Tuesday, January 15, 2013

In Which Auntie Jo Weighs In On A Controversial Subject. . .

I used to own a gun.

It was a gun specifically designed to kill people with as much efficiency and as little subtlety as possible: a twenty-gauge shotgun with a barrel so short it skirted the legal limits, bought without a background check on the grey market, loaded with shells full of buckshot. I didn't buy a twelve-gauge because I'm a lady, and larger shotguns kick like hell.

If I had fired it, it would've put a huge, bloody hole in my target, the wall behind and on either side of him, and anything else within about twenty feet.

I bought it about six weeks before I had surgery, from a guy at work. I paid in cash and felt better, because I knew that in my weakened, post-surgical state, as a woman living alone, I would not be able to fight off any intruder who had gotten past shatterproof windows, steel doors, and Max.

(I still miss Max terribly. I never felt safer than when he was lying in the exact spot where he could see both the front and back doors at the same time. He was a Good Boy.)

Still: I was looking at several weeks, if not several months, of recovery from a nasty surgery. I felt small and alone and afraid, and so I bought a vaguely illegal gun that required no skill to shoot. I'm such a newbie that a friend of mine cleaned and loaded it for me and showed me how the safety worked.

Once I got better, I sold it back to the guy who'd sold it to me, for the same price, as it had not been fired. Now I have a can of wasp spray, which is both blinding and neurotoxic. In the words of my hippie massage therapist, it'll fuck a body up.

Beloved Boy owns a number of guns. He hunts, so he has guns, QED. He has one self-defense weapon, a semi-automatic Czechoslovakian pistol with a reminder to "Owner's Manual: Read Before Using" etched on the barrel. Its clip holds 18 rounds of ammunition which, if it hit you in the right spot, would be instantly lethal. If it were to hit you in the not-right spot, it'd be very messy and damaging. If you hold the trigger down, it shoots, then pauses, then shoots, which (as I understand) is what makes it semi-automatic. It's a gorgeous piece of technology and not one I'd ever want to use.

That said: I support the right of the individual to bear arms. I support the idea and practice of a well-armed local defense force, as exemplified by the National Guard. The Second Amendment and I are buddies from way back.

I do not like semi-automatic weapons with large-capacity magazines. Nobody needs them, and nobody should have them, including Beloved Boy.

Because, frankly, all it takes to kill a human is a single-shot, pump-action shotgun with the correct sort of ammo. Load that sumbitch with the right stuff, and you're pretty much done with the discussion. More than that is way too much icing on the cake.

Guns aren't meant to paint pretty watercolors. You wouldn't use one to wash your car or change a baby's diaper. Guns are meant to kill, whether it's ducks or deer (oh God oh God I know I'll have to roast a duck at some point please don't make me clean it ew) or people. There has to be a limit, a boundary, to the amount of killing any one person can do at any one time.

So yeah, I'm all for renewing the ban on assault weapons. I want limits on high-capacity magazines, because for God's sake, who's going to hunt a fucking deer with a 36-shot clip? If the Tyrants of the Twenty-First Century come after us, they'll be armed with nervines and poison gas and nonlethal weapons that'll make Star Wars look like a children's cartoon. No assault weapon is worth its weight if you're vomiting and having uncontrolled diarrhea from sub-sonic vibrations.

I wish, at the end of the day, that I'd trusted Max more, that I hadn't felt the need to spend money and brain-time on something lethal. I had shatterproof glass and fireproof and kickproof doors and a big, handsome boy with huge teeth; what more did I need? I bought a gun because I felt weak and small and afraid.

And I wonder how many other people feel weak and small and afraid in the face of what life sends them, and compensate by getting an AR-15.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

This is what I've learned, in two-plus years of no palate. . .

I got to thinking about this the other night, as I was rinsing out the enormous (well, not enormous, but it feels enormous) hole that goes directly from my mouth to my right sinus:

1. Sinuses catch a lot of stuff.

Seriously. The crap I wash out of my sinuses every couple of days would make a strong man shudder and a scientist's eyes gleam with excitement.

2. You don't know how lucky you are to have a palate until you don't.

You normal people have NO IDEA how much snot you produce. Trust me on this one.

3. I can't eat flour tortillas under any circumstances, and should probably stay away from baked potatoes, Tater Tots, macaroni and cheese, and muffins.

Some things stick to my obturator with the tenacity of an angry giant squid. Other things work their way into my turbinates, to be sneezed out a few days or a week later, causing me great alarm.

