Saturday, December 10, 2011

State of the Tastebuds

I figured it was time for a quick update on my eating abilities.

(If you're new to the blog, you can catch up on my cancer treatment adventures.)

The good news is that, tastewise, I'm pretty much back to normal. I can distinguish flavors almost as well as I could before treatment, as my recent post on dinner at Journeyman will attest.

But there are still a few annoying details, such as:

Radiation zapped out my salivary glands. Allegedly they will return at some point (months? Years?), but until then my mouth dries out constantly. Me + water bottle = Linus + security blanket. I get like a junkie between fixes if I think I won't have a chance to refill it.

And of course it's not just an issue when my mouth is at rest (like that ever happens); there's now a whole new set of concerns about what and how I eat, especially when it comes to foods like:
  • Bread (soaks up any residual saliva like a sponge)

  • Cheese (turns gummy and gluey)

  • Chocolate (does not melt in the mouth. Sticks to the teeth and stays there)

  • Nuts, crackers, chips, popcorn (you know the Saltine cracker challenge? Like that. All the time).
Of course, generally all this discomfort can be avoided by taking a sip of water with each bite. But what does that mean? The intrinsic flavors of whatever lovely thing I'm eating get diluted — literally watered down. So instead of some carefully crafted cheese, I get liquid with a vague hint of two-year-old Comté.

Okay, I never had the oral fortitude to take on vindaloo. But I do (did?) enjoy cuisines that employed spices: Mexican, Middle Eastern, Chinese, Indian. Now, though, I stare warily at fresh-ground pepper. I find gingerbread adventurous. Pesto is a teeny bit too garlicky.

A while back, I picked up some Vosges Aztec Elixir hot chocolate mix, which is kicked up with ancho and chipotle chilis. I was planning to keep it for the first brutal snowstorm; I was almost hoping for a good blizzard (me, Miss Anti-Winter) so I'd have an excuse to break into it.

But now I'm worried that after all the anticipation, I'll take one sip and realize it's too much for me to handle.

I've become one of those people: "Excuse me, but how hot is this dish? Is it spicy? Because I can't eat anything spicy."

I still love going out to eat, of course. But I used to be able to close my eyes and point at any menu item and say, "Yes, that one" (not that I would, but you know what I mean). Now I have to read each description carefully: how hot are the "spicy garbanzos"? Is pepper jack the only cheese option? Do all the maki rolls have wasabi in them?

This is supposed to get better over time; I just don't have a sense of how long "time" is. It's the kind of thing that depends on age, treatment type, and the body's overall ability to recover from trauma.

Big bites
One of the post-treatment gifts that keeps on giving is the dime-sized chunk of scar tissue in my cheek. It's not visible from the outside, but it limits my ability to open my mouth as wide as I used to.

You know when you're being overly dramatic and you stick two fingers in your mouth and pretend to blow your brains out? (Or is that just me?) Anyway I can't do that. I eat bananas by nibbling daintily around the outside. I dine most comfortably with a dessert fork or a teaspoon.

Again, this is supposed to be temporary, but change is all up to me. If I'm good and do stretching exercises, it will eventually loosen up (though I don't know whether it will ever return to its original flexibility).

Problem is that I forget. Or I remember at inopportune times, like when I'm on the subway or in a meeting. Not the time to start randomly opening and closing my mouth ("Hey, guess what I am now? Goldfish!")

Yech, this turned into a bit of a complainy thing. Not my intention; just wanted to share some of what life is like right now. And I know things could be muuuhuuch worse.

So, back to talking about food I can eat.

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