Call it an occupational hazard.

I've never considered sports writing to be a particularly dangerous job. Oh sure, I've had my share of close calls, but never before last weekend have I ever had to receive emergency medical treatment.

The most dangerous assignment for someone in my position is high school football. There is always a chance some 250-pound 17-year-old will come barreling across the sidelines and body slam into me while my only pad is the one I'm writing on.

The solution is obvious — eternal vigilance. Idle chat on the sideline with coaches and co-workers is an invitation to pain. I am not only alert, but practical. I have forever been quick to recognize flying bodies hurtling toward the sidelines and take evasive action. I have sought refuge behind players, coaches, sideline observers, cheerleaders and water boys.

The caution has paid off. Only twice that I can remember have I ever been hurt in sideline collisions.

Once was in Healdsburg when I was blindsided by a bevy of flying bodies that took my feet out from under me in what I will always consider an illegal block. I fringed normalcy, but under my Levis were a number of bruises and abrasions.

The other was a more serious crash that occurred in Eugene, Ore. when I was covering a high school game for the Coos Bay World at Autzen Stadium on the University of Oregon campus. Those were the inaugural days of the synthetic turf. It offered about as much padding as finished concrete and, worse, could scar and elephant's rump. After being sacked by a solo tackler, I was marked by turf rash from neck to ankle. In the process, I also managed to obliterate a company camera.

But those instances are rare. Most of the danger comes from the wetness of fall and the cold of spring. I once had a pair of boots sucked right off my feet in the muck along the sidelines at Arnold Field in Sonoma and became so cold at a baseball game at Casa Grande that I shivered for a week.

Despite these and other like instances, sports writing isn't an inherently dangerous profession. I mean it's not being a policeman, fireman or bingo caller in a senior-citizen home.

But my job does have hidden dangers. I encountered one Saturday night when I failed to properly insert a very tasty hot dog into my esophagus. The result was a portion of my dinner severely lodged safely beyond my windpipe, but not far enough along the digestive trail to allow me to swallow even a few droplets of water.

I held out until Sunday morning, and finally ended in the emergency room at Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital, a sister hospital to Petaluma Valley Hospital.

I naively thought it would be over quickly. Just apply the Heimlich maneuver, squeeze and out would pop the offending morsel. I quickly learned it doesn't work that way.

Without lingering on the details, let me jump to the conclusion, which was me being drugged into some of the best sleep I've had in months, while a very competent physician removed the stopper, photographed and examined my esophagus and quickly moved on to his next mission of mercy.

An interesting side note to the whole affair was that everywhere I stopped on my journey through the hospital — emergency room, operating room, recovery room — when hospital staff found out I wrote about sports and had actually been to Williamsport, Penn., I obtained something like celebrity status. Everybody, it seems, knows about the Petaluma National Little Leaguers and I basked in their glow.

An unfortunate side effect of the whole odyssey is that I've almost completely lost my voice. I suspect that resulted from my efforts at home cure before I finally sought professional help. Whatever the cause, my voice is now something like the soft hiss of a goose, punctuated by the bellow of a bull moose in distress.

Conversation is close to impossible and a telephone exchange is out of the question. I suppose it is time I learned to text.

I'm not complaining — at least not too much. Like I said, it is just an occupational hazard.

(Contact John Jackson at johnie.jackson@arguscourier.com)