This Too Shall Pass–Maybe Like a Kidney Stone

The moral of this story is that you should stop eating, and teeth are really just expensive chunks of enamel with an agenda of pure evil.

Or possibly it’s Go slowly.

Wait—no, it’s Research.

I don’t know. Maybe you can figure it out by the end. That all withstanding:

I love food.

Except when food doesn’t love me.

And except when food becomes a sharp and wicked thing that tries to eradicate pleasure, induces pain, and entertains eliminating the ability to draw breath altogether.

Every sip and each forkful begs the question Good? Bad? Russian Roulette?

I think my words are not hugely off the mark to a lot of people reading this essay, as most of us are likely aware of the relationship we have with sustenance. There are foods we are told to eat, many we’re warned to avoid, and some we’re scammed into giving over treasure troves of cold hard cash to with the promise that it is the answer to all that ails us and may even turn back time.

We scratch our heads in wonder at it all because the ground is always shifting. The data today is irrelevant tomorrow. The expert right now proves to be a charlatan in a week when we discover they’re funded by someone with a vested interest, or only attended half of medical school. The truth is ever evolving, and that evolutionary rotation is enough to make our heads spin and our stomachs swirl with nausea – which of course, requires some sort of comestible balm to repair it.

Recently, I made the switch from mostly vegetarian, to mostly vegan.

I did so for a variety of reasons; namely, I have a somewhat overzealous attraction (read addiction) to cheese (I believe this to be a spurious genetic mutation from being Wisconsin born), and because I want to eat less food that once had a face (or came from a source with a face). It’s complicated. And I think making that decision is a complex one for most people, as there is likely more than one reason to make these changes.

But the shift should not have gone as it did. The upgrade became problematic because of my all or nothing approach to life, and that “I can do it” attitude had me fall flat on my face and then kicked me in the butt to boot—er, maybe back (you’ll find out why in a sec).

As my life’s motto is CHANGE EQUALS DEATH, if I must make change, I do it swiftly, and wholly, and try to convince myself that I’ve always been in the boiling water—that there was no “dip in a toe and turn it up a notch bit by bit” type of scenario available. All or nothing.

Since I was in the middle of my second big bout with our planet’s plague, and couldn’t taste or smell a thing, I figured this was the perfect time to make that leap, as while food could not bring comfort, at least it might participate in restoring health.

I upped the ante on just how much kale and spinach, carrots and tofu I could muscle down my gullet. My meals were full of lentils and seeds, and broccoli and beans. Absent were all my friends from the dairy world—the melty, nutty, stinky cheeses, the shocking tang of sour cream, the soothing balm of silky gelatos. Bye-bye eggs. So long scrambles. Adieu my coddled, crepey, deviled friends.

I replaced them with versions that promised texture, that advertised congruence—we’re so alike you’ll never know! the packages of almond cheese or coconut yogurt, or cashew cream swore.

How would I know? I chewed, I swallowed, I sighed at the loss of sensory pleasure.

And the little pleasure I did possess was further lessoned because of the dastardly drilling from a wretched root canal. Make that TWO root canals. Masticate on one side, and don’t forget your meds!

Had I glanced across the landscape to view the turbulent churning clouds amassing, I may have given pause to question my participation in the rotation of said clusters.

Also, it would have been nice if someone told me about oxalate toxicity.

A weird little disorder I might not have ever uttered before had I continued on my merry veg and very lovely cheese routine, but apparently, I was untutored in the careful maneuvering many vegans must put into practice in order to retain renal health.

Mainly, make sure you have balance.

Many fruits and vegetables, nuts, and whole grains have high levels of oxalate acid within them—a naturally occurring compound within plants that use it to help protect themselves against predators—insects, grazing animals, and come to find out, vehement vegans. I think of it as seedling self-defense.

Humans are quite capable of eliminating the body of oxalates they ingest from their food, but these compounds are, in my mind, a little bit like having your errant 22-year-old son move back home and set up an apartment above your garage.

They contribute nothing, and they bleed you dry of essential elements.

They need something that will take them by the hand and lead them far away from that which houses your goods and assets—away from your bones, blood, muscles, and major necessary organs. They need a girlfriend. Let’s just call that girlfriend Calcium.

