“It feels like a heart attack kind of and it doesn’t go away for several hours. You can pretty much forget sleep when it happens,” he said.
If it happened during training camp, his workouts suffered. And it was especially bad if it came during fight week.
“It got to a point where it was really tough to deal with,” he said.
He started having trouble eating enough to maintain his weight. Then a middleweight, he weighed 182 pounds the day of his Yushin Okami fight at UFC 69 in April 2007. Okami would have cut weight to make 185 and then put on pounds in the hours leading to the fight.
Swick lost a decision and decided to move down to welterweight. He also started visiting a string of doctors in a bid to figure out what was wrong.
“It was just a nightmare,” he said.
“The doctors don’t have as much as info as you would think for a condition like this. So most of what they were doing for me was experimental.”
That included getting Botox injections in his esophagus.
“So while training for fighting and going and having these fights, I’m on all these medicines and procedures and it was just a big mess because none of them were helping. And they were making things worse, making it almost impossible to train.
“A lot of the medicine were sedatives so I was really weak during training.”
Swick’s penchant for over-training didn’t help either.
“My mind wants to train harder than my body can hold up. And so I basically I break my body and destroy it.”
Amazingly he won four more fights before taking on Dan (The Outlaw) Hardy at UFC 105 in November 2009 with a title shot on the line.
“I was going through the worst part of it during that fight,” he said of his health problems.
Swick lost by decision. Less than three months later, he was beaten by Thiago.
At one point between fights, he was afraid to go to the doctor for fear of what he might hear.
“Because I had just been misdiagnosed, I had tried all these experimental treatments, and then the new doctor diagnosed me with the esophageal spasm and I didn’t believe him any more. So I literally thought, thinking in my mind just because I had been through so much, I had something serious — like maybe something terminal.
“I thought these guys, they don’t know what’s going on. There’s no chance something this bad and this painful can be just no big deal.”
He returned after the fight and his doctor convinced him it was a bad case of esophageal spasm.
Swick put fighting aside while he tried to find a balance, determining what foods he can eat and those he can’t.
He managed to do that and returned to training, only to blow out his knee. Surgery and another lengthy delay followed.
The good news is it gave him more time to learn how to deal with the esophageal spasm.
“It works great, I have it under control,” he said. “It’s something I continue to live with and always will but it doesn’t affect my training any more. It doesn’t affect my strength, my conditioning, my cardio. In fact it’s put me in better shape because I’ve been forced to eat healthier than I’ve ever eaten before.
“And the side effect of that is you feel great.”
He can no longer eat garlic, spice and pepper or anything acidic. Oranges are out. He avoids caffeine and can only manage chocolate in very small quantities.
Today his diet includes vegetables and unseasoned chicken, meat and fish. Coconut water is a fave, as is wheatgrass, and he uses avocado a lot.
At first, he says his diet was “horrible.” But he gradually learned what he could use to make things interesting without upsetting his body.
“It’s about mixture,” he said. “I have a lot of stuff to work with so I can mix and match and create new recipes.”
“Me ordering in a restaurant is very interesting.”
One positive from his long layoff is that Swick believes it has helped preserve a body that has seen 19 pro fights and more than 20 amateur bouts.
“You feel them all on the body, considering I’m getting older now,” he said. “But I feel great. I definitely can say I’m in the best shape I’ve ever been in.”
While he has escalated his cardio and conditioning, he is taking or precautions in sparring, just to be on the safe side. He wears more protective gear than he used to and is more cautious grappling.
Today he says he is stronger than before, having survived all his health issues.
“This was definitely a test. And it was tough.”