It’s been a very rough year… So the tone of the blog is probably changing.

On December 21, 2016, a colonoscopy was done. They didn’t find anything important, but they did manage to trigger “Bile Reflux.” In some ways this is similar to “acid reflux” or “GERT” — but it’s very different in that acid reflux is, well, acidic, while bile reflux is very alkaline. When one vomits or burps, it’s like vomiting or burping lye. And that’s a huge difference. Bile, like lye, eats through the mucous lining one’s throat. In the mouth, it destroys gum tissue and, beneath the tissue, the bone. One’s mouth becomes such a bloody mess that it’s impossible to eat.

I was trying (and, I think, succeeding) to get it under control until I suddenly started vomiting fresh blood, brillant red and full of bubbles. Since I have a positive tuberculin skin test — which only means I’ve developed the antibodies that destroy the tuberculin bacilli — the government decreed I be placed in a hospital’s isolation unit. (Hazmat suits, plastic or cardboard everything. (Including plastic stethoscopes that aren’t cold on the skin, but also don’t work very well, plastic IV stands, food served on plastic plates with plastic utensils, etc.) All this care — yet no one paid attention to the regime I was following to keep the bile reflux away! I’m very mildly diabetic, but I didn’t even get the diabetic diet. They did give me the Metformin I take for diabetes. They didn’t look inside my mouth to see why I couldn’t chew. — instead I got lectured for refusing to use my false teeth! (Not just once, but daily!)  They wanted to try some extremely invasive tests to find the problem.  I kept refusing, since my TB skin test had changed when I was only 12 years old, and I’ve never come down with tuberculosis.  (My skin test was the result of living with my father for 12 years, and my father had an “arrested” case of TB.)  After a week of this, the head of the infectious unit showed up in my room.  Finally!   A doctor old enough to remember the days of “arrested” cases of the old type of TB, tuberculosis before it mutated!  I rather coldly pointed out, that, if they worried about TB, they should give my husband a skin test, since I’ve been living with him for over 40 years, taking none of the precautions my family of origin took around my father.

His argument became, “Well, if it wasn’t caused by TB, what did cause it?”  I neither knew, nor cared.  The bleeding had clearly stopped, and, the hospital no longer had a right to arrest me and drag me back to isolation; if they wouldn’t release me, I’d sue.  “Oh but, until we get clearance from the government run CDC, we aren’t permitted to release you.”  He was old enough to understand, but his judgment wasn’t enough.  The government now had more control over what happened in a hospital than the doctors.  Not only that — he couldn’t even change my diet!  That was Michelle Obama’s “eating healthy” campaign’s contribution to my misery.  I pointed out that I couldn’t eat 90% of what they served.  I either couldn’t chew it or had already proved to my own satisfaction that any type of fruit triggered the bile reflux.  He did telephone the CDC — at least that’s what he said — and I think he did since it did trigger a long, long delay in getting my “official” tuberculin test back from the government CDC.   So there I sat.  Catch-22.  I’ll never know what went on behind the scenes, but eventually I got out of the hospital.  (Obamacare/Medicare did not cover the expense BTW.)  Several weeks after I got out of the hospital that time, the CDC tuberculin report came back as a “false positive.”  I wouldn’t even have known that much if I didn’t check MyChart online.

It’s been a very, very long time since I’ve had decent health care.  I’ve become very bitter about it.  I can’t live without it, but my old GP retired almost 40 years ago.  there simply hasn’t been a doctor that actually stayed in this area for more than a year or two, and I’m not easily transported the 300+ miles it would take to get me to a decent clinic every time I need to see a doctor.  So I went to the local clinic….

Immediately after my stroke in 2006, I had major problems with my endocrine system.  The last time I saw my Primary Care Physician at the local clinic, she mentioned it was time to have my kidneys checked out again, and she scheduled the appointments, which I grudgingly went to, and, as usual, those appointments led to more appointments, more tests. and so it went for a couple of months, until, very suddenly, I got a phone call from the local clinic.  My husband had telephoned them to get a prescription refill for a drug (Valium, which I officially take for my PTSD, but actually take as a muscle relaxant.)  The phone call came in on October 18, 2017.  I remember the exact date and time, only because I wanted to be completely undisturbed that day, and had my cell phone on (usually I just keep it turned off) and the clinic called my cell phone!  I’d given them my cell phone number (cell phones are now essential you know, and if you don’t have one, the government provides you with one) under protest, emphasizing that it was never to be used.  Some nurse I’d never heard of, informed me my valium couldn’t be refilled unless I came in and signed a a drug agreement, and, BTW, my thyroid needed changing.  I said, “There’s no way I’m letting you change my meds!”  My thyroid is a touchy subject, and it had just been changed by the “endocrinologist” who was actually a DO, and thus knew absolutely nothing about anything other than diabetes…  The American Medical Association only let DO’s call themselves endocrinologists when too many people needed help with diabetes, and all the actual endocrinologists (with nine years more training, and two more residency’s).

