Real food

Referring to food that moves closer to the full range of food, including items that would present challenges to someone who’s had their gall badder removed (as I had, a month ago). Fats and animal protein, especially red meat protein, are a problem for many people post-surgery, for months. (A vivid and seriously distasteful account of these problems can be found in my 6/26/23 posting “Return again”, about my second return from Stanford Hospital, a month ago, following the gall bladder surgery.)

Before I go on, a note: For quite some time now I have carefully avoided posting about my medical conditions and their treatment, because, despite my explicit warnings, well-meaning friends could not keep themselves from offering me advice about what to do — thereby making my life that much more difficult, because I had to cope with each of these pieces of advice, instead of tending to my self-care. I have lost my patience. The current deal is that, if you now offer me such advice, I will not only fail to respond, but I will cut you out of my life forever. No exceptions, I don’t care who you are: behave decently, or I will smite you.

(I hear people whining: but *I* have the answer, and you really need to hear it! I *care* about you! Suppress these thoughts, or suffer the consequences.)

I’ll start in medias res, with a little story from yesterday. I was having a very early lunch yesterday (since breakfast comes between 3 and 4 in the morning, lunch tends to come around 9 or 10, because I’m ravenously hungry then. Lunch is typically soup (more on the soups below) or green salad greens with a dressing (the makings, in plastic bags, can be ordered in from Safeway). Yesterday I had a hankering for something more substantial, and did a Grubhub order from the shop New York New York in downtown Palo Alto (which mostly offers sandwiches): their Lox Delight — a bagel (I chose sesame) with lox and cream cheese, plus cucumber slices and arugula.

Critical comments: not the world’s best bagel and lox, but entirely satisfactory: it’s a real bagel, not a toroid of baked bread (not a prize-winning bagel, but on an ok one, and satisfactorily chewy), with decent cream cheese and equally decent lox. And I enjoy the crunchiness of the cucumber slices and the bite of the arugula, versus the more customary capers and chopped onion.

I was slowly and carefully consuming this bagel, with great pleasure, when my helper León (whose English is minimal) arrived to begin his day of doing things for me. He was baffled by the bagel with lox, no part of which was familiar to him, except the cucumber slices, and of course the English words bagel and lox were utterly unfamiliar to him. I don’t think I did a good job of explaining any of this, and of course I made no attempt to explain the role of bagels and lox in Jewish life in America. In the end, I think he was just satisfied that the stuff wasn’t dangerous in any way (he’s very protective of me) and seemed to be giving me great pleasure.

Now: there are two parts to my story: the part about why there is all this care in food selection in my recuperation, which means talking about the details of my afflictions and their care. This is all the stuff I haven’t been posting about, though it’s a source of daily negotiations with various doctors and with my caregivers. Much of this is seriously icky — feces galore — but the trend of the story is wonderfully upbeat; I’m in pretty good shape now, and I feel really good.

The second part is a lot more fun, since it’s about the food, which has gradually evolved from pleasurable but easy for my body to handle to more challenging stuff. I dream of pastrami sandwiches and carnitas and the like, but I’m not there yet. But, with great care not to waken the diarrhea bear, I’m moving step by step in that direction. With real success: four days of clean pants (I live in industrial strength adult diapers). I’m managing to find genuinely pleasurable food that I can handle, and then ways of moving to new things, like yesterday’s bagel with lox (which was a great success).  Safeway’s Signature Cafe chicken tortilla soup (in a plastic container) is a current big favorite: the chicken (which is animal protein, but not red meat) is in occasional small chunks, very well cooked and gentle in texture. Meanwhile, in the salad department, I have easily moved to composing my own salads of fresh greens with seafood salad (including chunks of fish and shrimp), which seem to be entirely unproblematic.

Part 1: the diarrhea bear. Ferocious is the diarrhea bear. Just back from the hospital, I would be repeatedly subject to monumental eruptions of liquid feces, totally overwhelming even my industrial strength diapers and spraying the stuff everywhere. My poor caregivers ended up having to clean the stuff up from all over the house (as I attempted to get from the chair at my work table to the bathroom), several times having to deep clean the carpeting in my living room. It happened during the day, it happened at night (when I’m on my own, so I had to learn to clean myself and my environment up and change into fresh diapers — a very long and exhausting task).

Word was that the diarrhea bear just came with the surgery — your body had to learn to deal with food in a new way, without the aid of bile — and would endure for a long time, possibly months. You could live on a bland and unchallenging diet, but the diarrhea was going to hang on anyway.

As it turns out, my body has been accommodating to its new mode of life surprisingly fast. First, with some moderation in the ferocity of the eruptions, so I was still messing my pants, but more manageably. I became really skilled at cleaning myself up and getting installed in a fresh diaper (the latter task is very difficult for me, because of my limitations on the movement of my limbs: I have to pick up one foot with my hand and carefully guide it into the correct hole in the diaper, then do the same with the other foot; it’s really tiring work). Then, I began getting signals that the bear was about to attack, so if I moved fast, I could get to the toilet in time. Then, the bear only attacked a bit after I had eaten a meal, so I could be on the alert for the signal.

That’s were I am now. It’s all kind of fraught, but I’m managing it, and have had clean diapers for four straight days now. So I could go to a doctor’s appointment at PAMF today, unconcerned that I might shit my pants in the doctor’s office.

I would take credit for this advance, but it seems to be something that my body has just done on its own.

Meanwhile: this is far from being fully healed, but it’s a significant way station on the road.

Part 2: finding food. Food that is both manageable for my body as it is at the moment and pleasurable.

When I first came home from the hospital, I had a very brief period of minimally challenging food: plain yogurt for breakfast, easy to digest foods otherwise: clear soups, bananas, plain cooked rice (which you can get in little cups that just have to be warmed up in the microwave). Then, very quickly moving to fiber foods (yogurt on granola for breakfast, berries — especially blueberries, which I love — beans, and more) and salads with fresh greens. And more. As I wrote above:

Safeway’s Signature Cafe chicken tortilla soup (in a plastic container) is a current big favorite: the chicken (which is animal protein, but not red meat) is in occasional small chunks, very well cooked and gentle in texture. Meanwhile, in the salad department, I have easily moved to composing my own salads of fresh greens with seafood salad (including chunks of fish and shrimp), which seem to be entirely unproblematic.

(My standard breakfast now involves a hefty base of granola, plus nut and dried fruit trail mix and a pile of blueberries, with Greek yogurt (unflavored) and milk.)

Safeway has a whole line of these soups, including a clear lobster bisque suitable for liquid diets and several very nice chunkier soups, including a minestrone, chicken noodle soup, jambalaya and broccoli cheddar soup.

I regularly amend the chicken tortilla soup with rice (a cup of that precooked rice) and some fine salsa verde for a bit of bite. It’s wonderful.

Safeway also offers a variety of prepared salads: seafood salad, basil pesto pasta salad, potato salad, macaroni salad, tuna salad, and more. Plus a big plastic box of spring greens, which I use as a base for adding two other salads as dinner. (Tonight: macaroni salad and seafood salad.) Very satisfying.

Now I’m wondering where to go next in ordering up prepared foods. Several of my favorite restaurant meals should now be in my range. Sushi with edamame beckons.


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