A Lesson I Didn't Know I Needed to Learn
Cancer took away my love of eating. But it gave me back something much more precious.
Has anyone saved your life? I'm serious really saved your life?
My wife, Kristine, has literally saved my life -- twice.
First time... 'bout five years ago. I was cooking dinner. My Mom and Dad were over. I cooked a nice turkey breast in the slow cooker. I was slicing it up. I took a massive chunk and tried to eat it. Big, big bites. Stupid move. No real chewing. Just swallow.
A chunk lodged in my throat. Really lodged. I couldn't breathe. I couldn't swallow. I started to panic. You can't breathe. You can't talk. There is absolute silence. You know, nearly 5,200 people die from choking on food each year. With food lodged in your throat, you die in four to six minutes!
I started to motion toward my throat... toward my wife. I began to move outside. I didn't want my children and parents to see this. Kristine followed me to a side porch. She grabbed me around my waist and performed the Heimlich maneuver. She wrapped her arms around my waist. One quick thrust on the bottom of the diaphragm... below the ribs. It worked! The big chunk of turkey dislodged from my throat. Kristine saved my life!
Last year, before the cancer.... deja vu all over again.
This time, it was steak...a big mouthful of steak.This time, it was at a fancy downtown Pittsburgh restaurant. I was trying to eat a Big-Shot steak in record time, as if there were some prize for gluttony...turns out there isn't.
Somehow, I had a mental stopwatch on how fast I could finish a meal. Ridiculous. Kristine did it again.The Heimlich again.It took three thrusts this time.The steak dislodged into my hand. Kristine saved my life again.
Now, I'm in cancer recovery. I don't eat steak I don't taste it anymore. Same deal with turkey. A tiny bite here and there.Very little flavor. The surgery, radiation and chemo to my neck took away taste buds... for me anyway.
Who knew having to eat slowly was a good thing?
What I do eat is soft food and moist food -- steamed vegetables, soups. And it takes so long to eat a meal. Like the French. A small plate takes me an hour. My old pace was no more than 15 minutes. Huge change.
My first emotions...not pleasant. How could this horrible disease take away one of the greatest joys in life... eating? And more accurately speed eating?
"Sometimes painful things can teach us lessons that we didn't think we needed to know."
The words of actress/comedian Amy Poehler ring like a bell in my head. The choking incidents... the cancer treatments the pain... and the magnificent lessons. A seminal moment. A dinnertime lesson. A meal that once took me five minutes to eat... now takes an hour... maybe more.I can't taste much... I can't swallow easily. Swallowing is work. The joy of eating... gone. And then, it hit me.
I now have a full hour or so with my family. Kristine Sophia...Chloe... Vince... all waiting for Dad to finish dinner. A captive audience for an hour a night. It wasn't easy at first... kids get restless.. I get restless. "I am impatient because I resist suffering," said author Kilroy Oldster.
While "Daddy" eats, the stories flow. Chloe's Field Hockey practice: I scored three goals! Well, there wasn't a goalie, Dad. Vincent's video camp: Hey, Dad, we're making a superhero movie. I think we should use a Fart Machine!" Sophia's new hobby: Dad, look at the bracelet I made today. A 60 minute cornucopia of laughter... storytelling.. love. It's every night... every dinner.
My cancer... my pain... my difficulty eating.. became my family's journey toward a much better place.
Gotta go. Need to ask Kristine what we're having for dinner. Hoping it's tough to eat.