Wednesday, January 28, 2009

[Black Magic More]

Written: 11 December 2008


Black Magic More

Tonight, I have reached a new milestone. I bought myself three sexy “jumbo” mugs for my coffee—the sort that generally holds cups of soup more often than cups of coffee. Very bohemian coffee-shopesque. I poured myself a cup of coffee and, just as I was about to douse the small amount of coffee with about a pound of Splenda, creamer, and coffee syrup, I paused. When was the last time I tried coffee—just plain coffee? Come to think of it, it’s been almost exactly four years since I have been brave enough to try the bitter blackness.

I made myself a promise at a very early age. If ever I tried a dish or a drink and did not enjoy it, I would try it again in a year. This vow has served me well over the years. While I still cannot reconcile my fickle taste buds to anything spicy, this decision has taught me to enjoy such succulent dishes as potato salad and very crispy fried chicken. Healthy, no, but it does make picnics a bit more fulfilling. I guess this is just my otherwise shy adventurous side making itself known.

So, I heated up the coffee. I sipped, wincing, expecting to gag as I had in the hotel lobby four years ago, and...

I liked it!

Now, granted, I still believe I will continue to strongly prefer a java-chip frappuccino pretty much any day over a good but bitter cup of coffee. All the same, a whole new world of caffeinated glory has opened itself up to me.

The journey of caffeine indulgence from Pepsi to black coffee has been long and, well, fun. I cannot remember a day of my life in which I have not craved caffeine. One of my first words, according to my parents, pertained to caffeine. Using a toddler’s sense of reasoning, I tried to figure out how to get more Pepsi. I liked Pepsi. Pepsi tingled my mouth. Pepsi made me happy. Following that good old toddler logic, I observed that whenever Mom offered me Pepsi, she always asked, “Do you want some more?” The wheels began to turn. I began to conclude that what I was hearing was actually, “Do you want some More?” More had to be the name of this magical cup of miracles.

“I want Mowee.” Forget milk. Forget water. Forget juice. I just want some More.

That’s right… not even two years old, and already an addict. My future was now set in stone. Give me all your More and no one will get hurt.

For a good ten years or so, the only caffeine I acknowledged came in a blue (Pepsi) or red (Coca-Cola) can. Yes, I had heard of other sodas—even tried Dr. Pepper, but I just found myself wondering what idiot gave Mr. Pepper a doctorate. Then, my sense of culinary adventure began to kick in. I tried again. Dr. Pepper began to appeal to my taste buds. Sprite and 7Up made me smile, but their lack of caffeine put me to sleep and failed to capture my undying devotion. I even discovered the motherlode: a soda that came in my favorite color—pink! Vess put out a crème soda that, even if the flavor had made me gag, I would have loved for looking like a soda Barbie would drink. My world began to grow some more.

In high school, I tried a cup of coffee for the first time. Sitting at a table with my family at the Lennon Sisters breakfast show, I took a sip.

I nearly sprayed my Uncle Chuck, who sat across the table from me chuckling (pardon the pun) at the look on my face. Sugar did nothing but make the bitter taste turn medicinal-flavored. The waitress returned.

“May I have a Pepsi instead?” She smothered a laugh and brought me my familiar comfort.

For a long time, I couldn’t even stand even a trace of coffee taste in anything. One day, Mom brought home a gallon of chocolate mocha ice cream. When I heard chocolate, I grabbed the biggest bowl in the house. “Me please!” I smiled as the scoops multiplied. I took a bite. I wrinkled my nose. “Um, Dad, do you want this?” He rolled his eyes and took the bowl. It was empty before I’d even returned to the kitchen.

In 2002, I moved into Missouri Hall at Truman State University, and I stocked my refrigerator with my new caffeinated love: Diet Mountain Dew. My soda took up almost as much room as my truckload of storage boxes. My roommate Tracy raised an eyebrow but said nothing. I smiled sheepishly.

A couple months into the semester, I found myself freezing. I had no idea that 300 miles could make such a difference as far as climate, but trust me when I say that Kirksville was a whole different playing field. My room, receiving no sunlight and—unbeknownst to me until the end of the semester—having windows that were cracked open at the top, did nothing to help warm me up at the end of the day. I could sit on the damned radiator and my bum would still be blue. I needed something that was hot and that would keep me awake. Hot cocoa, though fabulous in flavor, failed the latter test.

Then, in the dining hall, I spied the cappuccino machine. I hesitated. I stepped closer. I hesitated again. I reached for a cup, and filled it up. With great trepidation, I sipped.

I promptly grabbed two more cups and filled them up. I had found my new love. I wanted, in a word, More. But More was no longer Pepsi. More had taken on a much broader base. More was black magic—caffeine, in almost any form.

Two more years passed. I tried all the frou-frou drinks from Starbucks and Jazzman’s in the student union. I loved them all. Still, I dared not sip it straight. The smell of coffee was—and always had been—heaven to me, but the taste simply did not match the magnificent roasted fragrance. Then, I went on a cruise with my parents. On the drive down to Mobile, Alabama, we stopped in a hotel for the night. I needed caffeine after the madness of that drive, and I needed it ASAP.

In the hall, I froze in my tracks.

The soda machine was empty!

