Sick Bay: A Scrapbook (And A Recipe)

by Maria Theresa Maggi on June 23, 2019

"Early Morning Eagle," pastel memory sketch, by Maria Theresa Maggi

“Early Morning Eagle,” pastel memory sketch, by Maria Theresa Maggi

Dearest Blog Readers,

For the last month I’ve been very sick; in fact I haven’t been this ill in 40 years. I’m much better, and getting better all the time, but that’s why I haven’t written a new post until now. The experience has been so intense and all encompassing that as I joked to a couple of my neighbors who have helped me through it, the coordinates in my block of space-time have been scrambled. I’ve had to reorient myself to the basics in my life and to a sense of time passing. I was shocked to realize it’s only been a month when it feels like it’s been months or time simply stopped. I attempted writing a narrative from start to finish, but that proved too exhausting and also too fabricated because in fact my experience of this time is stored in fragments, emerging into awareness here and there. So what follows is a series of those fragments, as best as I can represent them, in a kind of out-of-time dateline, as if such a paradox can attempt to make a kind of sick bay sense. I’m happy to be back, and to keep on my slow but steady path of recovery.

Dateline: May 31, 2019, 4:00 pm social media post

Friends, the most delicious, luxurious thing just happened. I took a nap, like I do in the afternoon, but this one was without coughing jags, diaphragm or rib pain or fever. Just sweet rest. That hasn’t happened in DAYS. So grateful. Could hear the ocean in the distance through the open slider.

Dateline: May 22,2019, remembered

An old friend and former room mate of mine from 40 years ago came to my little corner of the coast, and we made arrangements for her to drive up from where she was staying and have lunch with me here at my house so we could chat and catch up in person. We hadn’t seen each other in decades, and it was lovely to catch up and reminisce about those times so long ago in a little house on Tahoe Way in Sacramento. At what I thought was the end of our visit, we hugged happily, vowing to see each other the next time she came out. I went into the house, ready to take a nap, and she was headed down the driveway and back toward the place she was staying some ways south of here. But when I came out of the bathroom I saw her car was still at the end of the driveway, but at an odd angle. She had gotten stuck on a stump near the ditch at the border of the driveway.

So my nap, tired though I was, was not to be. Ironically, my old roomie had brought me a rock she picked up at a shop in Florence with the word “Laugh” printed on it, which we certainly had done a lot of together back in the day, and we invoked the message on it now, and tried to make the best of the situation as she called her insurance and ordered a tow truck with a winch to come and back her off the stump. In a little while, help arrived in the form of a large diesel flatbed that had to figure out how to safely back into my narrow gravel circular driveway lined with logs, bushes trees and pots. Worried he would not have enough clearance, I rushed to move a pot of snap dragons, only to discover as I started to bend down I was face level with a diesel exhaust pipe the circumference of a soccer ball. The  exhaust was so hot and smelly and coming out with such force that of course I could not get any closer to the pot. But I was right there before I realized I shouldn’t be, and got a good blast of it right up my nose and down my throat. I backed away and went to sit across from all this, thinking I was safe, only to realize after another minute or so that I was still in the path of the exhaust pipe. At that point I got up and went into the house, closing the slider behind me.

Within the hour, I started to cough. And cough. And cough.

Dateline: somewhere in between May 24-May 29

Though the effect of my exposure to the diesel exhaust was swift and awful, my ability to grok the enormity of its effect actually dawned in pieces over the next few days. The tissue in my throat had been burned, and I could no longer eat a rice cake or a piece of cooked ginger (one of my favorite remedies) without it burning even more and sending me into a coughing jag that brought only clear liquid up. When I talked I sounded like I had been chain smoking cigarettes my whole life. It took me some time to look it up on the internet but I saw it was quite possible to become ill from even short term exposure to diesel exhaust close up. But still, I continued as I usually do when I’m sick, dragging myself out to walk the dogs a couple of times a day, bundled up, going slowly, but having faith in the fresh air, and time, to sort things out.

Dateline: May 29

Too tired to walk once I got there, we spent some time just sitting on the beach on a particularly lovely morning. The ocean had exposed bedrock outcroppings in the sand that lifted themselves up like creatures. One in particular looked like a dragon to me. I went home to try and draw it. I only got as far as this fragment, which only hints at the grandeur that mesmerized me.

“Unfinished Rock Dragon,” pastel memory sketch. by Maria Theresa Maggi

Dateline: very late that same night, or very early the next morning

The symptoms had taken on monstrous dimension within hours. I was weak, I had a fever. I was coughing violently but hardly getting anything up. I was dangerously exhausted from all the coughing.  All of my respiratory tissues everywhere were inflamed. It hurt to breathe. I had cracked a rib from the coughing. I knew, for the first time since I got Romeo over ten years ago, that I would not be able to walk the dogs in the morning. I said to myself, which is rarely what I ever say to myself in relation to my health, “You must fight. Fight.”  And by this it seemed to mean I must fight to keep breathing. This phenomenon of finding myself saying or doing something completely different than what I might usually do or choose was to become a theme in my continuing recovery.

