Of Puffer fish & Willpower

after weeks of
cleansing fast  a large pizza
her puffer fish act

Another haiku with a story behind it.

Twenty-some years back I met a lady in her mid-forties; in time she became a dear friend. Was it because of her dysfunctional childhood, or the accident she was in that left her in a coma for twelve days, or maybe some of both? At any rate, you’d have to say she was emotionally unbalanced — and had been attending a church where emotional responses were often stirred and encouraged. She was cheerful, likeable, outgoing — but not very disciplined or stable.

At some point she had accepted the concept cleansing fasts, and even discovered a retreat in the country where she could go and cleanse her body of all the impurities tainting our modern diet. In addiction to the physical benefits, she felt that fasting brought her closer to God and told me that one time she had actually fasted for 40 days, just like Jesus. However, I suspect the dream of getting back to a slimmer figure hovered not far in the background.

My dear friend had a couple of weaknesses that affected her health. Like most of us, she was fond of tasty food — which included baking and other sweets. Plus, she smoked — a habit she didn’t like at all. So she viewed going to this retreat for a month or so, where she neither eat nor smoke, was a blessing four-fold: she could relax in a no-pressure environment, lose weight, crack the nicotine habit, and gain spiritually.

We visited her there a couple of times. It appeared she had nothing much to do at this retreat except relax, read, meditate, and detoxify in the small room she was given. There were a number of other guests, with a nurse present 24/7 to make sure no one suffered serious health problems because of the regime. When my friend’s fast was over she was put on a juice diet for a couple of days to re-adjust her body to food. Then she paid the rather hefty bill — this place was into making money as well as healing bodies — and went home.

This “coming back to the real world” got me involved one day — and my involvement brings me to story behind the senryu I’ve penned.

Early one morning my phone rang; my friend was telling me she needed watermelon and could I help her out? Could I buy one and bring it to her apartment? (She didn’t own a car.) She explained that she’d just got home from spending several weeks at the retreat and her body was reacting negatively to food. She needed watermelon to “flush out the salt” being retained in her tissues.

I didn’t know much about what fruits & veggies have diuretic properties, but she mentioned a few and was glad to help. I picked up these foods and went over to her place, where I heard the facts of her current health issue.

When she got home from her fast she’d been so hungry, she ordered an extra-large pizza and ate the whole thing. Her body was reacting big time to the sudden overload.

Reading history I’ve learned this isn’t an uncommon reaction for people who’ve been starved for a time. Their brain registers FOOD! and common sense is lost among the impulses. Their hands automatically start stuffing and people may even eat themselves to death. For my friend, all that salt in her pizza spread through her system, causing her tissues retain fluid until she was uncomfortably bloated.

Maybe puffer fish is an exaggeration, but the simile came to me and I thought it an interesting comparison.

In time my friend discovered one long-term side-effect of those prolonged fasts: starving drains your bones of much-needed minerals like calcium. One day she tripped going down some stairs and broke her leg. Her doctor, after seeing the x-ray, told her, “Your shattered bone looks just like corn flakes.”

It seems self-discipline and will power are rather like muscles. If we don’t use them, they become limp. Bypassing self-discipline in favor of complete abstinence, she short-circuited her willpower. Later, faced with the same temptations, she caved. Food and cigarettes became chronic problems. I won’t say that fasting is either wrong or harmful, in moderation, but nothing can build up the muscles of self-control, or deliver us from our vices, like the day-by-day exercise of resisting temptation.

Sad to say, my friend didn’t live long enough to reap the benefits of all that system-cleansing, either. Shortly after she turned 65 she was diagnosed with intestinal cancer and died a year or so later.

I think of her often, and miss visiting with her.

“It’s Over”

Fandango’s prompt word for today is OVER. As I took a second look at it just now to see if the word would nudge me into a blog post, a memory popped up. So here’s my response:

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“It’s over,” I’d tell myself. Over and over I repeated those words, fighting the feelings, the sensations running through my system.

When I was 27 I found a hard, walnut-sized lump in one breast. A shocker. I thought my life was OVER — too soon! Five minutes later I’d made an appointment with my GP.  Within a week I was facing surgery for breast cancer.

Being so young, I recovered fairly fast afterward. I was booked for a trip to the Cancer Clinic at London’s Victoria Hospital. (London, Ontario, that is) I was given three different oral chemo drugs and the oncologist set up a schedule for chemo-therapy.

Every Monday morning I had to report for blood tests, then was taken to a small room where I sat and had that stuff pumped into my veins. As time went on the veins got more uncooperative and would collapse when the nurse tried to insert the needle. She tried 3 or 4 sites at times. Now THAT got painful!

It’s pretty hard to describe how I felt after chemo. Not really weak, but like you had something inside you that you just didn’t WANT to feel or think about. Even back in Jan of 1981, when I started chemo, they had pretty good anti-nausea drugs but I didn’t push my luck by thinking about how I felt. I focused on, “This will very soon be over.”