Calcium sees that your functionless freeloader is about to offer you the unreturnable gift of kidney stones. Not a particularly valuable set of gems, but I understand they’re still considered “collectibles.”

Sadly, I did not correctly appraise Calcium’s true value until it was too late, and she simply and casually gave me a shrug of, “He’s your problem now.”

Also, to ditch my allegory, it appears I set up my kidneys for a big one-two punch by utilizing the jumbo-sized container of Advil (as directed by my endodontist) to fist fight all the root canal carnage. It’s like I welcomed a battle with the bucket I was kicking. That offal feels awful if you pump it full of products that prove poisonous.

I just didn’t know.

Hours on the bathroom floor curled up in the fetal position, a costly trip to the clinic, a round of nausea-inducing antibiotics, and countless sympathetic conversations with nutritionists and vegan friends later I gleaned two things:

It might be time to donate to the National Kidney Foundation—maybe tip the karmic scale of good deeds in my favor.

And I do a piss-poor job of cleaning my bathroom floor—no pun intended.

Ultimately, kale and I have decided to go into therapy.

~Shelley

For the time being, the blog is closed to comments, but if you enjoyed it, maybe pass it on to someone else. Email it, Facebook it, or print it out and make new wallpaper for the bathroom. If it moves you, show it some love and share. Cheers!

Don’t forget to check out what’s cookin’ in the Scullery and what we all gossiped about down in the pub. Or check out last month’s post and catch up

How Badly Do You Want to get to the Root of the Problem?

There are a few words or phrases that universally send a shiver down the spine of most people. Examples like Internal Revenue Service, or gerrymandering, or even the never-appreciated advice to calm down.

But I think this month I’ve got those entries trumped with two words I’ve had to utter with great frequency and usually in a sphincter-clenched whisper.

Root canal.

I’d place a bet with high odds that you just shuddered whilst reading them, right?

I’d never had one before, although I knew precisely two people who have—one who refuses to speak of it, and the other who won’t keep quiet. Therefore, my data pool is rather sketch, and I wasn’t sure what to expect when after four days of increasing tooth pain, people began to raise their brows in some knowing gesture and then pre-diagnosed my endodontic needs.

Now I say the phrase “tooth pain” but find the need to course correct that inaccurate description, as distress was initially coming from the area where most of my teeth exist. I think by now we’ve all been exposed to a clickbait headline or two that shrieks of the frightening story of teeth growing in someone’s brain or eye or lung (referred to as teratomas)—not that this was the case—rather, I could not precisely identify the “where.”

The where was sometimes an “I can’t chew on this side,” statement, or a “I think I’ve broken my jaw—does it look broken to you?” question, or even a “why the hell is my eye socket throbbing?” type of demand for answer.

Yeah, not at all helpful to friends and family, but apparently those descriptors fall neatly under the category of “I know what this is, and it’s going to be expensive” to your average dentist.

Visiting an endodontist was not unlike visiting my regular, favorite dentist who is overwhelmingly aware of pain in any manifestation and will work like a gladiator to slay the existence of it, except my endodontist possessed no aware of pain part. Maybe it’s just that the physician who was about to drill into the bone structure of my body had grown tired of telling people, “Aww, it’s not so bad,” because patients come back and egg his office or set his car on fire in the parking lot on their way home.

The whole root canal procedure would not have been half so bad if in the middle of it the endodontist had not said, “Yeah, we gotta stop and do the second half of this in a couple of weeks. I just don’t have enough Novocain.” (Or maybe he said patience, or competence, but I think I recall him mentioning there was a Harry Styles concert he had to get to.)

So, in the interim, I’ve been ginning up by reminding myself that I birthed TWO babies. And the old story women always tell other women who are pregnant for the first time is, “If it was that bad, we’d all be creating “only child” families, right?”

Bullpuckey.

A good number of us are going through the agony of childbirth because we know that at some point we’re going to finally have help with the housework.

A root canal makes no such beneficial promise.