In the middle of that night though, after that moment, like grace, it came to me there are a group of friends and neighbors I could write to in the morning asking for help with the dogs. It came to me I had a neighbor friend who is a nurse and who also does healing touch work, and that I could ask her to come and help strengthen me to get through this. And that’s what I did.

Dateline: May 30, 9:25 am pst social media post

My dear friends, send me your gentle healing energy, reiki, whatever you got in that department, I’m all for it. Last week I had an unexpected up close and personal assault from diesel exhaust and started coughing within the hour. Now I’m working through coughing up the crap and all the complications that have arisen. I’m working very hard to get through this and would appreciate any uplift of energy you can send. No suggestions about what to do, please, I’ve got that covered. I just need my stamina buoyed. Thank you so much!!

 

Dateline: June 3, 2019 11:57 am

Last night I had a basically cough free night, first one in over 10 days. Today, not so much, but still plugging along in the right direction. like the guy in this postcard I gave my Mom decades ago. She loved it and kept it on her fridge for the rest of her life. An image to live by.

 

Dateline:  collection of remembered fragments from the days I was most sick

Being handed a mug of cold water and how wonderful it tasted. I’m still drinking a lot of it out of the same cup, to summon that memory of relief.

A fresh pineapple my nurse/healer friend bought for me during the worst of it. She even cut it up for me. It helped so much, and reminded me of my Dad, who carved one up for breakfast at a birthday slumber party, which I wrote about fondly in my post Power To The Pineapple. I’m still eating pineapple

A funny report from a friend who walked both dogs to the beach that when she dropped Romeo’s leash he decided he would head back up the stairs to go home just at the moment Cotton was several hundred yards across the sand taking a dump. No more dropping his leash after that.

The sight of another two friends coming to take them for a morning walk, one with her older golden and a new golden puppy in tow. The puppy, Rosie, has a crush on Cotton.

A millet cauliflower casserole a friend made me.

Another friend texting me don’t worry I’ll always be the back up to walk the dogs. I just want to give other people the opportunity.

The many lovely neighbors who took that opportunity.

The neighbor who fixed the problem with my bathroom sink and made the screen door on my slider easy to open and close.

The delicious vegetable soup another neighbor friend made for me, with me being vegan in mind, though she is not.

The friends who went to the store for me, who are still going to the store for me.

The neighbor who went to the mailbox for me. The other neighbor who drove up once I could get there myself who saw I had a package and offered to drive it to my house for me.

The day my son called and offered to pay for someone to come help me clean the house.

The day I finally could sit out on the long tufts of grass growing in unruly patches in our side yard and laugh out loud at the fact that I actually have a pair of edge trimming scissors I cut this grass with, because I can sit and scoot around and it’s quiet, no exhaust fumes or cords, and I don’t need to get it done all at once. Living that postcard! One of the first times I was strong enough to be able to laugh out loud without my chest seizing up or starting to cough. It was also the day I realized it had only been a little over 3 weeks, even though it felt like ages.

Dateline: some background

I chose not to go to the doctor. Forty years ago, when the old room mate who came to visit me and I were living together, I became very sick with bacterial pneumonia. I was 23. At that time, I ran a fever of 105 and when my mother got back in town she came over to take me to the doctor. Even though I was on antibiotics after that, I coughed up blood and cracked a rib. My fever raged on with the cough. I had to stay in bed for over a month. Friends came to change the sheets when I soaked them as my fever went up and down, and to make me Lipton’s chicken noodle soup (remember that?). When I felt better, I read all of J.D. Salinger’s novels and short stories sitting up in bed. It was a long recovery.

By the time my friends were walking the dogs and helping me with the basics, I knew it was highly likely I had something called chemical pneumonia, which is a reaction to being exposed to toxic chemicals. My reaction, from what I read, was “moderate” and could be monitored from home. It could also be that I had gotten a strain of bronchitis on top of it that was making the rounds in our community. But in any event, I know my body and I know my stamina. Right or wrong in anyone else’s eyes, I decided it would be best to stick to my goldenseal echinacea capsules, my slippery elm, my elderberry, my tylenol, even a little Robitussin, the healing touch therapy, and wait it out. With my nurse/healer friend coming to see me every day for a while, I felt assured when she could see I was improving, too.

