“Karl, are you awake? We need to try to get you up so you can walk a few steps and then you need to eat something.”
Arrrrrr. Light. Noise. Hurt. Bad.
“Is there anything in particular you would like to eat, Karl?”
So, it begins.
It’s the morning after surgery. The sun is up; it’s a bright day with clear skies, and birdies are tweeting.
The only thing that’s tweeting near me is a monitor set next to my bed. Oh, and that little whistle in my head that signals,” Morphine, please.”
I have made a trip to Frank’s Chop Shop. Frank has opened me with an impressive vertical abdominal incision running from pubic bone to belly button, flittered around inside me for a couple hours, and removed a cancerous prostate. He has also extracted some lymph nodes and tissue surrounding the demolition site for analysis in the lab.
This is not a pretty condition; and not low on the discomfort and pain scale.
But, given the likely alternative were the procedure not undertaken — whether that alternative arrived in five, 10 or 20 years — the situation is certainly bearable. Yes, even desirable.
We guys tend to get prostate cancer, you know. Lots of us. It sets up shop in that oh-so-male gland and, more times than not, at some point it metastasizes and truly bad things happen — all evidence supporting the fact each of us guys must be tested regularly, regardless of our silly apprehensions. This is a disease that can sneak up on a fellow: it can grow barely noticed and can move on without, in some cases, any profound subjective signs the beast is on the prowl. Especially if someone is in denial.
Fortunately, in many cases, with that testing — PSA tests, digital exams, biopsies — the disease is now discovered while it remains encapsulated in the gland and one of several things can be done to deal with it before the worst case scenario kicks in.
The woman who brings me a tray with my order of Grrrflammafiz smiles and watches as I take two small bites. Can’t say at this point in time I am ready for food. And — a truly rare moment in my life — I am not interested in thinking about food and drink. Just morphine, please.
Not so just before the procedure. When I see Frank as they prepare to wheel me into the operating theatre I ask him two things. First, I inquire as to whether he has experienced any troublesome tremors or twitches of late. Second, I ask if they can put a splash or two of a nice Syrah/Grenache blend into my IV bag.
No tremors. No wine.
Next thing I know, I am in the recovery room. Then, I am in my room attempting to choke down some Grrrflammafiz.
Next day, they give me the boot. They pull most of the tubes out of me on Day Two and I slowly make my way to the car, toting a Foley catheter bag, shuffling along like an elderly shopper at a Saturday sale at Wal-Mart. They send me home to recuperate. For a couple weeks, I will be basically helpless. There are many who will argue — with considerable evidence — that I am helpless by nature. In this case, it’s helpless squared.
On Day Two I also make a small move back to normalcy.
Trapped in the bed that will be my primary resting place the next two weeks, I realize I am hungry. While my choices will be severely limited, and the amounts restrained, I begin to ponder some food choices. Something beyond a quick sauté of hydrocodone and a fistful of flavored stool softeners.
Grrrflammafiz is not on the list.
It is at this point I discover something can be said in defense of prostate surgery other than the fact it, hopefully, prevents the spread of an insidious disease,
People bring you food.
Next best thing to a funeral, specifically because you are around to enjoy the taste treats.
I would like to think that the folks who bring food to the house over the course of five days do so for me. I would like to think they read my column and understand the dread I deal with when I confront the specter of Kathy The Cook. If it were a matter of Kathy, The Baker, I would be eager to see what awaits. But, Kathy The Cook, faced by the task of a couple weeks of meals ...
The reality, of course, is they do it for Kathy, knowing she is under a great deal of stress coping with my care, then dealing with the arrival two days after my surgery of our grandson, Banzai.
Regardless of the reason, though, the food is great. I can’t eat a whole lot of it, but I sample everything and top off the shrunken tank whenever possible.
Barbara and Farrell deliver a roast chicken and fruit. Carole brings soup. Charla whips up some enchilada casserole. Ming and Tom come by with chicken and shitake, and baby bok choy. Cynthia stops in with a caprese salad and herb-crusted chicken.
I nibble, thoroughly enjoying the flavors. Everything I taste goes quite well with the subtle tang of hydrocodone.
Once I cut back on the painkillers on Day Four and my head clears a bit, I get back in the groove — at least in terms of thinking about food. This is an ideal situation in which to reassess this most necessary and delightful part of life.
What would I most like to eat right now, assuming, of course, I could do so? And, surely, once I heal.
It is not hard to compile a list of items that come to mind and thus begin work on a semi-scientific assessment of my food profile. It never hurts to take stock and make adjustments. It’s good exercise when you are alone in a room, without television, for hours at a time.
Here’s what comes to mind right out of the chute.
I don’t think about salads, at all. Neither do any desserts recommend themselves. I go straight for bigger stuff.
First, soups. Carole’s soup reminds me how gratifying a great soup can be. I resolve to work on some soups in the near future, before winter is over. A pumpkin curry soup, atwitter with all manner of spices and buoyed by unsweetened coconut milk and creams seems a good place to start.
A traditional onion soup. Saddled up with a croque monsieur. Or two.
For the warmup: Cheese straws, with a hit of single malt.
Then, into the deep end of the pool.
Braised oxtails or veal shanks, served with garlicky smashed potatoes all toasty brown from the broiler.
A thick chicken mole, slathered over masa/corn/cumin/chile cakes, with a side of black beans.
Pissaladiere, with a nice white.
A chicken paillard, pounded out in the company of a layer of shaved Parmesan cheese and a blanket of prosciutto, quick-fried in olive oil and butter.
Pappardelle with wild mushroom sauce.
And, why not add a gut buster to the first section of my list in honor of my ripped abdomen: Lasagna.
I have a lot of time on my hands, so I intend to devote at least an hour to my list each morning. Once it is complete, I will undertake the analysis, beginning with categorization of the found elements.
So, once the healing is over, what will I get from this experience? Well, surely a better understanding of the tastes and dishes that drive my food consciousness. And, of course, from the reminder of mortality, the grace of yet another day, the chance that a more formidable problem has been averted.
Plus, something else: I think it is entirely possible one can eat well by simply planning a calendar of surgeries. Not real ones, mind you — fake surgeries, each shared with a separate circle of friends and acquaintances.
Have I told you? I’m scheduled for a gall bladder surgery February 10. Then, I’m having a hip replacement in March. If you would like to run some dinner options by me prior to the events, please e-mail them to me and I will let you know what I can and can’t have delivered to the door.
I like to eat by six.
Now, however, Kathy is doing her first real stint in the kitchen tonight. I can hear her in there, crashing pots and pans, muttering to herself.
Not a good sign.
“Honey, how are you doing out there?”
“Great. Don’t worry about a thing. Things should be ready in ten minutes or so, and I’ll come get you up.”
“What’s for dinner?”