Below is a short excerpt of an essay I wrote that is part of an anthology edited by Kelly Jensen available now by Workman Publishing, Body Talk: 37 Voices Explore Our Radical Anatomy. For more, check out the latest episode from the Disability Visibility podcast featuring an interview with Kelly.
Ode to A Spit Cup
Spit. Drool. Saliva. Our bodies secrete this clear liquid everyday up to 1-2 liters a day. Depending on your hydration, diet, medication, and other factors, saliva can be watery, sticky, bubbly, and infused with whatever is in your mouth at the moment. Bodily fluids can be endlessly fascinating and I developed a brand new respect for saliva due to my increased difficulty with swallowing.
I consider my power chair an extension of my body. It is part of my personal space and sense of self. In the last few years, I gained another bodily extension: my spit cup.
What is a spit cup? Very simply, it’s a paper cup I keep nearby so I can spit my saliva rather than swallowing it. I was born with a neuromuscular disability meaning all of my muscles progressively weaken. Over time, the direction of my body’s trajectory always headed downward, its pace unknown. I stopped walking around the age of 7 and developed scoliosis that required a spinal fusion surgery at 14. Complications after this surgery added new concerns on top of lack of mobility. As my diaphragm muscles weakened, being able to sleep and breathe became a major issue. I had breathing treatments with a nebulizer and intermittent positive pressure breathing machine, used oxygen at night, and other interventions that kept me going until I developed respiratory failure at 18. With severe sleep apnea, I needed to sleep at night with a BiPap machine or else I could die from respiratory failure.
I can still swallow but it’s actually quite tiring over a single day. The spit cup provides a short cut and a way to preempt possible aspiration in case things go down the wrong pipe. My spit cup has become my new friend, a brilliant adaptation, and a source of wonderment.