I’ve spent the past couple of weeks wringing my hands and hovering as my mom works hard to recover from a big surgery. Now with that experience a safe distance behind me, I’m coming up for air, cleaning the empty coffee cups from my car, and reordering my fridge, which is now full of small containers of foods I have used to try to spark my mom’s appetite while she was in the hospital.
Most of my life I’ve been able to ignore the essential nature of food and focus on its narcotic benefits. But during these past two weeks I learned to appreciate how basic to survival our fuel is, how visceral our reactions can be, how hard our bodies and minds work to keep us well, whether we’re aware of it or not.
My mom had a hard time working up any interest in food after the surgery. The morphine and antibiotics and nausea drugs, the pain and heat and lack of sleep all worked against her stomach. She just couldn’t eat, and the food they brought her didn’t look like food to her at all.
At her healthiest, my mom is not a fussy eater, just particular. That is, she’s experimental and open in her eating, but won’t bother eating anything that isn’t prepared well. She likes real ingredients, meats prepared without preservatives and weird salts, vegetables served al dente, fresh fruit. Whole food. She has learned the cuisines of many countries, visited most of them, lived in many, and all that she knows about cooking from these cultures informs her eating.
So the hospital’s rolled turkey and boxed mashed potatoes would never tempt her. Not one bit. She worried the dietitians, worried the nurses, worried everybody by not eating, never eating, day after day. She just couldn’t face the food. But she didn’t want a well-prepared curry or Duck Al’Orange, either. She wanted sourdough bread with olive oil. Apples. Bananas. Plain rice. Tea. Oatmeal. The fewer ingredients the better. One food at a time. We brought her anything she wanted. She tried each thing tentatively, nibbling slowly, falling asleep over each bite. Finally my buddy’s homemade chicken soup made it past her lips. A whey protein and banana smoothie. A few bites, a few sips. She started to pick her head up. She started to sound like Mom again.
All that time she chose a diet that looks very similar to the diet I try hard to follow every day. Whole, fresh food, a little at a time.
Last week, I picked up a stomach flu virus. Just a one-day flu, but the sort that left me tentative around food for several days. And of course I could see how easy it is to make food decisions when I don’t feel well. When I didn’t feel I could digest everything, I didn’t try. “How will that feel?” my mind automatically asked. Every offer of candy bowl or cheese plate came with an automatic internal gut-check. My mind told me, “That won’t sit well.” “Maybe not today.” “Oooph, no, not that. Not right now.”
So, if I have this self-preserving voice during the worst of times, where is it today? When I’m healthy and happy, where does the food-watching instinct go? How can I encourage that voice to speak up more often, let itself be heard, help me manage overeating and unhealthy eating a little better each day? That’s my focus for the week, finding my voice. Encouraging the little voice inside me that wants me to be healthy and well. Join me?