|Me, Karen and my grandfather at our graduation.|
Sunday, December 19, 2021
Thursday, December 2, 2021
I can still see your face
daring me to make a scene.
I still wonder if the waiter knew
why the plate wasn’t clean.
I still mourn that cake,
and the bites you wasted.
But I’ve never wished for another bite of you
or even remember how you tasted.
–– Justine Frederiksen
Wednesday, December 1, 2021
|My mother, 13, and my grandmother, 42.|
Sunday, November 21, 2021
|Meal time at grandma's orphanage in Covina, Calif.|
That was cool.
I don’t remember spending any Thanksgivings with my grandmother as a child. Likely because she lived in Los Angeles most of the years my parents were raising my sister and me near Santa Cruz, but also I’m not sure that holiday was very important to her. She didn’t like to bake or cook at all, and never seemed comfortable at social gatherings, especially those with family.
My last year of college, I drove up from campus to stay with her in Santa Cruz (where she had moved to when I was a teenager) during my holiday break, so we were both invited to the donut shop that Thanksgiving.
|Grandma with my cat the year we ate at the donut shop.|
She didn’t cook anything to bring; most of what she made in the kitchen was canned soup, toast and tea. But she did buy a pumpkin pie at Trader Joe’s, put on hose and her best hat, and seemed very happy to introduce me to her family at the donut shop. I think she was quite proud that I was finally completing a university degree as my mother had, especially since for years it seemed I would never move on from community college.
She never married or even had long-term romantic relationship, but she did have a daughter whom she raised as a single working mother in the 1940s and 50s. As adults they always had a tense relationship, but my grandmother deeply loved her only child, and was quietly devastated when she was killed in a car crash at the age of 41.
Which is why I think she sought out places like the donut shop, where you could sit and soak in other humans as much, or as little, as you wanted. And then leave whenever you wanted.
At the orphanage in Southern California where she was raised, the dozens of children ate all their meals together in a large dining room. I imagine for my grandmother, eating and drinking in a communal setting like the donut shop must have felt like home, giving her the kind of intimacy she was most comfortable with.
Learning my grandmother had such a support system that day made me so relieved. And to wish that we can all find a donut shop of our own.
Friday, November 12, 2021
That is cool.
Cool because it took many months of walking together before she would let me touch her. And much longer before she ever touched me.
And cool because the first time she came to my house, she didn’t want to come inside. Since she weighs 120 pounds and has four legs to anchor them all, I thought we would never get her through the doorway until my husband straddled and walk-pushed that dog into the house so she could spend the night while her owner was in the hospital.
Then a few months ago she began staying with us every Friday while her owner goes out of town for work.
Sunday, November 7, 2021
No one could figure out why I kept getting sicker. Until a blog post about spinach solved the mystery.
|Starting to feel myself again at the ocean in April.|
That was cool.
I seriously credit that blog post with saving me. Because three months and multiple visits with multiple doctors who prescribed multiple medications later, I was only getting worse: Terrified to eat, steadily losing weight and waking up every night with pain, although countless scans and tests could find nothing wrong with me.
By late March I was losing hope of getting better and was about to tell my husband to put me somewhere to be fed through a tube; I was done trying to figure out what I could eat without pain while slowly wasting away.
Night after night I woke shaking from pain and fear, telling myself, “THIS time you’re going to the emergency room. You can’t go on like this.” But I knew hospitals were drowning in Covid-19 patients, so I would curl up on my side and my husband would put his arms around me until I fell asleep, and in the morning I would feel OK again. Until I started eating again.
The week I hit bottom I had two doctor’s appointments, both on the phone because of Covid-19. And both times when the screening nurses asked if I was having suicidal thoughts I lied, denying that every night I was wishing not to wake up again to another day of pain. Not just the constant pain in my gut, bladder and vulva, but new symptoms no one could explain: burning in my throat and sinuses, the flushing in my neck and cheeks at night.
And I hated being so skinny. For the first time in my life I stepped on
the scale hoping to see the numbers go up. At
Christmas I was 140, now I was 125. Afraid to exercise, I had even stopped doing my favorite activity, hiking up a nearby hill with my dog, because that just made the numbers go down faster.
But worse than not being able to eat, sleep, have sex without pain or take long walks in the forest, was knowing that everyone, even my husband, and sometimes even me, was starting to believe I was crazy.
