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JOY SYLVESTER-JOHNSON: Gargling and Googling

Joy Sylvester Johnson

Gargling, much to my surprise, is not like riding a bike.

Recently, returning from a road trip, I noticed my throat was feeling itchy and sore. More symptoms would arrive, but in the beginning it was just a soreness in my throat whenever I tried to swallow.

I remember as a child when this would happen my mother would prepare a glass of warm salt water and ask me to gargle it. I am sure gargling was not something I did well on my first attempt, but I must have persevered because I only remember throwing my head back and feeling the warm water in the back of my throat as it sloshed past gums and tongue and teeth to that place in the back where the physicians tongue depressor always liked to probe.

I must have liked the sensation because I remember my brother and I having gargling contests sans salt when we were not even sick. There were points for loudest, longest and a special recognition for the ability to stand on one foot or juggle while continuing to gargle.

So you can imagine my surprise when, at the kitchen sink, I took a healthy slug of warm salt water from a cup and promptly swallowed it instead of gargling it. I tried a second time and the results were a spray covering a circumference of about three feet.

I stopped. What was I doing wrong?

I slowly lifted the cup to my lips and tried to remember what I had once done so easily. This time I didn’t swallow or spray and there were a few seconds of moving salt water in the back of my throat— but nothing close to the satisfying bubble action of my youth.

Maybe gargling is not like riding a bike.

Or maybe it is.

When I was five years old, I got my first two wheeled bike. I would walk it to the back of our hillside yard, get on and pedal towards the street. I had no trouble picking up speed, but quite a bit of trouble braking. In desperation I would run the bike into the shrubbery along the front stoop if our little row house. It worked. No matter how fast I was going the bike always came to a halt when I hit those bushes.

It would take some coaching and some practice, but eventually I learned to stop the bike by pushing back on the brake pedal with my foot.

Since I rode a bike all the way through college (no one had a car and the college was located in a corn field miles from civilization), I didn’t think I would have a problem when I swung my leg over a bike five decades later.

Maybe riding a bike and gargling are a lot alike after all.

Now I have to wonder what other skills have I allowed to go dormant so long that they have been lost?

The one consolation I have as I consider my losses is to remember all the things I know how to do now that I couldn’t do back then.

Maybe with a little more practice I can revive some of those things lost. Nurses say “watch one, do one and then teach one” to master a new skill.

So I googled “gargling”. (Googling is a skill I did not have in my gargling youth.)

Glory be! The instructions were there, complete with pictures. The part I had forgotten was to say “ahhhhh” while holding the water in my mouth with head thrown back. The instructions even ended with the last step which is to “remember to spit.”

Good to know.

Joy Sylvester-Johnson

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