Blogepilogue

So I never came back as I promised to, did I? Until now.

Where have I been? At the end of 2007, right after Christmas, I very suddenly became bedridden. It happened almost literally overnight. And I thought I
 would bounce back some, as I always had up to that point, but I 
didn’t. So two weeks into 2008, I resigned from my job, which I had been 
doing from home since mid-2006.

What caused it? I stopped being 
able to sleep in October 2007. One night I went to bed and I just
 couldn’t fall asleep. Same thing the next night, and then the third
 night I slept for two hours. Then two days without sleep and then
 another two hours. We started trying over the counter stuff, which
 didn’t work, and then prescription stuff. After a few months of almost
 no sleep, I couldn’t walk, couldn’t stand, couldn’t sit up. Bedridden.

In
the process of trying to find something to get me to sleep, a doctor
 who failed to warn me what I was getting into had me on 2 mg of
 Klonopin, which quickly turned on me. I started a six-month hell of
 withdrawal in March of 2008. In May, we moved me from California to my
 mom’s house in Indiana, via air ambulance. And I went downhill all the
way through 2008. In the fall of that year my sleep drugs failed and I
 again went months without sleeping. Already totally bedridden, I believe
 I came pretty close to dying. I couldn’t lift a glass, couldn’t move my 
legs, my heart was going crazy, and the lack of sleep and another poorly-tolerated drug threw me
 into a sheer hell of paranoia and delusion.
 
At the beginning of
 2009, because of a fortunate leftover forgotten prescription for a
 soporific muscle relaxant from that same stupid doctor who’d prescribed
 the Klonopin back in California, I survived a couple months by finally
 getting a little sleep. Then in spring of 2009, with the combination of
an off-label prescription for an anti-psychotic and a new beta blocker
 (both of which I’m still on), I started to get some full nights of sleep
 for the first time in a year and a half.

Soon after that, we heard from Dr. Cheney,
 a prominent ME/CFS doctor whose waiting list I’d been on for a year and
a half. He could see me in June. So in June 2009, we took me – lying
 down in the back of my mom’s SUV – from Indiana to his clinic in 
Asheville, North Carolina. I spent two full days with him. He told me 
that of all the patients he’d seen in his twenty-five years of treating
 ME/CFS, I was among the half-dozen most severely affected.

When
 we left North Carolina, we took me to Pennsylvania, where Chimp had 
bought us our first house, near the college at which he’s now teaching. 
Once we got there, it took me a couple months to recover from the trip.
 While that was going on, it took about 90 days to add each medicine and 
supplement Dr. Cheney had prescribed, carefully, one by one, to avoid
 confounding any negative reactions.

Slowly, after about another
 three months, I started noticing tiny, tiny improvements. After six 
months, a little bit more. I could pet a cat a little. I could type a 
sentence or two. I could participate in a conversation for a few 
minutes. By Christmas Day 2009, I was able to walk the twenty feet from
 my dayroom to lie down in the living room to visit with my in-laws,
 who’d come up from Maryland. By March of 2010, I was able to walk to the
bathroom again – something I hadn’t been able to do since 2007.

At
this point – a bit more than halfway through 2010 – I’m still
 technically bedridden. But there are gradations of bedriddenness,
 believe me. In 2008, I literally could not get out of bed and walk
 across the room. Right now, I wake up in the morning in my bed, walk the
20 feet to the couch in my dayroom, and lie back down there, where I
 spend my days. Most days, if I want to, I’m able to get a snack out of 
the pantry five feet away. I can walk to the bathroom a couple times a
day. If I’m having a particularly good day, I’m able to get up and walk
 10 feet or so to the kitchen table and sit there for a few minutes,
 talking with Chimp. I’d say I’m about 98% bedridden.

So all of
 that’s why I’ve never been back. And because I remain bedridden, I don’t
have any plans to start blogging again. I miss the food business. I
 miss cooking even more. I miss the grocery store and my friends at the 
farmer’s market. I miss blogging somewhat less than all of those things,
 I’ll admit, but I did enjoy it.

The other thing that’s happened since I disappeared is the paper in the journal Science about the retrovirus XMRV.
 That’s what Dr. Cheney thinks my illness will eventually proved to be
caused by. (I’ll be tested sometime this year, when the “green
fluorescent protein” assay is introduced.) The XMRV discovery is huge,
 and it’s done so much for my sense of hopefulness – even though it
 possibly means I have an incurable retrovirus! Someday – hopefully soon –
there’ll at least be some treatment for my illness, and those of us who
are suffering will be believed – and vindicated.

 

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What’s In the Box

After I picked up the box last night, I was too swamped with cooking and work to get to this then, so here it is on Thursday lunchtime.

