Friday, July 27, 2012

Make Do and Move On

One of the most awful things about having a blood infection, for nine years, is the loss of appetite. I used to eat anything I wanted. I didn't really think about food other than consuming it; I didn't care where it came from or what it had in it. If it tasted good, I would eat it. I expected to be able to continue eating what I wanted, when I wanted.

At the beginning of my illness, before anyone figured out what was really wrong, I woke up in the morning and immediately would get sick to my stomach. Then, I took a shower, threw my hair up on top of my head, wrangled on some sweats, and took six Advil because I could feel the fever starting. I usually had about forty five minutes after I woke up before my temperature started rising and if I didn't take a ton of Advil right away, it would easily reach 103 or 104 degrees. After this ritual, I was able to head out the door. I was always a mess and always late. I knew I was barely hanging on, but felt I didn't have a choice and did what ever I could do keep surviving and make it look like everything was fine.

I would usually head out to eat with a friend if I wasn't working. There were very few things I could stomach, so I would eat what I could and when I could. I didn't eat well at all. I ate a ton of take out  and restaurant food because I was just too tired for anything else. I became very angry that every single thing I ate would come up later, so I actually started to loathe eating or even discussing food. I wanted meals over with as soon as possible. My dreams of large family Thanksgiving dinners soon disappeared since I couldn't even tolerate most food. I also didn't know much about cooking other than a few casseroles and quick fix meals I learned while babysitting. Tacos, spaghetti, and other simple dishes were about the extent of my repertoire. The thought of learning how to cook at this point seemed silly and unachievable.

Some days I couldn't even make it out of my bedroom. I would have to succumb to the infection and get back in bed. Reading was uncomfortable because it was hard on my burning eyes, so when I wasn't sleeping, I would watch television. I couldn't really sit up on days like these, so the computer wasn't really an option either. I wasn't at the point yet where lying still and thinking were good things; I would just become more upset and feel angrier with my situation, so television it was.

Television is ridiculous and utterly boring when it is on all of the time.  People used to tell me how lucky I was to lie around and watch shows and read all day long, but believe me, it isn't all it is cracked up to be. I eventually learned to watch series like the Sopranos, Northern Exposure, and all kinds of movies, but this was at the beginning, and I wasn't very sick savvy yet. I did, however, watch Food Network and I loved it. I had favorite chefs and I watched their shows and became inspired to cook because I thought I might be able to eat. On days I felt well enough, I would try different recipes or have dinner parties to test out what I saw on Barefoot Contessa or Paula Deen. Cooking and preparing food started becoming one of my favorite hobbies.

I started cooking straight through the Barefoot Contessa books when I wasn't confined to the bed. There were amazing and delicious accomplishments and there were epic fails. Early on, I didn't have a food processor yet, but brilliantly decided to make Ina's Blue Cheese Coleslaw. Well, instead of shredding it, I decided I would slice it as thinly as possible. It basically ended up as huge chunks of cabbage in a blue cheese dressing. Edible, but not well done by any stretch of the imagination.

After my doctor correctly identified my infection and the antibiotics started kicking in, I began to eat again and discover how important nutrition is in my life. I changed all of my food and started eating only organic food that I cooked at home. I started paying attention to which foods offer what health benefits. I signed up with a local organic grocery delivery and drastically increased my fruit and vegetable intake. My love for cooking suddenly became the catalyst for eating well and when I began becoming aware and conscience of what I was putting in my body, I suddenly started healing faster and more consistently. Another bonus is, in the kitchen, it really doesn't matter if I am sitting down or not. I become immersed in the color, the smells and the measuring, chopping, and mixing. I forget about everything else and only concentrate on the food. It is the one place where I rarely have to think about my paralysis. In fact, I don't, unless I drop a huge, glass bowl of flour and it shatters all over the floor because I think I'm fancy and just tried to wheel across the room with the bowl balancing on my lap, while carrying a measuring cup of milk in one hand and wheeling with the other hand.

When I used to drop something or spill, I started cursing and then inevitably complaining to myself about my condition and how it makes everything harder, messier, and more frustrating. I'd think cooking wasn't for me after all. But, then I heard an archived Fresh Air interview with Julia Child. Terry Gross asked her why she wasn't afraid to make such a mess in the kitchen and was comfortable showing so many mistakes to her audience. Julia replied,"Anyone who spends time in the kitchen knows awful things happen and one just has to make do and move on." I felt like she was speaking to me. I was allowing the things I couldn't control affect the very thing I could control, my reaction and how I dealt with it. Now I know the mistakes are part of the process. Learning to deal with them and overcome them is what makes me a better cook.

My life is now harder, messier, and more frustrating. It generally takes me four times the amount of time to do something than it used to. But, this is my life now, and instead of fighting against the new normal and the fear of trying new things, I've finally learned to embrace it and do my absolute best with it. I'm happy and willing to follow the rules to stay healthy. I read all of the books and try to stay self-disciplined. But, I can't control everything. I can obtain as much knowledge and understanding as I want to, but the accidents don't cease from happening. And, when they do happen, the only thing I can do is "make do and move on" the best way I know how. That is all any of us is able to do. We can fight as hard as we want to stop the spills and prevent the illnesses, but when life doesn't work out the way we planned, or the way we want, we can either focus on how imperfect everything is or we can realize everything is already perfect, just as it is, messes and all.


  1. Risotto ? Easy? Are you kidding? Just joking around. I've made it a few times, but found I did not have the patience to keep waiting for the non-crunchy arborio rice to make an appearance. Your recipe sounds like a winner....I'll give it a try. Isn't cooking fabulous?

  2. I'm also trying to change the way I eat. I'm a rookie when it comes to eating healthy, but I am so willing to change it all for the better! Thank you for posting your Risotto recipe. Looking forward to giving it a try. :)

  3. I love your last sentence: "...when life doesn't work out the way we planned, or the way we want, we can either focus on how imperfect everything is or we can realize everything is already perfect, just as it is, messes and all."
    There is no 'perfect life', just my life. So I may as well enjoy it. :)

  4. Sarah--I am SO glad that I found your blog. I feel that I can relate to your thoughts and the things that you are saying, as I can with no one else. Thank you for that.

    I have recently been diagnosed with a chronic, life long condition that has changed my life dramatically. I am having a very hard time adjusting to it, and your words have helped. I am not at the point where I can accept my life as it is now. I still spend too much time thinking about how much I have lost and what I used to do that I can't now. I am trying to move on, but you will know, as most would not, that it is a process and can't be rushed. You have helped me to see that I will get there, on my own time.

    I just can't express how much your words mean to me. I wish you lived next door so I could get a dose of "Sarah sitting down" when I need a kick in the pants, and need to stop focusing on what might have been and being grateful for what will be.

    I can't say thank you enough. I'm looking forward to reading more posts, and getting my "sarah' medication on a regular basis.

  5. Girl -

    I like you attitude - life is perfect as is, messes and all. In the kitchen, as in doing so many other things, you cannot be afraid of failure. I figure that you always learn best through your worst mistakes. And BTW, Barefoot Contessa is my favorite chef by far. If we could all make it look as effortless as she does!


  6. May I ask what type of blood infection you have? One of my friend's kids has had ongoing fever and nausea and I want to let her know that this is a potential cause.

  7. I love what you had to say about realizing everything is perfect rather than focusing on the imperfections. That notion will stick with me...


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