What started as a case of the hiccups has landed a father of four in the hospital for more than a week.
Micky Cheney, 39, was at work Nov. 5 making deliveries for UPS Inc. when he started hiccupping, according to his wife, Keri.
"He thought they'd just go away, but a couple of hours later, he still had them," said Keri Cheney, who lives in Acton, Maine, with her husband and children.
The hiccups lasted all day and through the night.
"The next thing you know, he's puking," said Keri Cheney. "I told him he had to go get checked out, but he was like, 'What am I going to do, go to the ER and tell them I have the hiccups?'"
Cheney did see a doctor, but prescription drugs and all the breath-holding he could muster was no match for the constant contractions. On Nov. 9, he checked into Maine Medical Center in Portland. And he's still there.
"He's lost 14 pounds since the time this started," said Keri Cheney, adding that her husband was "in perfect health" before the ordeal. "He throws up about 10 times a day, and has little bouts without hiccups after being sick. Then they come right back."
Strong sedatives help Cheney sleep, but the hiccups return "the second he opens his eyes," his wife said. "It's like some random, abnormal act of God."
A hiccup is a spasm of the diaphragm, the same muscle that contracts during a cough. The spasm causes a sudden inhalation that is cut off by another involuntary contraction further up the windpipe.
As many as 4,000 Americans are hospitalized each year because of hiccups, according to a 2002 study published in the Journal of the National Medical Association. Persistent hiccups can be caused by stress, nerve damage, tumors, infections and certain drugs. And depending on how long they last, they can cause weight loss, exhaustion and insomnia, according to the study.
"The most miserable part, I think, would be the lack of sleep and the associated fatigue," said Dr. John Clarke, clinical director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Neurogastroenterology in Baltimore. "And if you think about it, the muscles contracting are ones you use all the time but not with this amount of force. I'm sure it gets very sore and very uncomfortable."
The cause of Cheney's hiccups is unclear, although his doctors believe it might have to do with inflammation in his esophagus, according to Keri Cheney. And while the past 11 days have been rough, the longest bout of hiccups lasted 69 years and nine months, according to the 2002 study.
"I just hope someone will figure out what's wrong," said Keri Cheney. "I'm tired of watching my husband suffer."
For the Cheneys, hiccups are the latest, well, hiccup, since their September wedding.
"I had kidney stones right after we got married and had to have surgery," said Keri Cheney, who has spent the past seven nights curled up in a small chair beside her husband's bed while their children stay with family members. "We haven't had very good luck."