In case you missed Part 1 of this story, start here.
All right, where did I leave off? Oh, yes — I’m on the kitchen floor, having an emotional breakdown over not being able to eat eggs, which I didn’t like anyway.
You know, I’ve always viewed myself as a fairly intelligent person, with refined tastes and more than an average amount of self-control.
But then one day I’m half starved — no, make that fully starved — and there are some leftover hash browns sitting on the kitchen counter. Daughter bought them at Dunkin’ Donuts.
You know the ones, right? The greasy little rounds in a small brown bag, that maybe if you bought them first thing in the morning are fine, but this was midday.
I picked one up, held it to my nose and inhaled deeply. Aaaahhhh … oh, if only … well, maybe a little bite? Just a nibble? — it couldn’t hurt, right? Just a little?
Yeah, it would hurt.
About 20 minutes or so after I’d eat anything with the slightest amount of fat, the tell-tale cloudy fluid would drip into my attached bulb-shaped drains. (Also, hash browns don’t liquefy well, and I was still on the mandatory liquid, non-fat diet.)
Overall, those five weeks of recovery were probably the most difficult weeks I’ve ever experienced. No kidding. And much of it, especially the last two weeks, are a blur.
What I have are snapshot memories:
I see the thoracic surgeon looking over the Excel spreadsheet Husband made, showing my daily fluid output from the drains. I think there was a pie chart too. Not sure of that, but it seems like something Husband would do. The surgeon said, “This is impressive,” which we think was a polite way of saying, “You’re anal.”
I see myself standing in front of the mirror after a shower and looking at my body — really looking at it. I thought of Kari, my first college roommate, who told me her goal was to not have any part of her thighs touch when she stood with her feet and knees together. I thought she was nuts and told her so. (We didn’t get along well.) That day, as I stood naked in front of the mirror with my feet and knees touching … I had total thigh gap. “Oh God,” I thought to myself. “I’m skinnier than Kari!”
I see myself sitting in the passenger seat of the car, periodically waking up to ask Husband yet again, “Did it work? Could they find it?” to which he’d reply, “No, it didn’t work .. I’m sorry.” We were headed home from the hospital where they tried a procedure — ‘dye’ is inserted to map out the lymphatic system. Once they find the leak, a tiny amount of glue is inserted to block it. Only my lymphatic system was a mess (“too complicated” they said), and the hour procedure turned into four hours.
“Did it work? Could they find it?”
“No, it didn’t work … I’m sorry.” (For the medical nerds among you who enjoy looking up such things, the procedure was called a thoracic duct embolization.)
I see myself sitting in the thoracic surgeon’s office on a Friday, as he goes over the plans for Monday. He’ll have to try and find the leak surgically, but there’s a chance – a 50/50 chance – it won’t be needed. He’s going to remove the drains now. It’s possible the valve will collapse when the tubes are pulled out and it will close off on its own. It’s possible.
I’m to eat low-fat meals Saturday and Sunday. “Here’s my cell number,” he said, writing it on the back of his card. “Call me on Sunday and tell me if there’s any swelling. If there isn’t, I’ll cancel the surgery for Monday.”
There was no swelling. (No sweeter words have ever been written.)
The next visit is with my neurosurgeon, so he can remove the stitches. As he’s prepping, he asks me what was the first thing I ate, once I was allowed to eat real food. I admitted it was a carrot. (I know, lame right? But it was the first thing I saw!)
“How was it?” he asked me.
I said, “I had no idea how fantastic a carrot could taste.”
He then told me a story of when he went to Nepal on a backpacking trip. He didn’t use the words, but what he recounted sounded like a spiritual journey — they backpacked over harsh terrain, with minimal water and no food. It was hot, the backpacks actually had stones in them, and their guides told them the wait to go out by helicopter (in other words, to give up), would be longer than if they kept going.
Finally they made it to their destination, a monastery, where they were fed boiled turnips with no salt or seasoning of any kind.
“I still remember it as the best meal I ever had in my entire life,” he said.
His story stayed with me, all this time. I realize he probably told it to keep my mind off the stitches being removed, but it is a powerful story, nonetheless.
These journeys we take, whether they are self-imposed or forced on us by events out of our control, can teach us so much about ourselves and our place in the world. They can teach us compassion, gratitude, and a profound respect for life. They can bring us a better sense of self-awareness, and in understanding our weaknesses, they can bring us greater strength.
They can do these things. They don’t always, but they can. Much depends on how willing we are to learn from them.
And that’s the story of how this blogger went from someone who thought of food as merely a means of living another day, to something far more special and, well… even sacred.
Definitely something worth blogging about.
The recipe I’m sharing with you today is for the first meal I had after the drains were removed (remember, it had to be low-fat). Honestly, I don’t think I ever enjoyed making a meal as much as I did that evening. Husband grilled the chicken, I made the black beans in the crock pot, and Daughter helped make the salsa. It was fantastic, and it’s still a meal I enjoy to this day (although now I add a little sour cream and guacamole as well).
Grilled Chicken with Black Beans & Corn Salsa
For Black Beans:
- 2 cups dried black beans, rinsed and sorted (do not soak overnight*)
- 1 onion, quartered
- 1 bay leaf
- Water to cover
- 2 Tablespoons olive oil
- 1 bell pepper, green or red, chopped
- 4 cloves of garlic, minced
- 2 teaspoons cumin
- 2 scallions, chopped
- Salt to taste (I add about 2 teaspoons)
Add beans, onion, bay leaf and water to your Crock pot and cook for 8 hours on low heat. When done, remove bay leaves and onion, plus excess water — you’ll want to leave some liquid, but you don’t want it soupy.
Saute bell pepper in olive oil until soft, add garlic and cumin. Stir into beans; add scallions and salt. Keep warm until ready to use.
- 4 boneless chicken breasts, marinated in 1/3 cup olive oil, juice from one lemon, 1/2 teaspoon cumin and salt.
Grill chicken to your preferences — for complete instructions on how I do it, click here.
- 2 cups frozen corn, thawed (I used a bag of roasted corn, available at Trader Joe’s)
- 2 Tablespoons chopped green or red bell pepper
- 1/4 cup chopped cilantro
- 1 scallion, chopped
- 1 jalapeno, chopped (optional)
- juice of one lime
- 1/4 teaspoon cumin
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
Mix all ingredients together and let set. (This can be made ahead of time and kept in the fridge up to three days.)
Serve chicken with beans and salsa, and enjoy the melding of sweet, savory and spicy flavors. Rice is a nice side dish as well.
*You may have been told to soak beans in order to make them more digestible and/or cut down cooking time. You may know from experience it doesn’t really cut down on gas** and it only removes about 1/2 hour cooking time. The only thing you truly accomplish by soaking is making the beans fall apart during cooking.
**If you have trouble with gas after eating beans, you have two options: try Beano or a similar product, or eat more beans. Your body gets better at digesting beans the more it has them. Odd but true.