It’s not like I even have at least nine months to eradicate the memory of what I just went through, as half of the problem is still buried beneath a crown sadistically reminding me of what I have to look forward to once the grains of sand run through on my timer. It’s like the ER doc discovering you broke two bones in your arm—both upper and lower—putting a cast on one and tying a yellow ribbon of remembrance on the other so as not to forget where to do the rest of the reparations once he returns from his golf trip to the Bahamas.

The advice of “Remember to take your Advil” does not hold much of a candle to the urge to find the nearest pair of pliers and complete the job oneself. But for the sake of wishing to show my teeth for any future photo shoots and selfies, I shall hold off on any autodidactic dental care for now.

Wish me luck with the fun follow-up, but if none appears on my doorstep, watch this space for part two.

~Shelley

For the time being, the blog is closed to comments, but if you enjoyed it, maybe pass it on to someone else. Email it, Facebook it, or print it out and make new wallpaper for the bathroom. If it moves you, show it some love and share. Cheers!

Don’t forget to check out what’s cookin’ in the Scullery and what we all gossiped about down in the pub. Or check out last month’s post and catch up

The Historically Boozy Woozy Benefits of Hooch

As a person who works within the spirits industry (the drinkable not ghostly kind), I am often told of the detriments that accompany imbibing alcohol. We are reminded by our physicians, by our parents, by well-meaning, health-conscious friends, and by finger-wagging party poopers as to the many harms, dangers, and hazards that accompany a tipple or two, and are firmly advised to give hooch a wide berth lest we fall prey to its evils.

As a researcher by heart and by nature, I am always looking for an argument to counter the above—a dataset, a study, some persuasive proof that as long as one employs an element of good sense and restraint, one can find great joy and enrichment from the quaffing, the swilling, and the indulging of giggle water.

And I have found one.

In fact, I have found ten.

In truth, I have found more than ten, but I have narrowed the list to my ten favorites.

It takes a sturdy and determined nature to search through bland and archaically worded historical documents, but 15th century German physician, botanist, and alchemist, Hieronymus Brunschwig’s work deserves not only an unearthing, but a spotlight shined upon his analysis. So please, allow me to sing the praises of the unsung.

As Hieronymus sees it, the benefits to drinking alcohol are thus:

  1. It comforts the heart.
    • Agreed. Nuff said.
  2. It heals all old and new sores on the head.
    • Perhaps this is simply a slip of translation from German to English, but most of us might agree that alcohol is the cause of most sore-headedness and not the cure. *shrug
  3. It gives you good color.
    • This is no doubt true, as how many of us have sat across from an individual at a pub—one who’s all rosy cheeked and glossy-eyed from an elixir’s effect—and so much the better for it?
  4. It cures baldness, body lice, and fleas.
    • Currently, there is no data to support this theory, although perhaps we’re still in the infancy of further research.
  5. Dr. Brunschwig also believes it cures toothaches, bad breath, and cankers.
    • This, I believe, explains why my dentist always smells of hooch when I go in for my annual cleaning.
  6. It causes the tongue to become well-speaking.
    • Now who of us have yet to attend a party where some individual, perhaps having become a bit too free with the firewater, will toss off his tie, leap upon the nearest coffee table, and begin spouting off a soliloquy worthy of Shakespearian applause?
  7. It eliminates belching, farting, and the painful swelling of breasts.
    • As these were my late Aunt Marge’s three most vociferous daily complaints, I feel somewhat cheated in missing the opportunity to aid her ailments.
  8. It dissolves bladder stones.
    • Alas, I feel the Mayo may not be fully behind Herr Hieronymus on this one, but likely there exists one or two urologists out there who skipped this chapter in med school and would stand behind the tipple treatment versus cystolitholapaxy.
  9. It provides courage.
    • There is ample historical evidence to endorse this argument simply by counting the number of battles won and marriages proposed.
  10. And lastly, my favorite medicinal remark in favor of partaking in the boozy bevies is that “It cures the bites of rabid dogs and heals all stinking wounds.”
    • *sigh. Pure poetry, right?

And there we have it. Scholarly legwork is ongoing and appears to be just as contentious as the arguments for and against eggs, vitamins, and checking the morning headlines.

