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Friday, November 25, 2011

The Yellow Turkey


I will always remember two Thanksgivings ago as the day I hit bottom. I suffered those extreme hot and cold flashes (burn and freeze flashes, more accurately). I experience “flashes” of hot and cold now, but it’s not the same thing. The debilitating severity of the ones following my second surgery made it impossible to do (or even think of) anything else. If I read a book, a moment lost in thought would send me into swings where—in the span of a few minutes—I would feel my bones freeze, then my body burn in an oven, then my bones freeze again, then my body burn in an oven again. For many days I did little else besides perch on the edge of the sofa and pray the combination of clothing I wore would keep my temperature stabilized. It felt like balancing on a basketball while wearing roller skates.

Back then I was alone with MJ and Noah as Thanksgiving came and went. MJ cooked up a large feast, filling the house with aromas from our childhoods, hoping it would spark some kind of healing in me. My kind of woman, I have to tell you, using food to motivate me like that. I get a brain tumor and MJ goes to the grocery store. It worked. But it took a long time to work. On that day, with the table full of glorious creations, I eased myself into a chair at our dining table and I couldn’t eat. It was that bad. It occurred to me then if I didn’t get any better I wouldn’t be able to go on.

This Thanksgiving it was just the three of us again as I nursed other ailments, the red dot in my vision chief among them. The hot and cold flashes are mostly gone. When they do come they can be remedied by an electric blanket or adjusting my sleeves. I worry about my right retina detaching and the elusive goals of hormone replacement therapy, but I can make even the worst days work. This year MJ made new things for our Thanksgiving dinner, perhaps mimicking my new world with new challenges. As I rested in the living room, doing a crossword with Noah by my side, unusual aromas wafted in from the kitchen. Garam masala, lemongrass, ginger, paprika. I heard spice grinders whirring and coriander seeds popping up from hot cast iron skillets. She had my attention. When I heard the crack of cardamom pods under the blunt end of a knife, Noah righted himself and went into the kitchen to investigate. MJ threw him stalks of chard and he chewed them apart enthusiastically.

Me? I wasn’t doing so well, even with our house reinvented as a spice market. I still couldn’t eat much once we sat down, but the curry-crusted turkey skin sure looked good. A new solution to an old problem, I thought. My mind wanted to eat—and it smelled so good—but my diabetes insipidus medication sometimes bars me from enjoying many things if the timing is wrong. Every eighteen hours my body begins a “breakthrough” (code for massive fluid loss) and I must let the breakthrough continue for about two hours so I can flush everything out. My legs deflate and the dents in my ankles (from my socks) diminish. Then I squirt medication in my nostril and an hour later my inner Trevi Fountain shuts down. To control this properly, I need the full three hours … every eighteen hours. Do the math and you find out half the time my breakthrough occurs in the middle of the night. (The other half I’m probably at a rehearsal.) Therefore, I cut corners much of the time and take the nasal spray early, before any stretch of time when I will not be able to get to a urinal and a water source every ten minutes (no exaggeration). If I don’t have a full breakthrough period every 18 hours, I gain weight quickly. My legs balloon up and I am more likely to get sick. Last January, I went five days without a breakthrough when I premiered my oboe quartet in Florida. A week later I was in the hospital with pneumonia. One didn’t directly cause the other, but clearly I am more susceptible to illness and infection when I don’t regulate my fluid loss and intake correctly.

This week I have been feeling under the weather and we are heading into Nutcracker season. I needed my full breakthrough in the middle of Thanksgiving day and the timing could not have been worse. The only thing I want during breakthrough is water or (maybe) a bite of fresh fruit. Salt? No way. Sugar? Sounds good but it messes with me later. As I smelled the garam masala on our Thanksgiving turkey, I was motivated once again by Nurse MJ. I wanted something I couldn’t have, and I had to find a way to make it work. Old problem, new solution. It's there somewhere, and I MUST. EAT. TURKEY. BUT. CAN'T. Find a way, Ale. Find a way. There must be a solution, and MJ knows I will spend the next year planning day and night until I can make the yellow turkey mine.

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