We have in the box this week:

Red Roasting Potatoes (Wonder if these will be as incredibly sweet as the Yukon Golds from last week?)
Sweet 100s Cherry Tomatoes
Nakata’s August Red Nectarine (These will probably be the last nectarines I’ll eat this year. Where did the season go?)
Soghomonian’s (Three Sisters) Ribier Grapes (big, black, seedy and sweet)
Genovese Basil
Romaine Lettuce
Roma Tomatoes
Fair Hills’ Gala Apples (I’ve resigned myself to the fact that apple season is here – I don’t like it yet, but I’ve at least accepted it.)
Baby Leek (Not “leeks” but “leek” – as you can see, there’s one diminutive leek in the box. I tucked it into the bag of shallots and onions I have in the fridge because when I went to wrap it up all by itself it looked so lonely. I guess it’s because it so resembles a scallion, and both they and leeks usually come in bunches with all their friends…)
White Garlic
Italian Frying Peppers
Italian Zucchini

When I was driving over to get the box I was absolutely exhausted from the day’s several long phone calls for work. I had some dal in the fridge, but I’d already had that for lunch, and I was trying to think of what I could possibly manage to make for dinner, considering that at that moment I could hardly stand up.

Once I opened the box I was relieved to see its contents. Summer vegetables are so easy to work with. I knew I had some cooked chickpeas in the fridge – this is like having cooked chicken breasts for an omnivore, I think, in that they can go any which way. I minced some garlic, chopped up some plum tomatoes I’d gotten from Michele on Saturday, a zucchini and some basil from the box, started some water boiling, and in no time was enjoying a little tomato and zucchini stew with chickpeas over whole-wheat pasta.

“A good dinner doesn’t have to be complicated,” I thought.

Looking at what was in the box, I also decided to whip up some whole-wheat pizza dough, making another iteration, with another small change, to the food processor-kneaded recipe I’ve been working on perfecting all summer (it’s almost there, I swear). By the time I was done with dinner, feeling refreshed and had put the food away, the dough was ready to be made into crusts.

I topped the pizzas with sliced plum tomatoes and frying peppers from the box plus some onions, and a nice layer of fresh mozzarella and Dry Jack cheeses. (I had to photograph this pizza under a mix of incandescent and florescent light, which is not very flattering…I tried the “night portrait” mode on my camera too, but it made the pizza look like a deer in the headlights somehow.)

Sometimes I surprise myself. I thought I was going to come back with the box and be forced to collapse for the evening, but a little dinner and a little rest really helped. When I went to bed last night, I was feeling some of the feeling of tiredness after an active day, which is so pleasant as compared to the all-encompassing exhaustion that I constantly carry around to varying degrees. I can tell today that I pushed myself a little too much, but I’ll take it easy and hopefully I’ll stay on an even keel tomorrow.

When Chimp came home from work late in the evening, I said, “You only have two choices for dinner. I made a chickpea stew with tomatoes and zucchini, or there’s pizza.”

“Pizza?!” he said, dropping his bag and heading for the kitchen.

“I knew all you’d do was complain,” I told him.

Might Not Post For A Bit

(Squeamish alert: kitchen injury described below.)

I accidentally got some fingertip in the fennel last night (bad hand positioning; I know better but was tired and was not being careful) and my left ring finger is out of service for a while, rendering me unable to touch type. I can still write longhand, but as my Tablet PC died a couple months ago and our scanner no longer has a working driver, that’s not much of a posting option.

This is, would you believe, in all the years I’ve been cooking, the first time I’ve had a mishap like this. I feel like an idiot, because, as mentioned above, I know better.

The initial adrenaline rush and subsequent stress of the situation were exhausting enough to knock down my functioning a bit – I had to send Chimp to the market today, as I just wasn’t feeling well enough to stand up for that long.

So I have been laying low, keeping my hand elevated to reduce swelling, watching cooking shows on PBS (ah, how I love the obsessive-compulsive nature of America’s Test Kitchen…makes me feel not so alone in the world…), being grateful for these and generally feeling sorry for myself. Well, mostly for my finger.

Hot Plants

My rosemary is recovering.

I nearly did it in this summer. The combination of July’s heat wave and my relapse – the first of which coincided with and seemed to have a hand in the other – both put forth their best effort to snuff the spiky, resinous life from it.

It had seemed to be holding its own in the heat, and then one morning before breakfast I looked out the kitchen window while washing my hands and noticed it had become yellow, dry, and sickly-looking. Nothing else looked that great around that time either – the sage was getting leggy and sunburned, and even the mint looked a bit peaked. The two basil plants I’d put in the week before everything went south with my health and the weather had looked so green and hopeful when they first went into the ground and had been promptly chewed down to the roots by the local roof rats.