Surely at some point science will parse out the good, the bad, and the ugly when it comes to the advantageous effects of ethanol and not simply roll collective eyes when we argue with limp proof of merely the desirable ones. Until that time, may I suggest you take heed from the sage words of the late, great Johnny Carson:

I know a man who gave up smoking, drinking, sex, and rich food. He was healthy right up to the day he killed himself.

So, cheers to you all, and to Heironymus Brunschwig for all his efforts. I toast to your good health with, Alcohol may be man’s worst enemy, but the Bible says love your enemy.

~Shelley

For the time being, the blog is closed to comments, but if you enjoyed it, maybe pass it on to someone else. Email it, Facebook it, or print it out and make new wallpaper for the bathroom. If it moves you, show it some love and share. Cheers!

Don’t forget to check out what’s cookin’ in the Scullery and what we all gossiped about down in the pub. Or check out last month’s post and catch up.

Problems with One’s Nose: It Just Doesn’t Make Scents

I think we can all agree—that whether you’ve experienced it firsthand or not—having Covid is no fun.

I can’t think of any illness that would actually fit into the “fun” category, so perhaps the above statement is a bit of a no-brainer declaration.

Still … there is an aspect of this affliction that is forcing me to do something I do find to be pleasurable—research­­—as I (along with millions of other humans) are desperate to determine when, if ever, our sense of smell will return to our bodies.

The symptoms of SARS-CoV–2 are dizzying, to be sure—one of them including experiencing dizziness. That evidentiary concurrence aside, other symptoms include the typical sniffling, sneezing, coughing, aching, stuffy head, fever, so you can’t rest for lack of medicine annoyances. Some of these ailments arising to the level of not just vexing irritations but life-threatening pathologies.

The non-life-threatening, but definitely life-depressing disorder of anosmia—or smell blindness—is a fairly reliable indicator for the Average Joe lacking an at home Covid test to determine if they have been infected with this miserable and unrelenting virus. As an individual whose job relies upon her sense of smell, I long ago created a list of all maladies of the disease that I knew might reliably express themselves and highlighted in yellow and then orange and then pink the one that I absolutely, under no circumstances could tolerate. And then promptly began agonizing over its possible appearance until, I’m guessing, my brain finally took to heart all those self-help, yogi meditations I spent years fostering and “manifested” my thoughts into intentions.

Here you go. You think it, you become it.

The loss of smell for most people is dispiriting—especially if you’re a human who likes to eat.

The loss of smell for a person who is surrounded by hundreds of small alcoholic vials filled with aromatic compounds that are no longer aromatic is panic-inducing, terrorizing, and humbling in a collapse into a puddling heap on the floor type of way.

What now? Is the question of the day, although it really wasn’t a daily query as much as it became an hourly one.

So much of my life’s work is dedicated to identifying odorants—the good the bad and the ugly. They’re all incredibly fascinating to me and important to the labors I’ve been employed to pursue. I have never taken my ability to smell for granted—in fact, I’ve protected its presence and fostered my olfactory skills like a zealot chasing after the title of “Olympic medalist” in that category.

I walk into a room and the first things I notice are the odorants—the primary, the secondary, the tertiary. Has someone burnt toast? Has a dog passed gas? Is that woman wearing the same scarf from yesterday when she slipped outside into the alley to have a quick cigarette?

I walk into a patch of someone else’s presence and can oftentimes flesh out a rhinal history. The cologne they wear, the detergent they use, the curry they ate. It’s a Sherlockian mystery that unfolds itself one odorant at a time.

And now it’s gone. Poof.

Coincidentally, two weeks ago, I noticed a side-effect to a new medication I’m on which revealed that I may experience hyperosmia—an increased sensitivity to odorants. Hot diggity, I thought. A dream come true, right? Until I’d been stuck in a car with a person who, whenever speaking, gave off the exhalating perfume of someone who had perhaps dined on the soup made from the sewer on a hot August day. It wasn’t their fault. Their stomach was appropriately breaking down breakfast with the human chemicals assigned to that job—it’s just that it felt like I was in that organ with them.

Being on the opposite ends of the scent spectrum in such a short period of time provides—along with a bit of whiplash—an opportunity to experience the edges, to assess this bodily sense with the effect of a volume dial. Too much and you whirl with nausea, too little and life becomes monochrome—a dull gray, monotony that snatches away all color, absconds with your anticipation, and tosses you into a steeply descending pit of “why bother?” (Or, at least, for me it did.)

