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Julia’s Weekly Column For The Middy – Sometimes answers come from the most unexpected places

Here’s an odd but essential life lesson I learnt recently: do not snack on pickled onions whilst tidying overhead!

I do love a crisp tangy pickled onion, and feeling a little peckish I popped a whole one into my mouth as I started the kitchen tidy-up.

I bopped around the kitchen putting things away, including the cereal box, which lives on top of the tall fridge freezer. As I looked up, my pickled onion pieces shot to the back of my throat and suddenly I was choking. Vinegar was projected into my nose, and for a moment I thought this might be the end.

But my natural protective mechanisms had kicked in, and the coughing had dislodged the worst already. I noticed that I could in fact breathe, but the delicate tissues of my throat, palate and nose were deeply outraged by the unexpected presence of acidic liquids.

I was puce and nauseous, but alive. I could feel pieces of onion in places where they should never be, but then I had a brain wave. This explained so much!

I have quite regularly come across cats who suddenly start coughing and spluttering. They behave as if they have got something stuck in their throats or noses, and in a fair number of these cases, once anaesthetised we find a blade of grass caught in their throat and passing up above the soft palate and right into the nose.

I have often wondered how on earth that grass blade gets there. As it happens so regularly – I see several a year – it can’t be just bad luck. We know that cats occasionally ‘graze’ on grass. Could it be that they inhale a grass blade by mistake into a nostril which then works backwards through the nasal chambers finishing with one end in the throat?

Now I knew I was imagining it the wrong way round. They must be chewing on a piece of grass (don’t ask me why!) and then trying to swallow it. Perhaps they look up, cough a little, and the next thing is that the blade rearranges itself, bypassing the end of the palate and reversing back up towards the nose. Cue dramatic coughing, choking and sneezing!

Being satisfied that I had solved a veterinary mystery that had perplexed me for years made it much easier to cope for days with blowing onion pieces out of my nose, and having all my food taste of vinegar!

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