And I, my fever roiling, having lost another five pounds I didn’t have to spare, and only able to summon the energy to shower every third day, caught a dim glimpse of my reflection in the pane’s glare as I replaced the oversized cake of olive oil soap in its wood and wire holder with a small clatter and lathered my hands in an unconscious rhythm.

I wasn’t looking so hot either.

I always wanted to grow rosemary, and Fresno was my first real chance. My mother-in-law, a formidable gardener who has the sort of graceful, unstudied-looking yard full of exuberant azaleas and lush greenery that is the result of more than 20 years of diligent, thoughtful work and smart plant choices, told me that in the mid-Atlantic, where I grew up, there are two ways to overwinter rosemary.

“You can bring it inside and kill it, or you can leave it outside and kill it.”

Not so Fresno. I’ve been amazed to see rosemary, huge boxwood-sized amounts of it that clearly take the better part of a decade to grow, acting as a hedge. You could roast all the potatoes in town and not use half of a plant that size. And you can hardly find one – let alone two – ways to kill it. It loves this climate.

So I’ve been growing some in a container since last summer. I probably should have moved it out of the sun somewhat when the heat wave came, but I never had the energy to do it or direct Chimp to do so. Really, he didn’t need another thing to do, what with trying to keep me fed and somewhat comfortable and from constant tears. When I asked him about its fading appearance, he told me he was watering the plants; even constant watering wasn’t enough to prevent ill effects from that streak of 115-degree days.

After the heat broke, after that string of ten days during which I didn’t leave the house, after I got back the ability to sit up, and bathe, and stand for a minute or two, I started watering the plants again from time to time. It wasn’t much of an herb garden this year. It seems like I was too busy with and tired from a schedule full of research projects during the spring, and I hadn’t gotten around to planting dill or summer savory or parsley or cilantro or even basil early on. But I did have what had overwintered – the sage, and the mint, the two kinds of thyme, the Greek oregano, the winter savory – and the rosemary.

Week by week, the rosemary sheds a few more of the yellow leaves it was nearly overcome by. I find them in the chips and on the ground around the container when I turn the hose toward it. I set the sprayer on “jet” to blow out the webs that the spiders seem to love to build in it, and a few more dead leaves come off. The fiercely propelled water raises its piney fragrance, and I run my hands through the plant, plucking off a discolored piece or two and picking up its aromatic gum on my skin in the process. I bring my hand up and inhale deeply.

I’ve seen this plant through a summer and a winter and another summer. Actually, that’s not quite right – I’ve watched this plant through that time, and I’ve given it a bit of supplemental water and a better-than-average soil. It keeps going, den of weaving spiders and heat waves notwithstanding. It is made for this place. I wish such adaptation and resilience for myself.

Trying

I had gotten much better…I was almost there, almost back to functioning. I even took a couple pictures on Saturday when I put most of the day’s energy into a massive peach crisp. Then on Sunday night I caught the cold that Chimp picked up during his first week back on campus, and that has laid me up ever since. I am done with the sore throat, on to the massive head congestion segment and am shifting from the sneezing stage to the coughing stage. In terms of my usual personal cold progression, that means I am slightly more than halfway done with this thing.

The peach crisp was delicious. Here are the victims sacrificed for it:

Uphill

I apologize for being absent for so long; I’m on the slow slog back to functioning again.  It gets boring about now – not that it’s particularly exciting to be really, really sick, but at least there are notable and dramatic things to report when really, really sick, like, “I couldn’t manage to sit up for more then ten minutes today.”

Now I’m to that point where I’m able to care for myself and not abjectly miserable but still subpar and subnormal. I went to the office for about four hours yesterday; Chimp drove.  I didn’t feel that tired when I woke up this morning, but I found myself working reclined rather than sitting up, which is probably my body telling me that I did more than I thought.

There are all sorts of great food things going on in the last couple weeks that I haven’t blogged on – we’ve had the miniscule grapes they use to make currants in our CSA box, and I’ve had some phenomenal Rose Concord grapes from Fred Smeds of Savage Island Farm.  It’s fig time in Fresno – the Fig Fest was on Saturday August 12 at the farmer’s market.  We’ve also had a quart box of figs in our CSA box two weeks in a row.  There aren’t many places where you can get local figs. This is about it.

I touched on that when Chimp was unpacking the vegetables and I was putting five kinds of plums into a bowl after a short trip to the farmer’s market yesterday afternoon. I said, “There may be things I don’t like about Fresno, but this is not one of them.”