4. I am so fucking lucky not to have had to have radiation.

I had a patient today who had radiation to his face and neck and who felt pain while eating a can of peaches. Just chewing had caused a pathological fracture. The surgical response was to remove half of his lower jaw. My pal Mary is dealing with a less-horrible, but still awful, sequel to radiation. I was very, very lucky.

5. When you have something that's considered rare, information and statistics and so on change in a matter of months.

When I started the journey with CANSUH, the stats were that three of every four patients that got what I have, polymorphic low-grade adenocarcinoma, were female. Now it's four men in every five patients. Smoking and drinking seem to have little to no bearing on whether or not you get it. Endogenous or exogenous estrogen no longer matters. Spicy food isn't considered a problem, unless you get some of that Thai long pepper up over your obturator. See comment on point #2.

When I started this whole thing, the assumption was that a complete cure could be had with aggressive surgical resection. Now the understanding is that PLGA can come back seven, ten, even twenty years after resection, and even if radiation was used as an adjunct.

When I started treatment, PET scans were considered the standard for monitoring. Now, given the indolence of the tumor, doctors are questioning how effective technology is. Apparently, a tumor can get to be quite a respectable size before it shows up on scans. Now, hands-on scoping and poking is the latest thing.

Essentially, I got told during my last ENT visit with Dr. Crane that the best I could do was NED--No Evidence of Disease--forever.

Well, shit.

In a way, it sucks to go from "we have a complete cure" to "you have to be careful." In another, it's nice to know where I stand. I never really trusted that "complete cure" thing anyhow. When you've had a piece of your body removed with a bone saw, you tend to get a little spooky about confident predictions.

All of this sounds, in the balance, negative.

However: I'm sitting here, more than two years after my surgery, blogging. I just scratched my own back and felt how incredibly dense and thick my back muscles are. I'm strong, I'm fat (which, if you're in my shoes, is not necessarily a bad thing), I'm back to lifting weights three times a week and running nine-minute miles. I can do yoga without falling over much. The Boy can understand me when I talk without my obturator in, and says it's getting easier to do so with every passing month. (He takes me the way I am; I am so incredibly lucky for that.) I have all but one of my teeth; two if you count the one that was never going to erupt, since it was lying horizontally under my cheekbone.

I look normal. That is such a huge, huge thing. I sound normal. That's even bigger. Two years ago, I wouldn't have believed you if you'd told me that I would *feel* normal with an obturator in--do you remember the struggles I had? I do.

The cancer might come back, or I might get some other type. I'm half-expecting to have to say, "Mother-FUCKER. AGAIN???" when I get my mammogram this year.

The difference between now and two years ago is this: Not only do I know I can survive all the stuff that happened, I know I can do well through and after it.

I can do anything, now. Just about damn near with very few exceptions anything.

Saturday, January 05, 2013

In the two days I've had off since the holidays. . .

. . .I've gotten into an Ancient Cookbook Frenzy.

One thing I can say for people in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries: they had one hell of a collective sweet tooth. Make a pie of artichoke bottoms? Strew it with sugar before you serve it to table. Boil a calve's chaldron (which I just found out is entrails) and spice it with mace and nutmeg and cinnamon? Sprinkle a little sugar over that mofo before you serve it up in a pasty. Roast a rooster? Sugar. Making a nice (meaning exacting) recipe for biskit? Sugar. Sheep's feet? Sugar.

When a recipe starts with "Take a pound of sugar, seirced, and lay it onto four pounds of butter, add enough flower to make a past with rosewater and fresh Milk," you know you're really on to something.

My goal is to find recipes that don't involve too much sugar, like roasted capon with a cream/anchovy/egg yolk sauce, and try to make them. The trick is deciding when "enough" is really enough, as most of the recipes say to bake, boil, or chafe something until it is enough or is meet.

The best instructions I've found so far are for Makeing a Caudle After the French Manner, in which you are directed to Seethe as much Milk as is fit on the Coals of the Fyre, and when little Pimples appear, you are to Take It Off and Coole It by the Fyre until it is Hardened, which, ew.

In that vein, I offer two recipes, primarily for Friend Penny The Lotion Slut, but also for anybody who needs soup. Non-vegetarian alternatives for the first are given in parenthesis.

Auntie Jo's Pseudo-Mexican Veggie and Corn (and Chicken) Soup:

In preparation:

Pour one box of vegetable stock (chicken stock)--Kitchen Basics makes an excellent one--into a very large pot

Set to seethe over a low fyre.