That started a huge change in my life.  My endocrine system has never been “normal” — and I’m not going to let myself argue about what “normal” means.   Changing my thyroid according to the “normal” tables doctors use makes me extremely hyperthyroid — last time someone tried changing my thyroid following “normal” procedures I lost 40 pounds during an incredibly uncomfortable month, yet going without thyroid hasn’t been an option in the past.  I won’t put myself through that again.  I really loath pain.  Pain frightens me.  So I’ve been trying learn the way through current procedural healthcare as I rapidly become sicker with whatever is causing the bile reflux.

Finding a new primary care physician is essential to obtaining and paying for any type of medical care.   My husband and I are old, retired, living on a fixed income just like every other senior.  We’re better off than most, since we own land and our home.  I’m unwilling to sell our land to obtain really good health care — though I’ve known people that have chosen to sell their home to go to some of the better clinics.  They die in nursing homes eventually.  Or they live without a home.  Or they, like everyone else, live with the consequences of any choice one is still permitted to make.

I’m not going to let myself go into a long, complex political rant.

As Americans are discovering that there are too many people and not enough basic resources — a situation which has existed forever — the seething mass of humanity has struggled to find solutions to that particular problem.  Having too many people who feel “entitled” to such basic human needs as security and American values leads to squabbles in politics, multiple violent outbreaks, and a tremendous anger.  I made my personal choices long, long ago.  I choose what I call “freedom.”  That means I live or die making my own choices.  Literally.

At the moment I’m as close to death as I’ve ever known.   An unknown autoimmune disease (ie, my body immune system is attacking rather than defending my body.)  My body repulses me.  I’m surrounded by a new smell that’s coming from my own body,  my hands hurt so much that typing is hard to bear.  It’s very difficult to think clearly.  The kidney specialist’s tests show extremely high protien in my blood and/ or urine.  The amount of pain in not acceptable.  I might be able to help control the pain by limiting stress.  How does one eliminate stress when one could be dead within the next week?

My current solution to simplify my life, to do what I still enjoy doing.  To fully appreciate the beauty that exists outside my window.  To celebrate the fact that God is essentially good.  To enjoy moments with the people I love.  No longer a teacher or a student, I try to maintain my own level of joy.  That’s all.  Nothing more.

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A long pause – for a variety of reasons.

It’s been a while since I baked any bread, but I definitely haven’t given up!  I’m pretty sure I’ve mentioned my health isn’t the best, but recently it’s been one thing after the other. First I started coughing blood from my lungs, which instantly means the Center for Disease Control automatically takes over your life. Even if you only cough blood for 6 hours, if you go to the hospital the CDC will force you to live in total isolation, complete with precautionary Hazmat Gear (even plastic, disposable stethoscopes!) until you can prove you aren’t contagious. It’s awfully hard to prove you don’t have a contagious disease. And, it turns out, insurance doesn’t cover most of it…  Thanks to some help from my family we aren’t quite broke, but financially we’re stressed, which leaves me quite depressed.

When I came home from the hospital I was very weak from the testing, and all four of the major veins in my arms had “blown” (broken, popped, or had too many needles pushed through them.)  Which left my hands hurting and numb from lack of blood flow.  It’s happened before.  I have very poor blood flow from a genetically based disease called “peripheral arterial disease.”  Usually the problems caused by a blown vein goes away in just a few weeks after the last IV is removed (at least in my arms…  My legs already have so little blood flow my legs and feet are always extremely painful.)  This time it still hasn’t gone away and both hands are so full of pins and needles it makes typing a problem, still I was coping, more or less – until my Crohn’s disease started acting up, and I need a CAT scan with contrast … contrast that requires a very good vein that I don’t have, so it suddenly became necessary to at least discuss having a permanent shunt installed, but who’s going to install the shunt, how can they put me asleep to do it, and what specific type of shunt to install?  And the problems go on and on…  Various doctors have said they’ll get back to me – but no one has, and I’m in no mood to push anything that will cost us more money that we don’t have.

Which, when I think about it, means I’m the cause of my own misery.  So it’s time to kick myself in the ass and get up and do something!  It’s time to get back to baking, back to living.  And it’s definitely time to quit feeling sorry for myself.  Enough!  Enough!  I intend to live as fully as possible until I die – and I’m not dead yet!

Thank you for permitting me to whine on your shoulder.  I’ll be back!

But What about the Bread?!?!

