Tag Archives: illness

An unhappy affliction lifted.

IMG_2549One evening my housemate Susan baked a wonderful onion-and-potato dish, and as I walked through the kitchen I said, “Oh, my, that smells so good!” The next morning the cooking aromas were present still, and I didn’t think much about it, but the next morning…. What? How odd to have that smell hanging on. I tried putting some aromatic oil in the diffuser, but it made no difference. After a week I had figured out that this odor was not real; it was somehow generated by my own nose sending wrong information to my mind. When I researched the phenomenon online I found phantosmia, sometimes called an olfactory hallucination.

They say it can happen after a respiratory infection. I had recently (mostly) gotten over a cold and the flu. I was smelling a sort of burning-leaf scent. That’s the only thing I could think of to describe it, not that I am terribly familiar with that smell around here – but I was trying to come up with an imagination to match the fake sensation. It was there when I went to sleep, when I woke up, all day long, and when I drove to the next town for an appointment. I could taste my food, sort of, but the weird smell I was registering overpowered most other smells, so that tea was like water, and scented candles were unscented. The articles I had read say this condition “usually” goes away, but I’ve heard of people who have a permanently altered sense of taste, and that sounded like a terrible loss, so I hoped….

Also, I started taking zinc (my pharmacist friend’s recommendation) and Vitamin C, and doing more frequent saline nasal rinses (my doctor’s recommendation). After about ten days I thought maybe the odd smell was fading… and then one afternoon I returned from an errand and sniffed the evidence of my having roasted eggplant that morning – it wasn’t very pleasant, but it was a real cooking odor!

The next day, at church, incense, glorious and sweet and nothing like burning leaves. Thank you, Lord! The crowning delight was the morning I was a bit peeved at my building contractor, and without thinking why, I opened the front door, as though hoping to see a few construction guys driving up. I didn’t see anything out of the ordinary, but the scent of the daphne floated up and filled my nose and mind with its essence, welcome and true.

Die before you die.

The day after I wrote about feeling my mortality, I was prompted to think more on the subject, first by Father Stephen Freeman, in an article about hospitals vs. hospice, and the importance of visiting the sick. When he was chaplain on a hospice team:

“It was the first time I ever saw a doctor listening carefully to nurses and chaplains. There was nothing ‘active’ that could be done other than providing comfort and support. The team stood in awe before the reality of dying, inevitably sharing the knowledge that what a patient was facing would be our own lot in time.”

For several years I’ve had more of that awareness myself, that every moment I go on living it is only because of God’s will and sustaining power. This understanding was only heightened when I was weak and sick, and not distracted by all the “active” things of my typical days, and could be in awe of the fact of existence.

This morning, I have a further reminder of death, and the scripture that tells us, “Precious in the eyes of the Lord is the death of His saints.” A woman about my age fell asleep in death this week and I will be helping to prepare her body for burial in just a couple of hours. We will pray and anoint her with oil and commend her to Christ, before she is moved to the church for her funeral. It is always a holy thing to join with a sister at this stage in her “journey to the kingdom.”

In the short movie linked below, the musings of a 97-year-old philosopher as he calmly and “philosophically” considers his own death show a sensibility much more deeply human and nuanced than what he wrote in his book on the subject when he was younger. Though he feels that he lost half of himself when his wife of 70 years died, at the same time he doesn’t want to die; he has just started noticing the beauty of trees the way he never did before. The intellectual history of his own mind tells him that “there is no point” to life, so it doesn’t make sense to him, he calls it foolish, that he should mind saying good-bye. But he does mind.

Maybe it was the death of his wife that shook up his life so that now he calls death “the one thing central to my existence.” And he doesn’t have it figured out. Though now he likely knows more than he did then, because he has actually crossed that river; the movie was made by his grandson in his memory. There is a short article with a little more information at The Atlantic.

Father Stephen: “The monastic tradition of the Church has the notion that we should always keep death before our eyes. In a culture where sickness and death are hidden from view, such a notion can seem morbid and wrongly formulated. St. Paul said of himself, ‘I die daily’ (1Cor. 15:31).

“More completely, he said, ‘I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live. Yet not I, but Christ lives in me. And the life that I now live, I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me’ (Gal. 2:20).

“These are not morbid notions, but remembrances of the truth. If you lived on the edge of a cliff, only disaster could come from forgetting that fact. We remember the truth of our existence (including its end) so that our life might be shaped by the conscious remembrance of the name of God. When we pray, ‘Lord, Jesus Christ, have mercy on me,’ we proclaim the futility and emptiness of our self-existence, while more profoundly proclaiming the goodness and kindness of God in Christ who, in us, tramples down death by death.

“There is a monastic saying in Orthodoxy: ‘If you die before you die, then you won’t have to die when you die.'”

I grow younger again in January.

In spite of being only 95% recovered from my illness (a wild guess at a statistic), I started something new today. Pippin and the Professor gave me a Christmas present of a year’s membership in the local regional parks agency. It includes other benefits besides free parking, but my unwillingness to waste that part made me want to use it soon and often. I’d thought that I’d need to drum up a walking companion in order to get myself moving in that direction, but today when the afternoon suddenly opened up, I decided to go on my own to the most familiar of the parks. I’ve written about this one before, most memorably just after my husband’s death almost five years ago.