I have a phrase—a formula—I use to describe a concept when teaching on developing the skills of nosing and tasting: scent + taste = flavor.

Scent involves our olfactory epithelium—a small patch of tissue high in the nasal cavity that houses around 400 of our body’s olfactory receptors. When aroma molecules attach themselves to the receptors—either singularly or in combination with others—we can identify somewhere between 100 million to 1 trillion different odorants.

Taste is defining sweet, sour, bitter, salty, and umami compounds.

Putting the two together is how we experience flavor. Strip one away and the pow and wow factor of food is crippled. Hamstring both and you’re left with … what??

If I allow my freaked out, blubbering inner doomsayer to answer that question, it would be search for a cliff tall enough to leap from. If I am to respond more appropriately, more hopefully, more like an individual who gravitates toward solid science than pointless hysteria, I would say, a not unsubstantial amount.

I am forced to hunt for the other. To seek out what else contributes to the sensory experience of flavor, as there are a few more things than one might expect to include.

  1. Viscosity – a measure of thickness, glossiness, syrupiness, adhesion.
  2. Chemesthesis – this occurs when the receptors on the skin react with a chemical placed upon them—where your mouth and nose are concerned, we have the examples of:
    • Menthol (a cooling sensation—your toothpaste, gum, or minty herbs)
    • Capsaicin (a thermal impression—your hot sauce, spicy peppers, or chili powders)
    • Carbonation (a tingling of the receptors—think soda, sparkling water, fizzy champagne)
    • Alcohol (a prickling phenomenon—might as well go for the gold and make it high proof)
  3. Sounds – the oral and sonic experience that comes from the crunch of your sugar snap peas, the squeak of your cheese curds, the crackle of your potato chips, the smacking stickiness of your peanut butter, the effervescence of those Pop Rocks.
  4. Temperature – No need to explain, you know the scale.
  5. Mindfulness—It has been studied and believed that “expectation” contributes to flavor as well, as scent and taste stimulate the limbic system and ultimately stir up memories.

I cling to the fact that the nuances of what contributes to flavor is fairly rich with examples. And paying particular attention to the extra sensory “we’ve always been here, but you’ve just ignored us” elements highlights their contribution to an experience rich with stimuli.

Is it the same?

Nope. Not even close. For me, anyway.

Will it suffice?

It will have to. At least until biology rights itself, a stem cell transplant program is offered up by my GP, or Mark Zuckerberg finds a way to “meta” my olfactory receptors back into reality. But for now, I will sniff, sip, slurp, and swirl everything I find—to invite back into my brain, to welcome back into my realm, to appreciate with renewed vigor the one thing my mental health hinges upon.

Until all returns, I will remain annoyingly and worrisomely … scent-o-mental.

~Shelley

For the time being, the blog is closed to comments, but if you enjoyed it, maybe pass it on to someone else. Email it, Facebook it, or print it out and make new wallpaper for the bathroom. If it moves you, show it some love and share. Cheers!

Don’t forget to check out what’s cookin’ in the Scullery and what we all gossiped about down in the pub. Or check out last month’s post and catch up.

Life’s Luck: From Lemons to Sour Grapes, Mine is Weirdly, all Fruit Related.

Last month sucked. I mean really, really came out looking like an ugly puckery lemon.

I smashed a finger in between two 75lb boulders (yeah, while trying to do that rock wall myself—from last month’s blog).

I got a wicked thrashing from a wrathful, hell-bent-on-sparing-no-one poison ivy plant.

I got diagnosed with a second basal carcinoma (treatable skin cancer that plagues many pasty white Midwesterners who are unfamiliar with this thing local people call summer).

I broke my lawnmower.

I was stung by a wasp whose last dying wish was to leave a flesh wound and memorial to himself the size of an award-winning walnut.

And I got a UTI.

Okay, none of this stuff actually happened last month. That was a lie.

It happened this month.

Month and candor aside, the reality of so many calamities all at once did not bode well under the “Thank God, I got my Covid vaccine—it’ll sure be great to get back to normal” mindset I was cultivating.

