Friday, February 13, 2009

The Challenges of Eating

One of the ongoing challenges of having had major surgery (kidney, gall bladder, appendix) is the residual, long-term effects on how my body responds to food.

I feel sad and anxious when family or friends invite me to join them for dinner, and ask casually, "is there anything you don't like?" I know they're trying to be nice, and also reflect the fact that most people can eat most anything, but perhaps have a few things they don't like. For example, my partner eats just about anything, but would prefer that I don't serve creamed spinach or liver.

For me, I wish it were that easy. My list of what I can't eat far exceeds the list of what I can. And while there are some foods that I don't like -- such as creamed spinach or liver -- my list of "can'ts" really is that. If I eat certain foods like corn (any style), then I get really sick. Add to that reactions to certain naturally-found chemicals in foods, such as alkyloids, carotenoids, or salylicilates, and I am in trouble. Unfortunately, a lot of foods have these chemicals in them, including most vegetables and spices. Speaking of spices: don't! Arrrgh! Mexican, Indian, or Thai foods and chili are not my friends! I once loved beans, but... instead of making me gassy as they do most people, they cause severe intestinal distress. Then add to that my one major food allergy: mustard. Put even a few drops of mustard into a salad dressing, and don't tell me about it, and if I eat it, within a half-hour, anaphylaxis sets in. (I stop breathing. Then a trip to the hospital is in order.)

The problem is that I once had a well-balanced, varied diet. Then I had all these surgeries. When I recovered, I began to eat foods again that I had always liked and had eaten. At first the foods that didn't agree with me just made me uncomfortable. I liked how they tasted, so when I noticed at first that I was in discomfort after eating some foods, I would just take less next time. But then the problem got worse, and as I continued to react to these foods, I developed a mild case of colitis -- an inflamation of the colon. The colitis has become a permanent condition.

Doctors are baffled. Each and every one I have seen about my condition, including internists and dieticians with PhDs and all sorts of specialty degrees, have told me that they have never encountered anyone who reacts to food the way I do. At least I have some medical evidence to affirm that I am not just being "picky" when I decline to eat certain foods.

I live with this all the time. Now whenever I accidentally eat something I shouldn't, the next day, I'm in really bad shape. What's worse, I don't know immediately that I ate something that I should not have eaten. I will feel fine for about 18 hours after consuming something I should not... then I have to be within running distance to ... (well, you get it).

Once again I sigh deeply because tonight my niece is hosting our regular family dinner. She is a superb cook. She will be cooking a great meal, I guarantee it. She has quite a knack in the kitchen to create "masterpiece meals." My family always raves about her cooking. And when I go, I enjoy the camaraderie with my family, the jokes, the stories, the debate, ... and just sit there and sip water. My niece, bless her, has tried in the past to make "plain" foods for me, but she eventually gave up. It was too much trouble to make something separate for me and something elaborate for everyone else. I don't blame her.

Next week, my brother wants me to attend a soup-tasting dinner with his church group. I would love to go, to be with my brother, and to meet his friends. He sent me the menu on the dinner invitation. Ugggh... it looks great, but there is nary a thing on the menu that I can manage to tolerate. I mean, I can eat it and I probably would like it... then the next day, well... I will be in "prime reaction mode." And that won't work because I'll be on an airplane that day. Nothing is worse than having gastric distress and diarrhea on an airplane.

Oh fiddle-faddle. I hate having to live this way, but it's just a chronic condition that I have to live with. That is why I do all the cooking in our household, so I can control what is prepared, how it is prepared, the ingredients, and how it is served.

Ugggh... just an insight into how I have to live. It's not easy.

Life is short: wear your boots, and if you can eat what you like, then count your blessings. Buon appetito!


frglee said...

Sorry for you,it can't be nice. I'm about the same age as you and just had my gall bladder out after 8 months of agonizing nighttime attacks. Feel so much better now,but get the runs If I eat too much fat [so I now avoid fatty food] At the moment I got mild gout which limits what I should eat. These frikkin things are sent to try us..hope stuff settles down and you get well soon,mate!

Tef said...

I was still thinking about bringing you and your partner to all the top grub shops when you visit! Don't worry, we'll definitely have something here for you, if you fly over. :)