Michigan has been experiencing what is politely called a “wintery mix” instead of Spring.  On most days there is precipitation in the form of rain, snow, hail, and sleet – separately or together.  There may be a half day of cold sunshine, or even an hour or two of warm sunshine.  But by nightfall we’re back to our “wintery mix.”  This type of weather is very hard on me.  One of the effects of my stroke is the inability to maintain a constant body temperature.  One of the effects of my age is arthritis.   When temperatures change too abruptly I’m physically miserable.  Just picture a very grumpy bear, who knows it’s time to break free of hibernation, but the weather…  Anyhow, I was trying to ask my friends to excuse my grumpy behavior for a while and received several messages saying, “But what about the bread???”

Avoiding the poisons in store bought bread means I’m baking 3 loaves of bread every week — but it’s all potato bread or herbed bread because those are our household favorites. This does not mean I’m giving up on this blog! I’m currently experimenting with some “patterned” tomato bread that I know very little about. And, as I think some of you know, the history of bread is what fascinates me the most.

By 1550 some of the Spanish and Portuguese Conquistadors had returned to Europe, bringing with them the Inca and Aztec treasures of silver and gold, but, of much more importance, they also brought back 3 things that eventually changed the foods of Europe: tomatoes and maize (corn) originated in what is now Mexico; potatoes are indigenous to Peru.

Corn didn’t cause much excitement.  The grains already available were, in some ways, superior, but corn did produce more and larger kernels of grain.  Potatoes and tomatoes were another story!  Both plants are part of the nightshade family.  While the sailors and soldiers that had been to the Americas ate them regularly, and obviously didn’t die, at first these two plants were grown primarily as unique flowers in the flower gardens.  Everyone, from peasant to king, knew how to recognize the deadly nightshade family! (And, to be fair, the leaves of a potato plant will make you sick, and there are some very old fashioned tomatoes that have spikes on their stems and under their leaves that leave a rash similar to poison ivy if you touch them.)

I can easily picture the frustration of the returning soldiers trying to convince their often starving families to try eating a baked or mashed potato!  Or to eat a sun warm tomato when they were thirsty and the well water was fouled.  Many of the  European nobles were involved in small skirmishes at the time, the Holy Roman Empire was beginning to fall apart, and no one really had time to care about the peasants, yet a peasant’s small field could easily be destroyed by two  or three horses galloping through their patches of grain.  But potatoes grow underground.  Even the big war horses don’t destroy the entire potato crop!  On top of that,  potatoes produce more than grains.  One can, quite literally, trace the progress of potatoes throughout Europe by tracing the population explosion.  In the same amount of acreage that once fed 3 people, adding potatoes could feed 10 people!  Plus, if some gallant knight on his mighty steed happened to trample your grain, you still had potatoes!  So it’s pretty easy to see why potatoes spread throughout Europe, even though it took a couple of hundred years — but tomatoes?

The tomatoes Cortez brought back from Mexico generally had white flowers and small yellow fruits, but somehow, somewhere in Spain around 1580 someone (or some village…) prefered the yellow flowers and brilliant red fruits in their tomato flower garden.  By 1590 someone who sold olive oil discovered he could preserve the partially dried  brilliant red tomatoes in his olive oil (adding a bit of salt and pepper) in glass jars.  The flavor was intensified, the jars looked quite beautiful, but how does anyone sell great taste that most people considered quite deadly?

One of my favorite books (it’s only a partial book) called The Lore and Folklore of Bread, tells the story.  The merchant (or merchants) from the village created a game, probably played in a tavern.  Two large loaves of bread were made, one containing a lot of the preserved tomatoes, the other containing mashed potatoes.  Both loaves of  bread was rolled into bite sized balls, and arranged into fancy round patterns, alternating the red balls containing tomatoes and the white balls containing potatoes, and a rather drunken game began called “Pick your poison.”  Under the false bravado and peer pressure of drunkenness,  everyone was willing to play, even the nobles.  One of these nobles had the authority to create official labels that allowed the tomatoes preserved in olive oil to be sold as food, as well as dried mashed potatoes.

I doubt very much if the story is true.  But it is true that by 1625 sun dried tomatoes, preserved in olive oil were on most export lists, and taxed as a luxury.  So I was very, very surprised to find in a “normal” cookbook (circa 1890) to find a “recipe” for tomato bread that was made into bite sized balls, which were combined with balls of white bread in a circular pattern.  The problem with  early “cookbooks” is they don’t actually give measured amounts and often skip some ingredients completely. (After all, even in 1890 everyone knew how to make basic bread!)   So I guessed, and guessed wrong.  I’m still working on getting it right.

Someday when I’m no longer hibernating….  <growl>