Meanwhile, chop one small or one-half of a large Onyon
Two Peppers, either Poblano or Bell, (but not green bell, because they suck)

And wilt (fry over very low heat) them in a little vegetable oil

Open three cans of beans: one white, one red, one black. Dump them into a colander and run water over them until those weird starchy white bubbles no longer form. This process will take out the fartification chemicals.

(If you want to make this with chicken, now is the time to add your preferred cut of said bird to the stock. When it's simmered enough that there's not actual blood coming out of the meat, you can pull out the meat and shred it, then return it to the stock.)

Add the onion/pepper mix to the stock.

Add one can of petite diced tomatoes with juice.

Pour in enough water that you've got a kind of watery thing going on. You're going to cook this for a good while, so don't be afraid to add plenty of H2O. I usually add about four cups.

Now add your beans. If you have a bag of frozen corn in the freezer, the cheap sort that is sold for fifty cents a bag, add that too. A can of shoepeg or regular corn, well-drained and rinsed, will do as well.

If you're doing this right, you should have about a gallon of very watery soup: enough to make you wonder if this was a good idea. You're doing fine, don't worry. (How I wish this reassurance came in 16th century recipes!)

Now for two spices: cumin and chili powder. You are a fool if you use hot chili powder for the majority of this, since you want to dump in at least a quarter-cup of each. Seriously: you want this sonofabitch to be a dark red color with a hit of cumin to your nose. If you want the heat, you can add a couple tablespoons of hot chili powder about midway through, but don't use all hot; you'll be sad.

Allow to come to a boil to kill off bacteria. Then simmer for several hours, or until it looks like supper. (For reference, I usually have at least an inch of soup-ring around the edge of the pot before I serve it.)

This makes a lot of soup. I freeze about three quarts every time I make it. Serve with shredded cheese and tortilla chips, either on the side or crumbled in. Do not sprinkle with sugar before taking to the table.

Auntie Jo's Weird Pseudo-Tabbouli Thing Made With Kale

I'm actually very proud of this. It keeps forever and tastes better the second, third, and fourth day.

Get you one bunch of kale. Curly or not, doesn't matter. It's cheap, so maybe you should get two.

Get you a bunch of parsley. The flat-leaf Eyetalian kind is best, but you can skate by with that curly stuff.

Get the other half of that onion out of the fridge.

Buy a long English cucumber, one red or yellow bell pepper, and three good tomatoes, if any are to be found in the winter.

Make sure you know where your salt, pepper, olive oil, and lemon juice are.

Be warned: this is a labor-intensive recipe.

Wash your kale in several changes of water. The easiest way to do this is to fill a really big container with cold water, plunge the vegetables in and swish them around, then yank them out. Empty the container and rinse and refill, then repeat. You can't be too careful with kale, as it tends to be sandy.

Do the same with the parsley.

Dry them both by shaking them out, then wrapping them in a dishtowel. Set that mess aside.

Peel and seed your cucumber, or don't peel it. Just seed it. Whatever. Chop it very, very finely.

Chop your tomatoes very, very finely. Save as much juice as you feel like.

Ditto your onion. Ditto your pepper, removing the seeds and weird white membrane first.

If you have garlic, mince a couple of cloves of that, too.

Set all of that aside. Now you're starting the really labor-intensive bit:

Stem the kale. This is most easily done by simply grabbing the leafy parts of the kale and ripping them off the stem. A little stem is okay, but not a lot, as kale stem is best digested if you have four stomachs.

Stem the parsley. You don't have to be as careful with this. As a matter of fact, I usually just cut off the top two-thirds of the bunch and save the rest for stock.

Chop the kale and the parsley together (you should have about equal amounts of each) very, very finely. No, finer. No, finer than *that*. You want the two to be indistinguishable on the cutting board. Seriously: chop it fine fine fine. Otherwise, the kale will be tough.

Mix the kale/parsley stuff with all your other veggies. Salt generously. Use some pepper. Squirt more lemon juice than you think is wise over it, then finish with a dollop of olive oil. Stir. Refrigerate. Eat entire bowlsful for lunch.

Sometimes I add quinoa to this to make it a main dish. Sometimes I just eat it straight out of the bowl, standing in front of the fridge, when I get home from work.

You could possibly use a food processor for the chopping, but only if you're better with a food processor than I am. I got kale and parsley pesto the first time I tried, and haven't gone back.

Do not Boyle with a Large Blade of Mace, or bruise with Sugar, or Bake in Coffin until Fit.