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Cooking blind in Brainville

I’m wandering around in the grocery store and I notice I can’t see things well — people, items on the shelves, labels.

I can’t blame it on the bright lights and colorful packages at the market; it’s been happening everywhere — at home, at work.

Things are fuzzy and I haven’t ingested anything known for making things fuzzy. I’ve always been severely myopic, but this is ridiculous.

Plus, there are things floating across the visual field in my left eye

— across a grid of little black dots.

Hmmm. Fuzzy. Floating things. Grid of black dots. No consumption of powerful hallucinogens.

Could be trouble, wouldn’t you say?

I put up with the irritation for a couple of weeks, hoping several bottles of a swell Malbec from Cahors would prove a remedy.

The wine is wonderful, but not medicinal.

I consider searching out a cooperative physician and obtaining a prescription for medical marijuana, knowing the weed’s positive effect on people with glaucoma.

The roadblock: I don’t have glaucoma. I could get some smoke via a free market businessperson, but I don’t have the cash or the connection.

So, I make a trip to the optometrist. He takes credit cards.

He has a bit of trouble correcting my vision. Best he can do: 20/40 in one eye, 20/60 in the other. Oh, and he says there is a bit of a problem with the upper quadrant of the visual field in my left eye. I never noticed it, amidst the floaters and dots, but I take his word for it.

Next stop, then, the ophthalmologist.

Bit of a problem in the upper quadrant of the visual field. In both eyes. As in, the upper quarter of the field is gone.

Check the eyes for organic problems.

Nada.

The ophthalmologist’s next move is less than comforting. Nowhere near as soothing as a glass of Cahors and some bud.

Next stop, The Tube. For a couple MRIs — of the orbits and the brain, each with and without screening.

Ah, The Tube. Lovely place, a medical fun park ride.. They give me headphones and play a Best of Eric Clapton CD. I enjoy three of the 14 tunes but they are distorted by the constant whirring and banging of the machine. It sounds like someone is hitting the outside of the device with a ball peen hammer. I get to spend an hour in The Tube, compressed like forcemeat in a casing.

The doc calls the next day and informs me I have a mass surrounding my pituitary gland.

As in a mass residing in the neighborhood behind the skull.

As in, Brainville.

Hmmm.

I Google the situation and it looks like the next stop will be at a neurosurgeon’s office. You know, neurosurgeons: abnormally confident guys and gals who like to root around in your gray matter with sharp objects.

I have always been a big fan of confidence, but …

“I have a mass growing in my head and they’ll probably have to dig it out.”

“Huh?,” says Kathy. “So you’ll have to undergo surgery and they’ll rummage around inside your head?”

“Probably.”

“I don’t think they’ll find a mass in there.”

“Do you mean to imply that I’m empty-headed?”

“Oh no, not at all. Confused a lot of the time, but never empty-headed. I think they’ll crack the melon, get in there and find an homunculus.”

“A what?”

“An homunculus. A teeny, humanlike creature. You know, the creature that sits inside your head and tells you to be a naughty boy. It’s been there all your life, hasn’t it? I mean, your record speaks for itself.”

“Well, I …”

“You know the voice — the one that says ‘Go ahead, Karl, do it. Go ahead and drink this or take that. Go ahead, Karl, eat that cheese; cook with that butter, open another bottle of wine. Another gin and tonic, a hit of Irish whiskey? Go right ahead, Karl; in fact, double up. You can do it, Karl. No problem. Go ahead and make that detour on the Internet; bet the mortgage money at the blackjack table. It’s OK, Karl.’ That voice. The homunculus.”

“Oh, yeah, that voice. I didn’t know it came from an actual, teeny person.”

“Yep, the homunculus. He probably has his own room in there and, wow, is he going to be peeved when they evict him. But, look at it this way: if they clean house, brainwise, you might be a much better person for it.”

“More agreeable, more loving?”

“Well, let’s not go overboard. But, it’s reasonable to expect a small improvement.”

“What if they get in there and find that all I have is the mass?”

“You’ve never been good at math, so why worry? You’ve always been easily distracted by bright, shiny objects. Life should go on pretty much as usual.”

So, here I am, faced with the possibility that a guy with an online medical degree is going to plow around behind my eyes in search of an homunculus. What is the risk?

What if I lose my vision?

