Days 2, 3, and 4 fell on the Independence Day weekend. I was still nauseous, and receiving I.V. zofran. The NIH nutritionist had paid a visit before treatment began to discuss the importance of at least trying to eat something. She suggested that I keep pretzels or crackers nearby, and pointed out that the Food Service offered a variety of calorie-dense beverages. She offered a hand-out of the many different options, and highlighted two of them: Ensure Clear, and BioCare, which is a freezy sort of thing. I ordered both.
I was able to drink the (tiny) carton of Ensure Clear, juuuust barely. It screamed of artificial flavors, the taste of which were magnified by the chemo drugs I had taken days before. I pretended that I was drinking "health", but it did not feel that way at all. By the time I was able to finish the whopping 20 ml serving, the other item, BioCare, had all but melted. I tried a bit of it, but again, the strong flavors were too much to tolerate. I left it on the tray. Not too many minutes later, up came the Ensure Clear.
During this time, photos of food were to be avoided if at all possible. I had to refrain from FaceBook because it was full (seemed to me) of photos of food. Much gagging. Which...why? It's like the stomach was not happy to be merely "empty", it also wanted to be wrung dry. I crashed onto the bed after one such episode thinking, "I wonder if this counts as an ab workout."
Here's the cruel thing. I wanted to eat, but could not think of a single food item that I could imagine myself actually consuming. I was reminded of a person in my community who had recently died of stomach cancer. I did not know her well, but I know that she suffered greatly for many weeks prior to her passing; part of her suffering was that she was hungry, but unable to eat due to the disease. I asked for her intercession (See Communion of Saints), and prayed myself to sleep.
When I woke, I realized that Food Service would be ending for the day, shortly. I wanted to eat something, but what? I grabbed the bedside menu, hoping to find just one item that would appeal. Anything. Just before I opened the menu though, the graphic on the menu's cover seemed to leap off the page. I hadn't really even noticed the graphics prior to that moment, but now a monochrome photo of apples on the back cover struck me as if it were in full, screaming color. It shouted, "Eat an apple!"
I ordered an apple.
How I would love to peek inside the minds (and break-room) of the people working the phones in Food Service. I dial "3", give my name, building wing, and room number, and they respond (always), "You're on a regular immunosuppressed diet. What can I get you?" People on chemo, I know from experience, order some strange combinations. I'd like mac-and-cheese w/ketchup, and a grape popsicle, please. The order-taker person is never fazed. They repeat the order, ask for confirmation, and give an estimated delivery time. I wonder though, what conversations they might have with each other off-line:
Hypothetical Order Taker #1: Somebody just ordered mashed potatoes with tomato sauce.
Hypothetical Order Taker #2: That's nothing. I just put one in for broccoli with a side of peanut butter.
Food Service appears with an apple. I stare at the apple for a long moment. Food Service has sliced it for me, but the seeds are still there. My first thought: The holiday staff is working the kitchen. The apple smells like life. I imagine what it could potentially be like though, should the apple...reappear...later in my emesis container. I ever-so-slowly (I am weak!) remove the seeds from one of the quartered sections. Here we go... Then! Happiness. I quickly decided, that I was not yet ready to brave the peel. I crunched away at the delicious apple, and spat out any peel (with the manners of a caveman). Thankfully, it stayed with me. I was thrilled.
When the nurse, this night a huuuuge man, came in to check my vitals, he asked if I had eaten any dinner. With all the pride of a kid who can finally tie his own shoes, I enthusiastically reported, "I ate an apple...but not the peel." He replied, "We call that applesauce." Funny! He doesn't get it, but it mattered not. I had caught a glimpse of the light at the end of the nausea tunnel, and my spirit soared.