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Not Called Bari-yum

A new multiple sclerosis test


I don’t mean to brag but I think I opened MS Awareness month in a truly MS aware way.  Late in the morning of March 1st I found myself at a local hospital undergoing a new, previously scheduled MS test.  This test was called a Modified Barium Swallow.

I was directed to take this test due to troubles I have swallowing.  Specifically, sometimes I forget how to swallow (old issue I have pretty much ignored,) and when swallowing I don’t always swallow completely (fairly new issue of concern.)

The latter swallow problem is quite frustrating. I hate doing things halfway. If I swallow I want to swallow everything!  It’s sort of like my bladder problems.  When I go, I don’t go completely and have to go again.  Now when I swallow, I don’t swallow completely and I have to swallow again.

The even weirder thing is that this doesn’t happen with food and drinks.  No, those I manage just fine.  The problem just involves swallowing saliva whose whole purpose is to be swallowed!ID-100147070The test is exactly how it sounds.  You go to the radiology department and they alter (modify) your normal swallowing (swallow) by getting you to swallow barium sulfate (barium) to watch your swallowing procedure light up in pretty colors on an x-ray machine so they can see what you’re doing wrong.

In the x-ray room a nice woman who said she was a speech pathologist explained the test to me. She said she would give me various consistencies of foods to eat to watch how my innards responded.  My thought was, “great, free lunch.”

Then she put on a whole set of lead aprons- did you know they make a lead apron skirt- it looked pretty cool- and then told me to stand in front of the x-ray machine.ID-10057006

Hey, where was my lead skirt?  I know I’m pretty much pass my child bearing years but still, I’ve got stuff I’d like to keep intact.

Next she asked me to take a sip of barium that was the consistency of water.  Then I was to take a sip of barium in the consistency of milk.  Next it was a nectar consistency which I thought was pretty impressive because I didn’t know that nectar even existed.  I just thought it was in religious circles as in “the nectar of the Gods..”

I’m sure this wasn’t the same thing. If this nectar was supposed to be God like I’m sure God would make it taste better.ID-100265528

Then it was a honey consistency.  Did you know they made so many variants of barium?  I’ll have to pay closer attention in the barium aisle at Wal-Mart.

I got excited for the next part of the test-pudding! Yea for pudding.  My sweet tooth and I were ready.  But barium sulfate pudding does not taste anywhere near as good as it sounds.  You’d think they could add a little bit of chocolate to spice it up.

The final part of the test was that I got a cookie.  Yea again!  I figured the cookie was the reward for having to eat all of this barium stuff.  Kind of like when you give the Red Cross your blood and they give you Oreos after to make you feel better.ID-100285311

I wondered what kind of cookie it would be?  The girl scouts had been out selling recently- maybe it would be Thin mints or Tagalongs?  That only seemed fair.

But no, the excitement faded when I was handed a plain boring cookie dipped in barium!  Seriously?

But with my consumption of the disappointing cookie the test was over and we sat down to discuss the results.  The findings?


This nice pathologist kindly explained that she didn’t see any issues.  She told me that “we often see patients who have saliva pool in the back of their throats.”

“Yes, I responded, that’s exactly it!  That’s what happens.  I swallow and some of my saliva just pools in the back of my throat.”

“But the test doesn’t show that,” she responded.

How can the test not show that?  I could feel the saliva hanging out in the back of my mouth even as we were discussing it.  Why didn’t the machine show it?  I not only had a pool, I likely had a whole tikki bar hanging out back there. Maybe even a water slide or two.ID-10074314

But alas, the test failed to show this.  The pathologist said that the swallowing issues could be MS related but usually nerve dysfunction in this part of the body would show other things; like diminished taste for example. Did I have diminished taste?

I didn’t think so.  The barium stuff had a taste. A disgusting taste but a taste none the less.  I had been at a friend’s house the other day and she made chocolate chip cookies that tasted pretty good.  I had about four of them just to be sure.

After more discussion we did come to a conclusion.  The pathologist told me I had a new medical condition.  Brace yourselves my friends- this is pretty upsetting.

After testing and talking it was determined that I now had xerostomia.

What is xerostomia you ask?  How serious is it?  What can be done about it?

Let me spare you from heading to WebMD out of concern for my health.  Xerostomia goes by another more common name that you might be familiar with.

Dry mouth.ID-10038435

The testing showed that the only thing the x-rays could really confirm was that I had dry mouth.  Since that is likely the fault of my “don’t pee all night” meds that only SOMETIMES work, my xerostomia is a direct result of multiple sclerosis.

Still, the new diagnosis didn’t completely explain the saliva swimming pool that was always in my mouth.  But then again, all this took place on day 1 of MS Awareness Month, which means no explanation was necessary.

The main thing that people need to be aware of when it comes to MS is that there really is no explanation at all….

Also in keeping with MS Awareness month I want to thank Modern Day MS for the great interview!  Check out this fabulous website for lots of great stories including how I try to use humor to cope with the MS crazy in my life!


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