Columns

Illness, injury, indignity & inspiration

Sometimes when it rains, it blizzards. At least in Spokane, anyway.

This past month of endless precipitation was echoed by a round of illness and injury for me. It’s worth noting that I only get sick once a year – always in February. I tolerate my yearly cold as a minor disruption and a gentle reminder to slow down a bit.

It’s also worth noting that I routinely ignore gentle reminders.

What became an epic stream of misfortune started with a trickle – from my nose. One Friday morning, I woke up sniffly. My throat was scratchy and my head ached, but I’d just signed up for 30 hours of training to become a court-appointed special advocate – or CASA/guardian ad litem – for Spokane County Juvenile Court, and there was no way I was going to let an inconvenient cold interfere. I slurped down some orange juice, grabbed a packet of Emergen-C and set out.

By Saturday, it seemed like everyone was speaking underwater, and when I croaked out a question, I sounded like Darth Vader.

I tried to take it easier during the week, and when Friday rolled around again I was feeling much better. Perhaps because I’d gifted my cold to my friend Sarah.

Mindful of the need to take it easy, I collapsed in bed when I got home, fully expecting to bounce out of bed after my nap with my vitality and vigor restored. But when I woke and tried to sit up, a shooting pain exploded from somewhere in my midback. There would be no bouncing. Apparently, I pulled a muscle while sleeping. I didn’t even know that was possible.

Having never before experienced a back injury, I did the only sensible thing – I took two ibuprofen and asked for advice on social media. Hey, I said I was generally healthy, not universally smart.

I received a wide range of guidance regarding back pain and promptly followed what I now know to be a piece of spectacularly ill-conceived advice. This is what happens when you seek medical help on Facebook. Despite that setback, the pain gradually subsided over the weekend. This was great, because by Tuesday I was having difficulty seeing out of my right eye.

Last year, I was diagnosed with age-related macular degeneration. It’s bad enough to have poor vision, but to tack “age-related” in front of it is just mean. Anyway, a large floater suddenly appeared in my right eye. I guess having one in my left eye wasn’t enough. Because this can sometimes be a sign of a detached retina, I had to schedule an emergency eye exam.

Thankfully, the new floater was nothing serious, just annoying. Vitamins have been shown to reduce or slow the affects of the disease, so I redoubled my commitment to healthy eyesight and even added a supplement my husband assured me would help.

I should note that my husband is not a doctor. He doesn’t even play one on TV. But he’s well-read and has done a lot of research about the effects of supplements on certain ailments.

Sadly, I woke up violently ill in the middle of the night. Even worse, it just happened to by my birthday. I couldn’t believe after surviving a cold, a back injury and an eye problem, I now had the stomach flu. The health downpour had reached flood stage, so I was hopeful the waters would recede.

They didn’t.

On Valentine’s Day, I prepared a lovely meal for my family. Shortly before Derek came home, I diligently took my vitamin and supplement for the first time since my birthday. Within an hour I was desperately sick.

“Did you take out life insurance on me?” I wailed at my husband. “Those supplements are poisoned!”

Distressed at how ill I was, he Googled the ingredients in the supplement. Turns out one of them, “curcumin,” affects a small percent of the population the way it did me.

Lesson learned – the hard way.

As I write, heavy snow falls once again. I wish I’d taken a picture of the grass I’d spotted peeking out from the edge of our lawn Sunday. However, no matter what it seems like, winter really doesn’t last forever. Cold and flu season passes, too.

Crocuses and daffodils wait patiently beneath the frozen ground, biding their time. They will bloom. They always do. Sunshine and fresh air clears stuffy heads and brightens tired eyes.

And sometimes, it takes a long, bleak winter and a bout of illness to renew our appreciation for beautiful spring bulbs, and to revel in clear nasal passages that can breathe in their fragrance.

 

Contact Cindy Hval at dchval@juno.com. She is the author of “War Bonds: Love Stories From the Greatest Generation.” You can listen to her podcast “Life, Love and Raising Sons” at SpokaneTalksOnline.com. Her previous columns are available online at spokesman.com/columnists. Follow her on Twitter at @CindyHval.

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Columns

Soup’s On

Trying to count my blessings during our current Snowpocalypse has been, well, trying. I got my white Christmas, but now I am so over snow.

The one good thing about Snowmageddon is that it’s perfect soup and stew weather.

There’s nothing more soothing on a snowy day than slicing and dicing an array of vegetables or meat, concocting a savory broth, and then letting it bubble on the back of the stove or in the depths of the crockpot.

Delicious aromas fill the house and serving the hungry hoards is simple. All you need is a bowl, a spoon, and a side of crusty sourdough, flaky biscuits or tasty cornbread.

At least I thought this was a good thing, but the other night, Sam, 17, asked what we were having for dinner.

“Steak soup,” I replied.

“You sure have been making a lot of soup, lately,” he said, sighing.

In my defense, January is national soup month. Also, I’ve been working hard on two book projects, so planning five-course menus is a bit of a stretch.

And honestly, the only time soup doesn’t sound good to me is on a 90-degree summer day when we’re dining on the Delightful Deck, and even then a chilled cucumber soup tastes yummy.

The other night as white chicken chili simmered on the stove, I thought of our son Alex who lives in Ohio.

I texted him, “Guess what’s for dinner?”

“Oh, man!” he replied. “I LOVE your white chicken chili. I miss it so much.”

Which I interpreted as, “Oh, Mom! I love you and I miss you so much!”

My heart was as warm as my tummy during dinner that night.

In fact, Alex enjoys that soup so much, it was what he always asked me to make for his birthday dinner. His birthday is in April, and my chicken chili and from-scratch apple pie isn’t exactly seasonal, but it’s his favorite meal. Cooking my kid’s favorite meals makes this mom happy, so it’s a win-win.