Dateline: June 11, 2019

"Little Shelter Beneath the Bluff ,"mixed media memory sketch by Maria Theresa Maggi

“Little Shelter Beneath the Bluff ,”mixed media memory sketch by Maria Theresa Maggi

About a week ago, on maybe the second morning that I’d been able to sleep comparatively well and not immediately start coughing my brains out upon waking up, I had the insight to use this period of calm to see if I could take a little walk with my boys to look at the ocean. Instead of trying to eat breakfast first, which at that point inevitably made me cough (for reason too detailed to go into here), we set out. There’s a cabana to rest in before and after taking the stairs down to the sand, and my house is less than 5 minutes from there. So that’s what we’ve been doing. It’s my major exertion of the day, and I still need others to take them for a constitutional in the afternoon, but it’s been a good, healing decision, to smell that fresh air and see and hear Mother Pacifica, as one of my friends here so aptly calls her. Yesterday we saw two eagles, and today the sun beams breaking through the pines and the mist were breathtaking. This is a little unfinished sketch from the first or second morning down there. I turned around after looking out to sea and was struck by the contrast between the houses on the bluff and the little makeshift “shack” someone who was here for the weekend had “built” the week before I went down for the count, so I tried to draw it. Another good way to get exhausted. Every day a little better. Patience, Grasshopper.

Dateline: soup kitchen

I’ve been eating a lot of soup, either soup someone else makes, soup I make (one pot specials) or soup made by pouring hot water over a little miso and stirring in a cooked grain and steamed vegetables. Here’s a tasty one I adapted from a Caitlin Shoemaker youtube video, with some leftover Caulifower NoFredo Sauce from Susan’s blog, a little roasted red bell pepper and mustard greens and collards and potatoes

I have to take it slow and not eat too much too quickly, so I’ve been eating away from my computer screen, mostly looking out the slider. One day I got to watch a chickadee take a bath in the huge terra cotta saucer that always fills with rainwater outside the door, trying to chomp 5 extra seconds as Dr. Klapper recommends. So grateful for these gentle plant based foods helping me heal. Here’s what went into the soup pot:

1/2 red onion, chopped and sauteed in garlic granules and Italian seasoning
4 yellow potatoes chopped into cubes
1/4 cup of nutritional yeast
1 celery stalk chopped
julienned mustard and collard greens, about two cups
chopped roasted red bell pepper
1 cup of leftover cauliflower NoFredo Sauce
1 cup of soy milk
3/12 cups of broth

I put everything but the greens in the pot with the onions and cooked until potatoes are fork tender. Then I took out two cups and pureed in blender or food processor. I returned that to the pot and added the greens, cooking until tender. I’ll be finishing this yumminess up today for lunch.

Dateline: in conclusion

I’ve reflected on why the universe was so insistent on linking my old friend’s visit with the serious illness I also went through during the time I lived with her, by giving me another version of the same illness to grapple with. I don’t have a definitive answer for that. But I do cherish a tender memory from that long ago time my room mate shared online that wouldn’t have been revived if I had not gotten so ill.

She replied to a comment I made on one of my social posts thanking everyone who had wished me well, and saying I was slowly getting better. She reminded me that long ago, I had helped her through a difficult breakup, a breakup from 40 years ago she had referred to as we said good-bye last month. She reminded me that I had read her Peter Pan. I had forgotten about this, and teared up at it, remembering that sharing my favorite childhood book, the first book I ever bought  with my own money after reading it as a library book (which I still own to this day), was my way of helping her try to get to sleep. The sharing of that remembered gesture of support was as healing to me as the herbs and the ability to finally sleep.

It reminded me that though we can’t see what’s coming,  we can sure help each other get through whatever arrives.

And on that note of tenderness, I am reminded of the end of one of the most meaningful and beautiful books I have ever read, The Alchemy of Illness, by Kat Duff. It has been a guidepost for me since right after my diagnosis. Years after I first received and read her book, I found out she was also an astrologer. I wrote asking her if she did readings, and she wrote back to say she’d be happy to do the honors. I still have the cassette tape somewhere, but I remember at the beginning of it she commended my commitment to going slowly. She said she had recently attended a conference  at which all the experts discussed that it was the most crucial, and yet most difficult healing phenomenon to practice.

In the last pages of  The Alchemy of Illness, Duff returns to the image of Takanakapsaluk, the Inuit sea goddess of fate, whose fingers were cut off by her own father, as she tried to cling to the boat after he cast her into the sea. Those fingers would become the creatures of the sea which provided life for the Inuit, but Takanakapsaluk herself resides at the bottom of the sea, her hair tangled, unable to comb it without any fingers. A shaman visits her and patiently begins combing the tangles and lice from her hair, a seemingly insurmountable task, but one which evokes a patience and tenderness that keeps him faithful to the task at hand. Duff writes that this is what her own illness requires of her. To minister to herself through the ups and downs of living with it, she says. “is a tedious, tenuous, and life-giving labor. Grand, heroic gestures have no part in the process; in fact they often make things worse by disrupting a delicate equilibrium.We have to be patient, take small steps, use few words, and treat ourselves with the tenderness of baby-catching hands, remembering that we find our power, our capacity to heal ourselves and our world, in our deep and abiding vulnerability.”