It’s winter, and I knew there would be a lot of grayness on this mostly gray day; I was (surprisingly) surprised at how much there was to see that wasn’t drab. Some of the regional parks I will visit have no parking fee at all, but this one is $7! So it was a good one to start with, to make me feel the monetary value of my gift — which is surely the least part.

It’s not a huge park, but it is crisscrossed with several trails and I never have a map. In the past it seems we often end up back at the parking lot before we are feeling done, so I was trying to make the widest loop I could around the perimeter of the space. I think I did okay. Where a huge bay tree hangs over the creek, I took this picture in which I already can’t tell where the lines lie between the sky and the tree and the reflections.

In the last several months “everything,” most lately the attack of who knows what viruses, has conspired to make me feel my mortality. Not that I thought I was near death, but in just one year’s time I seemed to have become several years older, weaker and flabbier. I know youth is relative to a point, but I thought my youth might have died. It felt very good to be walking briskly in the fresh air and to be right there under the sky when the sun came out from time to time. It was shining nearly horizontally in my face or my camera lens when it did. Frogs croaked, and towhees hopped about in the bushes.

Have I mentioned that I also put my back “out” just before my battle with the viruses? I couldn’t even do anything about that for weeks, but last Friday I did see a chiropractor and am now on my way to getting back my less flabby self. The weather is of the sort that makes me want to curl up indoors with a book and a blanket, but I have had my warning, and I am going to fight against my tendency to the sedentary lifestyle.

Not far from the descent to the parking lot, I was on a ridge from which I could see across the road below to the vineyards on the slopes beyond. And on my drive home — only ten minutes! — I noticed workers pruning the vines.

January is usually somewhat depressing for me, but this year I have been distracted from the bleak weather by other things that one might think more depressing. It didn’t work that way; I was continually reminded of God’s presence and had so many occasions of joy and contentment, it was obvious that they were pure gift. And this Christmas present from my children — it is a gentle prod to do the things they know I will love. I wonder if I can squeeze in one more park before the end of January?

Double Dark Chocolate Pudding

chocolate pud & whiskMany months ago I wrote the draft of this post, when I was making pudding frequently for my husband. In the last week of his life he ate little else. Cancer and chemo had made meals a challenge, and toward the end, this was the best solution to the various food-related problems.

He needed the extra-extra nourishment that is in this rich chocolate confection. For him I added additional egg yolks, which you might do, too, if you are cooking for someone who is anemic, or who can’t eat much at one time, and needs the mega-nutrition that is in each bite. Unless someone doesn’t like chocolate, they will probably find it easy to eat.

chocolate pud Lindt

Though it is a truly delicious dessert to serve to anyone — even the healthiest people! — I myself surely do not need super rich nutrition, and after my husband died I couldn’t imagine what might move me to cook it again.

I found my motivator recently when a friend was in the rehab hospital after a painfully tedious ordeal. On the phone  I arranged to go visit her and asked, knowing that the institutional meals were likely to fall short of fully satisfying to the whole person, if I might bring her anything. She requested chocolate pudding, having in mind a prepared version from the grocery store. I wasn’t familiar with that sort anyway, but since I had become such an expert at this version, I immediately knew that I would make it for her.

It really is not difficult, and you don’t have to practice as much as I did to find that out. I had a good system going for laying out my ingredients and working through the steps quickly. One day I even produced two batches, one in the morning and one in the evening! Any other dessert I’ve ever made has been rare enough that I wasn’t comfortable and familiar with the process in a way that let me experience that flow. At the time, I might add, I was consoled and cheered by being able to create something that was pleasing and and useful, even though I knew that its powers were limited.

Chocolate Pud eggs

This recipe is special because of the dark chocolate bar that is mixed in at the end. Before that addition it is more of a milk chocolate experience. Considering the amount of chocolate in the final product, the sugar is at a minimum. For that reason I just at this moment decided to add “Dark” to the name. You might find similar recipes that have more butterfat and no egg yolk — I reject those in favor of versions that include that lovely and elegant food, the egg, which has such a vast nutritional gift to give.

Double Dark Chocolate Pudding 

2/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa (I like Ghirardelli)
1/4 cup cornstarch (or arrowroot)
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 cups whole milk
4 large egg yolks (or more)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
4 ounces dark chocolate, chopped, plus shavings (85% or 90% Lindt is nice)

Place a fine-mechocolate pud dry ingredsh sieve over a medium bowl; set aside. In a medium saucepan, whisk together sugar, cocoa, cornstarch, and salt. Gradually whisk in milk, taking care to dissolve cornstarch. Whisk in egg yolks.

Whisking constantly, heat over medium until you notice some thickening at the bottom of the pan, 5-10 minutes. Reduce heat to low; cook, whisking, 1 minute. Remove from heat; immediately pour through sieve into bowl. Add butter, vanilla, and chocolate; stir until smooth.chocolate pud doubling

Divide among 4-6 small bowls and smooth the surface of each one with a swirl. Garnish with more dark chocolate shavings. Eat warm or cover and chill.

Other than adding more egg yolks for my husband, and using arrowroot powder instead of cornstarch, I didn’t make any changes to this recipe I found on Martha Stewart’s website.

My friend was quite happy with my gift. I brought enough for two servings, in a bag with some ice on the bottom, so she could eat half later. It was very comforting.

chocolate pud 4