As an artist, a painter, that could be a bit of a problem for me. My daughter, Ivy, has offered to put braille tags on paint tubes, but I have some doubts about the idea. The only upside to vision loss is that I would have to run my hands over people in order to identify them. Well, some of them.

What if my ability to speak is damaged?

“No problem there, for anyone,” says Kathy.

But, worst of all, what if my senses of smell and taste are altered?

This I can’t go for. I am putting this possibility out of my mind. Not be able to cook, to enjoy food and drink? Never!

I decide to practice and prepare for the time when I might not be able to see.

I’ll engage in blind cooking, just to get into the groove.

I blindfold myself and waddle from the front room to the kitchen. I bump into a couple of chairs and the kitchen island, but the crashes allow me to get my bearings. I discover that I know my way around the fairly tight space. There’s the sink. There’s the stove. There’s the cupboard. There’s the lazy Susan. There’s the cabinet with the pots and pans. There’s the refrigerator.

So, the map is in place; I am familiar with the geography.

In terms of cooking, I have to go back to basics; dishes requiring extensive prep work and multiple stages on stovetop and in oven, are probably out of the picture.

But things like casseroles, sautés, salads, sandwiches, burgers, etc. are possible.

I decide to make a pasta and cheese casserole during an “I can’t see” kitchen test.

Blindfold on, I find the pot. I fill it with water. I feel my way around the countertop until I find the bowl with kosher salt and I salt the water. I know which dial controls the front burner on the stove. I put the pan on the burner, centering it by touch before I fire things up. My stove’s burner dials produce a clicking noise at a point just below the highest setting, so I know when I have the burner on full blast. (Lower temps I will have to guesstimate, using the position of the pointer on the dial.)

I make out the box of pasta by its size, and by shaking it. I open it and discover, by touch, that the box contains penne.

Things get a little dicey here. As in, how do I know when the water is boiling? I get down fairly close to the pot and I can hear when the water begins to boil. I have that, and the steam burn on my cheek, to rely on.

Determining when the pasta is ready is a cinch. I fish a piece out with a slotted spoon (easy to find) and I taste it.

I put a colander inside and in the corner of the sink so I can locate it when I drain the pasta. If the rim of the pot goes inside the rim of the colander, I am on track.

I know how to preheat the oven and I know it automatically heats to 350.

Perfecto.

I find a clove of garlic in a bowl on the counter. I locate a casserole dish in the cabinet. I know the olive oil bottle by its shape. I oil the pan. I smash the clove of garlic and remove the paper. I smash and smush the clove and toss it in the pasta. My fingers smell like garlic.

A lesson learned: slicing and chopping can present a few obstacles. I attempt to dice a block of cheese (second bin in the fridge, smell and taste the contents) and I make a mental note: Avoid anticoagulants.

I add the cheese to the pasta, toss in a smidge of salt, grind a bit of black pepper (10 turns of the grinder) into the mix. I pop the casserole into the oven. I know when it is done because I am listening to a radio show that is 30 minutes long, When the show is over, I smell and touch the food in the oven to make sure it is thoroughly cooked.

Knowing when items are done is fairly easy; even when you can see, you still hear things in process, and you smell and touch food to know how well it is cooked.

The pasta is just fine. I am able to find a container of greens and make a salad. I feel my way to a passable vinaigrette thanks to the distinct shape of the bottle of red wine vinegar.

I try the blindfold test on a mess of chili. I do pretty well, with the exception of the injuries suffered when cutting the onion and a problem finding the bottle of ground cumin (Note: ground cardamom is not a suitable substitute for cumin).

So, I am buoyed by the notion that I will be able to cook a few things should I lose my sight. However, there are certain aspects of the kitchen adventure that remain daunting. I will have trouble setting burner and oven temperatures precisely and locating items in the cabinets and fridge that are not identified by some sort of tactile characteristic. The chances that I might plunge my hand into a pot of boiling water, set myself or the house on fire, shatter a glass object and slash myself, whack off a finger or sear a vital body part with a misplaced lunge into flame are worrisome.

Despite my ability to function at a marginal level in the kitchen, I’ll need some help. I’ll need someone to be my eyes in this situation. An assistant.

I can’t afford a part-time employee.

A helper monkey, perhaps?

Or…

I wonder if the homunculus needs a job?