The very last sentence in the book, like the end of a good poem, summons the cumulative wisdom of the entire journey we’ve taken by reading all that came before it, and is the one I still do my best to live by:

“I hope I do not forget when I am well.”

Maria (moonwatcher)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Leave a Comment

{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Marge Evans June 23, 2019 at 10:51 am

I am truly sorry you were so ill. Glad you are on the mend.

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2 Maria Theresa Maggi June 23, 2019 at 11:00 am

Thanks so much, Marge! I’m glad too. 🙂

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3 Peggy Bean June 23, 2019 at 12:51 pm

So beautiful. I’m going to read the alchemy book and Peter pan! So relieved to hear from you. Blessed be!

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4 Maria Theresa Maggi June 23, 2019 at 1:03 pm

Thank you, Peggy! It makes me so happy you will explore two of my favorite books in the bargain. Bless you right back! xoxo

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5 Silvia June 23, 2019 at 11:17 pm

Hope you are better soon!
I find it very difficult to go slowly. But that is the compassionate way to go.

Heartfelt greetings from Germany, Silvia

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6 Maria Theresa Maggi June 24, 2019 at 1:09 pm

Thank you, Silva. Yes, it certainly can be a challenge to go slow! I so appreciate your heartfelt greetings and long time readership. 🙂

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7 Suzy June 24, 2019 at 10:41 am

I was commenting to myself the other day that you hadn’t posted in a while and was hoping you were ok. So sorry you had to go through this, but very happy you’re getting better.

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8 Maria Theresa Maggi June 24, 2019 at 1:09 pm

Thank you so much, Suzy! 🙂

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9 DONNA B BETTS June 24, 2019 at 12:56 pm

So happy you are back Maria. Your words always touch my heart and fill me with tender emotion. I am going to read “Alchemy of Illness” and you reminded me I need to purchase miso. I usually have it in my fridge but it is missing at the moment. Be well — and thank you for so generously sharing your journey with us.
With love, Donna Betts

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10 Maria Theresa Maggi June 24, 2019 at 1:10 pm

Bless you, Donna, for these kind words and making me smile about reading the Alchemy of Illness AND the reminder to put miso on your grocery list! lovely 🙂

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11 Susan Voisin June 24, 2019 at 1:25 pm

Beautiful post, Maria. You capture so well the disjointed feeling of being ill. I’m so glad you’re back to writing again, and hope that though you have to go slowly, your recovery doesn’t. 😀

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12 Maria Theresa Maggi June 24, 2019 at 4:22 pm

Thank you, Susan! xoxo

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13 Danielle June 24, 2019 at 10:43 pm

I hope you continue to feel better day by day. You write so beautifully and contemplatively that you turn even an illness into a wondrous journey.

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14 Maria Theresa Maggi June 25, 2019 at 8:30 am

Thanks so much, Danielle. You made me smile and chuckle to myself a little. Indeed, I do go actively looking for those moments of wonder. They are always there, and catch me up even when I forget to look, and they always, always see me through. I so appreciate all the kind words about my writing and my health.

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15 Judy Andrews June 25, 2019 at 2:43 pm

I’m moved. Thank you for this. I cant begin to tell how relieved I am you are getting better.

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16 Maria Theresa Maggi June 25, 2019 at 2:58 pm

Thank you, Judy. I’m in danger of tearing up all over again! love you xoxo

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17 Donna June 30, 2019 at 3:38 am

Your mention of cutting the grass reminded me of watching the elderly people in Okinawa on their knees or sitting on the tiny lawns in front of their houses cutting the grass with scissors. They were a Blue Zone still, I am sure back in 1964. I was sorry to learn that they are no longer a Blue Zone since Kentucky Fried Chicken and other American Fast food joints have arrived.
Thank you for writing your interesting blog which is always a calm and welcome interlude for me. My MS is also well controlled with Dr. John McDougall’s life style keeping my fat intake low and my body strong. We are so lucky to have found how to control our disease. Please continue to send me your little blog.
Donna Hampton Reeves

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18 Maria Theresa Maggi July 12, 2019 at 10:31 am

Thank you Donna! I love the image of the Okinawans cutting their own grass so patiently. I am so happy you also find that McDougall’s way of eating helps you so well. We are lucky indeed. Thanks for reading along! xo

PS: We Americans sure have done a lot of damage at home and the world over with our fast food joints. It’s time to change that!

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