Daniel and I have always attempted to keep our health a priority. We have stayed relatively active, and we’ve tried to eat as many fresh foods as possible. We were poor college kids when we got together, so most of our “dates” were spent either splitting a cup of coffee at the bookstore or going for very long walks (some things never change). Since the beginning of our relationship, we always enjoyed cooking new things together, perfecting recipes that were our favorites from growing up or trying new ones completely from scratch (some things do change). I come from a line of amazing cooks, and Daniel’s mom raised him on delicious Southwestern fare. We grew together as we learned our way around each other in front of the stove.
One of my favorite memories of Daniel is him throwing a dish towel over his shoulder and sashaying around our kitchen, humming to himself. We’d spend way too long making food that was gone way too quickly.
And then January of 2006 came. And everything changed.
In January, 2006, we were in Ohio for a weekend telling family and friends the news that we were expecting a baby. On January 20th we went to a pub with my parents and Jessica; Daniel ordered beer-battered fish and chips and a Guinness. It was a treat because 1) Papa was paying and 2) we so rarely eat anything fried. Later that night we went to see Liz and share our good news. As I was telling Liz to start knitting me one of her baby blankets, Daniel excused himself to go get some fresh air because he was feeling a little off. He was pale and clammy, and he never came back inside. When I left, I found him on his knees on the sidewalk, supporting himself on his fingertips, his lips white. I thought it was food poisoning. He never did get sick, but he’s never gotten well, either.
Everything changed in that moment. Daniel suffered extreme abdominal pain constantly; for months he could only eat dried cereal and lettuce. He would take a sandwich baggie of Romaine to work with him, nibble on it for 9 hours, and bring leftovers home. He couldn’t be around most cooked food because the smells upset his stomach too much. He dropped 30 pounds in a matter of weeks, lost nearly all his energy and slipped into a dark place. Our social life went down the drain; our active life bit the dust; our sex life was a joke; and I started feeling resentful because pregnancy was a time I actually wanted some of the spotlight, but we could only focus on him and the extreme nature of his health.
In 5 months Daniel underwent every single test available for gastrointestinal issues; we spent thousands of dollars we’d saved so I could stay home with Grey on tests that were completely inconclusive. The specialist was so convinced the problem was Daniel’s gall bladder that he scheduled him for surgery without even telling him. One day Daniel got a call from the surgeon’s office to confirm a mystery appointment. When Daniel asked what the appointment was for, the receptionist told him it was to take his gall bladder out. He spoke with a nurse in the office, asking her what was wrong with his gall bladder, why they were planning to remove it. She looked through his chart and at the test results and told him that there was nothing conclusive revealing why the surgery had been scheduled. (Thank you, medical field. And you wonder why some of us are so hesitant to trust you.) So he canceled the surgery and never went back to the specialist.
Daniel’s health never really improved. Over time, the pain lost its severity. He can handle going out in public now, and most smells don’t bother him. The list of foods he can’t eat has shrunk to a pretty manageable size (we don’t even notice it until we try to tell other people what he can’t eat), and most of his energy has come back. He even gained back about half the weight he lost. He still has to monitor himself because every bite he takes could be one too many. Last year he started seeing a naturopath doctor who diagnosed him with a fungus and a parasite, both of which are gone after an extremely restricted diet (think a week of nothing but carrot juice) and a combination of natural supplements. The doctor also discovered that Daniel has a hiatal hernia, and treating that has allowed Daniel to brave some of the foods that used to send him over the edge.
I felt like we used to be pretty healthy people. I never felt like we were extreme with our diet choices until we would reveal to someone that we never eat at McDonald’s. Like, NEVER. (OK, I had moments of weakness when I was pregnant–which I’m sure is definitely not the time to start eating McDonald’s.) But as a result of the last 4 years, we’ve reached a new level of extreme. We stopped eating pork. And then we stopped putting cheese on everything. And we rarely use condiments or eat packaged snack foods. We might go out to a restaurant once every 6 months. And I’ve never, ever, seen Daniel drink soda, something I do about once every two years (if I happen to be somewhere they actually make their own root beer). So, our version of healthy eating is I guess quite a bit more extreme than most.
I wonder if life will ever look like it used to, Daniel dancing around me in the kitchen, dicing up peppers and tasting whatever is on the stove. These days he gets up and cooks a hot breakfast almost every morning; I’m convinced it’s because that’s pretty much the only thing he can enjoy eating afterward. We used to cook 4 or 5 times a week together. Now I might cook once or twice a week because it seems like there’s almost no point; I think our cat eats more than Daniel does. It’s weird how something that used to just be part of life now dictates our life. I realized a few months back that Grey had never eaten spaghetti, that I get jealous of what other people’s kids eat because mine have been raised in a home without black pepper let alone green peppers. Sometimes I break cardinal rule #1: absolutely, positively NO ONIONS just because my palate is SO BORED. And then I regret it because Daniel will have heartburn for days (he can’t even be in the room if onions are cooking). Fortunately we have a community of friends who are very accommodating, always willing to tone down their own tastes so we can enjoy a meal with them. (Get this, I watched the Spruill kids last week and was responsible to transport them to a pre-church potluck. Lala had made a big pan of potatoes for the potluck, but she was sensitive to Daniel’s onion aversion, and chose to cook her own dish without onions in the event I had to use my stove to heat them up. This is love.) And I have friends who will cook me delicious, flavorful foods that I cannot make at my home (like Sherilin who promptly asked upon my tasting if Daniel would be able to eat the sweet potato quesadillas, and like Ashely who just sent me a text to come over because she is cooking onions and garlic). I don’t know if life will ever be like it was then, but I do know I need to find some more inspiration to start cooking again.