Those thoughts ultimately tanked, and in their place crawled splints, bandages, skin grafts, physicians, lab techs, prescriptions, pills, ointments, potions, and spark plugs.

It was often hard to keep track of what went where, and on one miserable afternoon I found myself visiting the library to pick up a book I was hoping would take my mind off my miseries.

I was in line, waiting in the lobby for my turn to come in and approach the desk, when I heard someone triple tsk from behind me. I turned to see a woman as wrinkled as an old crabapple, her white hair braided and wrapped into a bun, held together with what looked to me like a couple of birch twigs and a meat thermometer.

I smiled, nodded politely, and turned to face forward again, only to hear her sigh and utter, “Dear me,” under her breath. She tapped me on the shoulder and when I turned, pointed to one of the many bandages wrapped around my arms and said, “You really should let that breathe.”

“Let what breath?” I asked.

“Your poison ivy.”

I looked down at the book she was holding in her arm. Kitchen Witchery: Spells, recipes, and rituals for something something magical something enchanted something something. I narrowed my eyes at her and tried to ascertain how this witch had discovered one of my ailments. “How do you—”

“You haven’t quite covered all your blisters,” she said matter-of-factly.

“Yeah, I really got walloped this time.”

She shook her head. “What did you do, roll in it like a dog in a cowpie patty?”

“No, I was weeding, but I bet my dog had a hand in spreading it.”

“Do you hug your dog?” she asked, pointing for me to move forward in line.

“All the time. He’s the best dog I’ve ever—”

“Stop doing that.”

“Exactly. I know. The oils on his fur transfers to my skin …”

“Not where I’m going. Stop doing it because dogs hate to be hugged. It makes them feel like they’re being devoured, and they’re helpless in that arm lock of stupid humans.”

“Oh.” I stared at the floor for a second before catching sight of her book again. “Well, I’d have to say that I truly feel like I’ve been cursed with something these last few weeks. Just one thing after another.” I looked up at her with a crooked smile. “Any hex breaking spells in that library book of yours?”

“You’re hoping some magic wand will wave away your poison ivy?”

I shrugged. “And my rock-smashed finger, wasp sting, skin cancer—anything that can alleviate those scourges?” I pointed out the ailments around my person.

The old woman studied me for a second or two, opened her book, thumbed through a few pages, and then slammed it shut with a crisp snap. “The book suggests not so much any incantation or elixir, but it is very precise on one specific action.”

“Oh?” I felt my eyebrows raise with hope.

She rolled her eyes. “Stay inside.”

I felt like an idiot.

She looked at me like I was an idiot, so I suppose my feelings were justified. “Ah, well. I suppose most of those wonky spells are simply drivel and gibberish. Are you just reading the book for fun?”

She glanced down at the book again and then spread it wide open to a page with a black iron caldron holding a bounty of vegetables from the garden it sat within. “Nope. I wrote this little beauty—there’s only one copy, and I convinced the librarian to put it here on the shelves. The problem is, I lost the original recipe for my mother’s tomato soup, and every time I want to make it, I have to come back and check out the book. Now that,” she pointed at the page, “is a cure-all for just about everything.”

I gave her a wary look. “How about a urinary tract infection?”

She cracked a smile and spat out, “Ha! That, my friend, is just a curse on all womankind. And no amount of kitchen witchery can make much of a dent in its presence.”

I shrugged. “I guess sometimes we’re just unlucky.”

“As I see it, your dog is going to get a bit luckier with no more hugs. Although sadly for you, I’d say it’ll be some time before anyone is going to want to wrap their arms around your bandaged body.” She searched the ceiling and then said, “Maybe try a bottle of wine.”

“Hug a bottle of wine?”

“No. Drink it. It won’t cure anything, but it’ll sure keep you from being cranky while Mother Nature deals with all your ailments.”

~Shelley

For the time being, the blog is closed to comments, but if you enjoyed it, maybe pass it on to someone else. Email it, Facebook it, or print it out and make new wallpaper for the bathroom. If it moves you, show it some love and share. Cheers!

Don’t forget to check out what’s cookin’ in the Scullery and what we all gossiped about down in the pub. Or check out last month’s post and catch up.