Tastes Like Metal

Leeks, garlic, parsley, yams, sweet potato and parsley, beautifully photographed still life.

There were many many many many and many ingredients in the Magick Mineral Broth. Of course there were carrots, onions, celery and potatoes. But that would not be very magic.

The recipe calls for leeks and garlic, too. Not only that, but sweet potatoes (preferably Japanese) and garnet yams. The spice mix included the standard bay leaf and peppercorns plus the flavor and medicinal value add of juniper berries–just don’t substitute gin. Added to the boil, just so you really had to go a fancy grocery, was kombu–also known as seaweed sheets. It adds a bit of fullness of flavor, like saltwater with fish.

You can drink it warm for breakfast. You can add noodles and an egg and eat a bowl full of soup. You can use it as a base for another soup. You can put it on your cereal.

Seriously, I might as well have.

The technique is simple enough, throw everything in a big pot of water, boil the hell out of it and add salt to taste.

I got this recipe from a cancer cookbook I ordered. The idea was to use this combo of beautiful, healthy, colorful foods to prep my body for chemo and to make myself less unwell after treatment. To be honest, I think that the real purpose was to give myself a mindless yet mindful project. Distraction from the unknown. You’ve heard about an idle mind?

You don’t know what chemo does. And different combos have different impacts. And those impacts will be different for different folks. Will you be puking? Hair falling out? Just generally feeling gross? Will your feet and hands feel like sand? Will you hurt? Get sores in your mouth? Will you be cold? Hot? Exhausted? Couch or bed bound? And, behind all those unknowns is the real question, the one you don’t want to ask. Will this poison cocktail work?

Preparing the broth, the rich golden elixir full of antioxidants and magical minerals, was a step into something knowable. I could cut and cook. I could control that part. I could calm–or at least distract–my active imagination.

So, I chopped and I boiled and I added salt. It topped off my 12 quart stock pot. I disposed of the spent vegetables. Then I strained it into a many large jars. The magical mystery broth makes a ton of soup.

Later, I used a cup or so and made the noodle bowl. It tasted very good that day. I think I tweeted about how awesome it was.

And then I never touched it again. The jars sat in the fridge for a while until I made the Spouse spill out the contents into the sink and wash it away.

To this day, three years later, when I think of that magical broth, the smell, the taste, even the color, I feel a little sick. As I’m typing the words that described me eating it, that described pouring it into tall Mason jars, my stomach is getting queasy and I’m swallowing thickening saliva.

That liquid that extracted all the flavor and benefits from the ingredients tastes like chemo to me. The drugs are pumped into a port in your chest, but the scent and the taste get in the back of your mouth and violate the tastebuds at the back of your tongue. I think of the golden soup and I think of drinking something made from cheap metals that would turn your finger green. The minerals tasted more like slate and pencil shavings and solder.

So I had it that one day and I couldn’t take it again. I decided that I hated that book, too. The Cancer Cookbook or some stupid name. It did have some great advice–to avoid eating your favorite foods on the days surrounding treatment. They said that chemo could ruin them for you. Forever.

Chemo sucked, but it didn’t ruin my taste for dark chocolate with hazelnuts–or dark chocolate anything. It did, however, turn me against that awful veggie broth. Oh, and two months ago I left the cancer cookbook in my local Little Free Library. I hadn’t opened it again. Not since I cooked up that nasty broth three years ago. Maybe someone else can use the distraction. Me? Not looking back.

Secret Passage

This is a stylized view of a sunflower napkin ring on a paisley tablecloth. It is an image that makes you think of something else. I bet people treating cancer patients think of something else all the time.

The doctor walked out into the hall. He looked tired. He was tired.

The offices and treatment rooms were laid out in a way that he could escape. Escape from those he treated.

He didn’t just treat the sick. He treated the well. The well that were sometimes more terrified than his actual patients. The well who were worried that their beloved sicks would be neglected.

The doctor didn’t neglect anyone. He just couldn’t save them all. When they met him, they were already diagnosed. He was an oncologist. So their illness was cancer.