I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised when I asked my firstborn what he wanted for his birthday dinner on Sunday, and he replied, “Potato soup!”

“You want soup for your birthday?” I asked. “Not steak or ribs?”

“Nope,” he replied. “I want your homemade potato soup and chocolate cake with chocolate frosting.”

So, that’s what he got, plus a container of soup to take home with him. Single guys need all the homemade food they can get.

Though Sam professes to be weary of soup, he’ll always clean up a pot of my beef chili. While technically not a soup, it’s still a one-pot, slow-simmer meal. A bowl of it topped with corn chips, olives, cheddar and chopped onions can satisfy even an always-hungry teen.

Zachary looks forward to Thanksgiving, not so much for the turkey and trimmings but for the huge vat of turkey noodle soup I make the next day.

Soup can be served in celebration, but it’s also appropriate when solace is needed.

After I miscarried our first child I couldn’t eat. Nothing would go past the lump of grief in my throat. Then my mother brought over a container of homemade soup. Suddenly, my appetite returned. I slowly spooned a mouthful, its taste a bit saltier for my tears, and I knew my mom had probably shed a few of her own as she chopped, sliced and simmered. I ate an entire bowl and understood the true meaning of comfort food.

In fact I often think when there’s a death in a family, instead of the flood of fried chicken and casseroles people tend to bring – a big pot of soup might be more palatable.

As I write, the ingredients for tonight’s hamburger soup are ready on the kitchen counter. Sometime between now and deadline, I’ll assemble the soup, and while I finish today’s assignments it will slowly simmer on the back of the stove.

That’s another wonderful thing about soup; it may be labor intensive on the front end, but once it’s cooking you can sit back and let the flavors mingle and evolve on their own, until it’s time to sit down and enjoy the results.

Just like raising children.

Contact Cindy Hval at dchval@juno.com. She is the author of “War Bonds: Love Stories From the Greatest Generation.” You can listen to her podcast “Life, Love and Raising Sons” at SpokaneTalksOnline.com. Her previous columns are available online at spokesman.com/ columnists. Follow her on Twitter at @CindyHval

Columns

Falling For You

This column first ran in the Spokesman Review November 12, 2009

I made a painful discovery on Spokane’s mean streets a couple of weeks ago. You might say it just hit me: Falling down hurts a lot more at 44 than it does at 4.

Now, I’ve been walking and talking, sometimes even while chewing gum, for quite a few years. I don’t mean to boast, but it’s a skill I’ve worked hard to develop, and I’m pretty darn good at it. Yet, as my editor and I left a downtown coffee shop, I suddenly found myself facedown in the middle of the street.

After hearing about my accident, a journalist friend shook his head and said, “Well. That’s one way to trim the newspaper budget.” But I think I would have noticed a hard shove.

All I know is one minute I was walking and talking and the next I was flying. Kind of. My takeoff was good, but my landing needs a bit of work.

When I described what happened, a young friend exclaimed, “Oh, not the run-fall!” Apparently, the run-fall, as opposed to the stumble-fall, slip-fall or windmill-arms-almost-fall, is the most embarrassing kind of public tumble. Who knew?

In the few seconds it took for me to launch myself from sidewalk to street I had time for one thought: I hope I don’t spill my coffee. It was good coffee.

Alas, my coffee and I both splattered on Cedar Street. As I scrambled to my feet, I could hear my mother’s voice echoing inside my head. “Pride goes before a fall, dear.” I hadn’t realized it until that moment, but I was very proud of my ability to simultaneously walk and converse. Mom is always right.

My editor rushed forward, horrified. “Are you all right? You hit hard! You need ice!”

Actually, I felt OK at the time, just a bit shaken. “Am I bleeding?” I asked. But aside from a sore knee and a rapidly swelling cheekbone, the only blood appeared to be a few spots on my lips. Which were also rapidly swelling. Asphalt works even more quickly than Botox, but the application is probably more painful.

“I’m OK,” I said. “I’ve got an appointment.” And off I tottered to my car. After checking the damage in my rearview mirror, I decided to heed my editor’s advice to get some ice. I canceled my meeting and drove home.

Then the fun really started. Apparently, I was wearing the ladies version of Toughskin jeans, because my pants had nary a nick. My knee however, was a bloody, bruised mess. While that hurt, examining my face in the mirror was far more excruciating.

My new Angelina Jolie lips sported scuff marks around the edges and the swelling along my cheekbone was growing more colorful by the minute.

After swallowing several ibuprofen tablets, I applied ice everywhere I could and lay down. I felt like a fresh salmon packed for shipping. I then called everyone I knew to report my misfortune, but it’s hard to talk with a bag of ice on your mouth. Frustrated and bored, I decided to get back up. That’s when I discovered I hurt all over. I wondered if I’d been hit by a truck while prone on the pavement.

When my husband and kids got home I received appropriate amounts of sympathy and even a kiss from one of my teenagers, which almost made the fall worth it – almost. In the following days, my facial swelling receded, but my shiner sported an ever-changing rainbow of colors.

I grew used to pitying glances in the supermarket and snarky cage-fighting comments from friends. One quipped, “Well, no one can say you’re just another pretty face.” Interestingly, my husband managed to avoid appearing in public with me for an entire week.

So, now I’m mostly healed and have resumed walking and talking at the same time. I’m not yet brave enough to chew gum, but that will come.

Meanwhile, readers might want to say a prayer that I’ll stay properly balanced as snow-and-ice season continues. I don’t want to have to chronicle another mishap. After all, columns like this can give journalism a black eye.