I gaped in horror. My mind could not grasp the madness of this reality. No soda? I stumbled aimlessly back in what I thought was the direction of our room, paying little mind to which direction I walked. I found myself in the lobby. Caffeine? Could there be some caffeine in here somewhere?

There it was. But it was in coffee form! Desperate, I grabbed a foam cup and filled it up, making sure to grab as many packets of sugar as I could carry. I walked it back to my room (it was still too hot to drink), and waited. Finally, it cooled enough for me to try. Ugh! Okay, let’s try the sugar. Well, that helped. I can at least drink it, even if I can’t enjoy it.

I was making progress. I knew then that I was growing accustomed to the taste. I couldn’t drink it black yet, and I knew that I would still be the one to “have a little coffee in my creamer” for a while yet, but there was hope. Someday, I might yet be able to walk into a diner and order a cup of coffee—and just drink it.

Then—tonight. It’s term paper season in graduate school, and each semester gets a little more stressful, and I get less and less sleep as the stress increases. I need More—and more of it! Tonight, I tasted black magic—straight—and Someday has finally arrived. I finally taste what I smell—roasted goodness, not bitterness. I am officially a product of my culture. I’m so proud. Should I be? Is this even something to take joy in? Probably not. But black magic has a seductive side that I never saw coming until it had taken me, heart and soul, and the transformation is complete, and all I want is More.

Oh, no… I’m out!

Please, sir, may I have some More?

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

[So... How am I?]

I know, I know... it sure took me long enough.  Why wait so long to update, especially after such a crazy surgery?  Well, a lot happened, and there were a good number of unanswered questions.  

Disclaimer: some details about my recovery and current state of health may contain TMI (too much information) for some readers.  If you are a reader who is opposed to knowing about a patient's digestive troubles, proceed with discretion.  I will be quite blunt.

First off, as I mentioned in my previous blog, the surgery went perfectly.  No breathing tube issues (a definite first for me!), no excessive blood loss, and no complications.  Celebrate! 

The recovery, on the other hand, has been significantly less... smooth. 

One issue that came up is that, inevitably, some nerves had to be cut.  The surgery involved tying off, draining, and removing a large sac of excess spinal fluid, and while thankfully this took place at the very base of my spine, some areas of my body were affected.  Namely, my bladder and colon (particular the sphincter). 

The first problem arose with my bladder.  I mentioned in my previous post that I would soon be going home--I did go home. The day after Christmas.  It was great.  But I was still on a catheter, and unbeknownst to us, I had contracted a UTI (urinary tract infection).  The next day, I woke with a vicious headache and severe vomiting--10 hours of vomiting, to be exact.  By evening, my parents had realized what I knew the moment I'd woken up--it was time to go back to the hospital.  Never had I been so glad to be back in a hospital room.  No, wait, that would be a lie--I've had two other surgeries where I had to go back and was glad to receive expert care again.  Still, it's a top three experience.  Hello anti-nausea and painkillers!

I had a rough few days as we realized that my bladder wasn't going to work on its own.  I did finally manage to empty my bladder by straining very hard--something that has been the case ever since--so I got the catheter out.  But that wasn't the end of my troubles. In addition to my colon being in shock from not having this big mass pressing on it, my sphincter no longer works (we're still hoping time will heal this).  As a result, I'm now on a steady diet of Metamucil, stool softener, and laxatives to try to keep things moving as they should.  While the main part of my colon is now doing the job, the last leg of the journey often needs... help.  For awhile after getting home again (on New Year's Eve--the last day on my parents' insurance!), I had to rely on Mom (who's experienced caring for another individual with nerve damage) to, well, pull crap out of me--literally. 

The problems persist.  The good news now is that I don't have to call my mom for help with the, shall we say, crappy problems.  I've learned how to handle it myself.  But I still have no feeling in my bladder, it's still a strain to pee, and I have to keep a constant supply of latex gloves and vaseline on hand to make sure I don't get backed up and sick again. 

It's official--the last shred of my dignity have gone.  Ha.

I'm trying to watch my diet now, trying to pick foods that are high in fiber.  While this does further complicate life (have you seen fresh food prices lately?), it's been good.  I'm down from 143 pounds to 126.  Another ten pounds, and I'll be where I should be for my body type.  My energy, in spite of the aches and the whole energy-rebuilding thing, is better.  My migraines are much fewer--though I've had a few heachaches due to the surgery and caffeine withdrawal.  I'm on a few new medications (to encourage my bladder to regain normal usage) that do cause some drowsiness, so I'm working on scheduling them so that I'm not affected by them during the day.  My emotions are less spastic, my face is clearer, and I'm not dealing with the constant lightheadedness I had been for a year or two.

Now that I'm past the worst of the recovery, I can say that the good outweighs the bad.  I'm hoping, hoping, hoping to regain normalcy soon with the issues, but even if I don't, these are things that I can learn to live with.  All in all (and all downsides considered), the surgery has been a success.

It would just be nice if I could live without some of the loss of dignity. :)

I hope this answers all the "How are you feeling?" questions.  Sorry it's taken me awhile--I just didn't want to repeat myself too much. 

My next goal: graduate in May!  Trust me--it's gonna be a challenge.