Conscious Crisis

Conscious crisis. Sounds a bit ominous but when two trained nurses giggle and make googly eyes over it, you know it can’t be that serious. Well, to tell the truth they were really laughing over gas – no, nitrous not involved, but intestinal gas. Or the lack of it.

Ok, long story: I was in a cancer ward having been diagnosed with a stage 4 that metastasized to 8 organs (and no one was making fun of that). But when my gut — which had basically shut down because my spleen and liver had swollen so much that they over-ruled digestive flow – started to come back online due to good initial response to chemo, a couple nurses were assigned to check in on my digestion since I needed to gain 30lbs back, like fast.

A “gas check” was literally one of the checkpoints they insisted was an indicator of my gut coming back around – that plus the morbid maintenance of measuring both the color and the quantity of my #ones and twos. Unpleasant business all around. What they refused to believe is that I didn’t pass gas anymore, despite repeated explanations that I had, through the years (and I’m in my 60s so I’ve had some time to learn!) adjusted my cooking and diet to where my gut processed everything with efficiency.

So the nurses grinned and made eyes, in that knowing way of manneredly accepting someone’s tall tales. I’m sure in their minds they were safeguarding my pride, the last bit of pride an old man could possibly have that had now lost all muscle mass and shuffled around in a dressing gown with pinkish ribbon ties.
Pride was a touchstone, though, so they wouldn’t have necessarily been wrong.

When I was ten I was suddenly admitted to a surgical ward when my appendix ruptured during a gradeschool wrestling meet. Forced to eat apple jello – one of the more despicable substances I’ve ever had to swallow — by that hospital’s nutrition staff, I vowed to myself, right then, to learn about nutrition. I developed the good pride, not the bad one that hangs out with arrogance, but the meaningful and deserved pride of accomplishment. I learned that the appendix isn’t a useless organ, but a reservoir for good bacteria – and that probiotic bacteria guard against many diseases and afflictions.

I got creative. And I got rustic. Instead of pampering my body I took on what I came to term as “conscious crisis” – creative challenges that sought not to accomplish by making things easy, but by living at an edge: not an edge of danger and risk though, but one where it took a certain reach out-of-grasp (refitting an old Robert Browning adage) to make things happen.

I learned to accept that the accomplishment I first sought was not always the one – or the only one —achieved. Sometimes I’d never hit my original goal, yet sometimes I reaped much more than I could have conceived. Along with pushing probiotics, for instance, I also found I could eat coarser and coarser foods without pushback from my gut: beans? No problem. Today they’re probably my leading source of calories, and I’m all about the al-dente bite of green edamame. My favorite go-to snacks are literally phytic-acid “bombs” of walnuts, nutbutter, brown rice crisps and barley malt. (phytate, found in the hull of all plant seeds, grains to nuts, is often cited as a non-nutrient that robs minerals and can cause digestive disturbance). And when I unexpectedly got cancer (a kind unrelated to diet), my ability to process nutrient dense non-refined foods bounced me back in record time (I put that 30lbs of muscle back on in 3 months, even while on chemo).

My current creative “crisis” is learning guitar – only thing left on my bucket list. And far from an old man strumming an old Martin hollow-body, I’m plugging in a Gibson and heading into the trail of Jimmy Page.

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