After the last phone call with my doctor, I sat out in the backyard, hoping the sun on my face would help me feel better, when I remembered something I read about recurring bladder pain with no underlying infection. I went back online and luckily stumbled upon that blog post with a man explaining how his wife stopped putting raw spinach and kale in her smoothies because the oxalates gave her vulva pain. And how eating too much oxalic acid can make your throat and sinuses burn…
Suddenly it all made sense. I had been eating handfuls of raw spinach in my morning smoothie for years, and when my gut pain was first assumed to be an ulcer, I began eating even more smoothies to help it heal. Some days I drank three smoothies with not only spinach, which has an extremely high amount of oxalic acid, but then added plenty more of the acid with almond milk and hemp.
Some nights the burning in my throat got so bad I woke at 4 a.m. to, yes, have another smoothie. Because at the time I had no idea what was causing the burning, and at least for a little while the cool liquid was soothing. But I was just making myself sicker.
As soon as I read the blog post I stopped eating any spinach, kale or Swiss chard. Next I found the website of Sally K. Norton and learned that oxalic acid could also be causing my gut pain, as it is “corrosive to the lining of the digestive system,” then it pulls minerals from your body to form sharp crystals called oxalates that can irritate your gut, bladder and vulva as your system tries to excrete them.
After reading Norton’s lists of foods to avoid, I stopped eating some of my favorites like almonds, potatoes and dark chocolate. That was very difficult at first, but soon much easier when the burning in my throat stopped immediately, and the pain in my gut, bladder and vulva started slowly improving.
A month after I stopped eating spinach, I felt well enough to go to the ocean for the weekend to celebrate my birthday. I walked an easy, flat trail along the water, feeling better than I had since Christmas, and left determined to get my strength up enough to climb mountains again.
|At the Yuba Rim Trail overlook in May.|
I realize now the oxalates were likely causing the irritation that sent me to doctors four times in the six months before Christmas for what I thought were bladder and yeast infections. But no one had asked me about my diet. They just prescribed antibiotics, which likely just made the problem worse, because antibiotics kill your gut microbes, which can cause your body to absorb even more oxalates.
Only after I figured out what was wrong did a gynecologist confirm, “Oxalates can cause vulvodynia (vulva pain), no question. But you would have to eat a lot of spinach.”
Well, I was eating a lot of spinach. And kale. And hemp. And Swiss Chard. And potatoes with the skins. And sweet potatoes. And quinoa. And brown rice. And dark chocolate. And almonds. And almond milk. And whole grapefruits. And lemon peel. And cornmeal. And countless other “healthy” foods that are high in oxalic acid.
But no one I saw about my pain asked what I was eating. They asked if I smoked. Or used illicit drugs. Or drank a lot of alcohol. Or took a lot of ibuprofen.
I remember telling my doctor in exasperation once, “It’s not like I’m eating cheeseburgers all day! I’m drinking smoothies, and still having pain.” He didn’t then ask, “So, what are you putting in those smoothies? Are they by chance full of spinach, almond milk, hemp powder and cinnamon?!!”
When I talked to my doctor again this fall and said I finally felt back to normal after determining I had been overdosing on oxalic acid, he seemed to agree with my diagnosis. “Huh. I didn’t think of that, but now that you mention it, that makes sense.”
Norton warns of everything that happened to me, not just the pain, but how medical professionals likely won’t know what’s going on. She describes how doctors used to be far more familiar with oxalate poisoning generations ago when fresh produce wasn’t available year-round, so doctors would know that when people suddenly began feeling ill in the summer and fall, it was likely because they were eating fresh fruits and vegetables full of oxalic acid again.
Yet these days, she says, your symptoms are far more likely to be attributed to something else, such as an ulcer in my case. And that even if oxalates do become a suspect, there are really no easy tests that can accurately pinpoint them as the culprit.
The best way to figure out if oxalates are causing your pain and general malaise, Norton advises, is to stop eating foods with a lot of oxalic acid and see if you improve. And man, am I glad now I did just that.
Please be advised: This post is in no way meant to serve as a diagnosis for others; it is simply to share my experience recovering from a disturbing health scare that for a time seemed impossible to solve.
Monday, November 1, 2021
|Grandma in Paris.|
In 1996, she turned 81 while living alone in a mobile home park in Santa Cruz, Calif. But I wouldn't describe her as lonely; she was an extremely independent and persnickety woman whom I never knew to live with another person or even a pet. (I wrote more about her life in an earlier post.)
That was cool.
She began November of 1996 in Paris, visiting her friend Mimi and going to museums, cemeteries, ballets and the opera. After she came home I joined her for Thanksgiving that year, and we attended a holiday gathering at the donut shop she went to each morning.