help of NMES.  In fact, I likely would still be coughing and feeling that all-too-familiar feeling when drinking.  Not only that, but if it had continued without being addressed it could have and most likely would have gotten much worse, and who knows what would’ve happened then.  I shudder to think about that!

I realize that everybody's situation is a little bit different and NMES isn't going to work for everyone, but it did for me and I would definitely recommend it to anyone who just has a weak swallow like mine!