Cancer isn’t a death sentence. He explained that to those who were referred to him. That said, sometimes people with cancer die. People look to him for their stage. Staging is important. If you’re Stage 1, you feel okay. If you’re Stage 4, you think you’re dead. You might be. Or maybe not.

But the Doctor sees you no matter your stage. And does their best to keep you in the “not dead” category. But it’s their best. And as good as they may be, some will move to the dead category.

But not today. The Doctor was very tired. There was a ten-day medical education thingie that he was still feeling. He’s not a resident anymore!

But, today he saw you, with your biggest, winning smile cemented by yesterday’s tooth polishing at the dentist. Your hair was growing beyond it’s style, sticking out at the back and around your ears like a 70’s Keith Partridge.

You were bronzed from a week at the beach and the last MRI was clean. He told the fourth-year medical student how you helped develop a new treatment protocol. They talked coded doctor talk a bit. Not to be rude, but because they were excited.

But the oncologist still looked tired. You saw him before he was excited. When he left via the back entrance. The secret staff exit from the chemo bar. You were late. You sheepishly signed in and then met up with the money taker. Next:  your blood work. Then you surreptitiously snuck to the restroom–the one behind the elevators–before you got your blood pressure (117/70), temp (98.4°) and weight (none of your fcuking business) took.

When you got to the bathroom, it was occupied. So you stood, legs crossed, and waited.

You looked up when you heard a rustle at the far end of the hallway. You thought someone had found the stairwell that was invisible to you. Oncology was only a single floor up, but the corridor to the steps was like the room of requirements, only there if you knew it.

When you looked up, you saw a rumpled man with a stethoscope snaked around his neck. He was leaving from the secret staff exit. He looked up to see you doing the pee-pee dance. You gave a broad, silent wave. He gave a half wave from around his belt just before he opened the door across from the stairwell and disappeared. Into his retreat. Where he could collect himself. Away from the hope(lessness) of the chemo bar.

He’s a good doc. He needs a break. You don’t want him to break. He’s doing god’s work.

Air Valve

A pile of sugar in a spoon. It might be a teaspoon, but it's hard to be exact.

Dear lord. It started with a misplaced sip of water. The bubble started from my throat, or maybe it’s my gut. Either way it builds to a very tight wad of air until it bursts a few inches below my chin.

Damn. Did I just get the hiccups? I wait to see.

You don’t really know if it’s the hiccups until the second one. I mean, you can feel that it might be, but, until you get the rhythmic spasms, you hold hope that it isn’t going to stick.

My chest almost tightens and the air explodes. Some of the air shoots out of my nose in a very uncomfortable fashion. It’s almost effervescent, but not nicely so. Effervescent in that citric acidy way that burns your nostrils. A subset of the air from my tight chest, almost concurrently with the nose release, reverses back down and erupts in my esophagus just above my stomach. This is also not pleasant.

There’s a burst of belchy air that escapes from my mouth. This is the part I really hate. The air doesn’t as much escape as expel through my lips at a disturbingly high speed. This happens via some unknown muscle in the back of my throat. This muscle curls onto itself. It creates a very tight spring, and when it lets go it shakes the top half of my body. I am not exaggerating. I visibly convulse a bit.

The air rushes through my voicebox on the way to my mouth to create a squeaky “hic” sound. A sound that seems so silly and gentle. But that sound belies the violence of the air jetting out.

It doesn’t hurt. Not at first.

Even though I am alone, my hand rushes to my mouth to excuse myself. It’s just polite to avoid spreading air spewing from your gut across the room.

I wait.

Yes, there. Damn. Although the hiccups are rhythmic, it’s a syncopated beat. A beat without rhyme or reason. Hiccups are erratic and random–except that they will repeat. For too long. Sometimes they’re fast and furious, but more often they tease you into thinking that they are over. Until they are not over but instead causing pain in your chest and your throat.

Mind races to the list of cures. A teaspoon of sugar. Or of vinegar. Or hot sauce or honey. Covering your mouth with a paper bag and slowly inhaling and exhaling into that bag. Drinking a glass of water through a paper towel or with a spoon hanging underneath your tongue. Then there’s fright–but you know it’s coming so it rarely works.

Or writing a post about it. Seriously. They are gone. I love this blog!