For the first eight treatments the drugs (methotrexate, vincristine, and something called FV) were cold from the fridge, injected right into my vein. Definitely chills a person! Sometimes I read that expression in a tension-filled scene, “His blood ran cold.” I believe I know what that feels like a lot better than any story character. 🙂 And before long my head was cold, too, because my hair started falling out after the second treatment and was completely gone by the third.

Vincristine—extracted from a South African primrose, if I recall correctly—has some nasty side effects: it damages the nerve endings. I had to quit that after three treatments because my finger tips and toes were numb.

The second round, Adriamycin, lasted four weeks, again once a week. This drug was so damaging to the vein the nurse would inject it very slowly through an IV drip. Thankfully, though, it didn’t knock out my hair, which had started to grow again.

During those weeks different friends kindly drove me into the city and drove me home again. We went straight home, never tried to stop and pick up this or that. And all the way home I’d tell myself, “It’s over.”

At certain times of your life, OVER can be a most beautiful word.

 

Life Goes On

It’s time for another Friday Fictioneers prompt. Many thanks to Rochelle Wisoff-Fields, for hosting our group and choosing our prompts, and thanks to Roger Bulltot for this picture he has submitted, the ruins of the Renwick Smallpox Hospital.

I thought of life-and-death battles fought here. Smallpox has been subdued but now cancer is the dreaded foe. Tuesday we attended the funeral of a grandfather who fought a battle with leukemia (CML) and yesterday I made an appointment to have my blood counts checked again. My muse, awash in a wave of blue, delivered this 100-word tale. I hesitated to post it as my F.F. response, but hope you’ll tell me if it sounds too melodramatic or soppy.

NOTE: All photos are property of the photographer, donated for use in Friday Fictioneers only, and should not be used for any other purpose without express permission. 

LIFE GOES ON

Contemporary fiction

“Thanks for bringing me to this peaceful spot. Let’s stop awhile. You’re tired of pushing me.”

“Never!” Pearl braked the wheelchair and kissed Grandma’s cheek.

“See those doves nesting up there. The people have passed yet life goes on here. That comforts me. You grandchildren will find mates, build your nests and our family will continue on.

“Let’s not…”

“I’ve been so privileged to see you all grow up, now I get to enjoy these goodbye days. So many don’t.”

Pearl’s eyes teared up. “Don’t give up, Grandma. Another round of chemo…”

“Take me home now, dear. I want to rest.”

Six Drops of Sinister Sauce

Those of you who were children, or had children, around 1973, may remember Count Kook chanting his tried-and-true Monster recipe:
“Five drops of the essence of terror
six drops of sinister sauce…”

For some reason that little snippet popped into my head this morning, probably because I was searching for words to describe the tsunami rolling through my emotions. Too bad “opaque” wasn’t today’s Word Press prompt, because it fits so well.

As I awoke this morning, this wave threatened to submerge me. I detected a tinge of terror, certainly some sinister sauce — it goes so well with cancer scares! I’m getting a whiff of foreboding dissolved in a cup of anticipation, a handful of hope, a chunk of resignation. All in this boggling batter of suspended animation.

So what brought this on? I had a blood test yesterday in preparation for my check-up at the Cancer Clinic tomorrow. Up until now I haven’t given this visit too much anxious thought but the blood test somehow brought it all to the forefront again. What will the results be? Will I still be stabilized, or will my leukemic white cells be multiplying with gay abandon? How bad, how fast? Will I need more chemo before long, or will I be okay for a few more years?

Another cancer survivor, Stacey LePage, wrote in her blog about these same feelings, wanting to avoid the checkup-visit, not wanting to hear a verdict. Not wanting bad news to flood her plans for a happy summer. Read her article here.

Even though I’m not really fearing the visit or anticipating bad news, the impending arrival does something to my body chemistry. I saw this funny, numbing emotional wave of blue coming at me and I felt like crawling under the covers until I’ve heard the score. Then to top it all off I have a bothersome tooth, starting yesterday, and woke up from a nightmare this morning.

Thankfully the sun has come out, the birds are filling our morning with their songs, I’ve painted the swallow houses a friend built for me. Spring is my favorite time of year, especially when my swallow friends return to greet me — something I’ll write about more in another post. I’m happy to get their homes ready for them.

I have some blanket squares to sew together today, too. While I’m eager to put tomorrow’s visit behind me, come what may, I do have lots of cheerful things with which I can dispel this opaque feeling. And Stacey tells us in her recent post that she’s writing a memoir about her experiences as she battles stage-four ovarian cancer. She’s giving it the neat and very apt title: Overcoming Stage Fright.

Yes, something good really can come from life’s hardest, most painful lessons. That faith is what keeps us plodding on.