Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Man (or Woman or Child) Cannot Live by Candy Alone

My mother has been faced with significant health issues for much of my lifetime, although she drags herself out of bed almost every day and conducts her life as though there is nothing wrong. When my brother and I were really little, she developed Graves' Disease, which causes hyperthyroidism. A small percentage of Graves' sufferers will also develop eye involvement independent of thyroid function. Though my mom wasn't in any high-risk categories for that except for being female, she was unlucky enought to develop a full-blown case of thyroid ophthalmopathy. She came too close to losing part of her vision, and still has less acuity or field of vision than she would otherwise have, but roughly eight surgeries later, the vision issues have largely been resolved.

A few years after the eye problems abated, my mom developed a form of leukemia. My brother and I were too young to be let in on exactly what was happening, but we were old enough to know that it was major and that it wasn't good. We have a large extended family, who took turns moving in with us or moving us to their homes so that my dad could devote his attention to my mother. My dad didn't abandon us at this time, but my mom needed the bulk of his focus.

Some of our caregivers were better than others. One in  particular, who shall remain nameless, was not a blood relative but was the younger sister of an uncle by marriage. She was paid a substantial salary to be responsible for us five days per week. At least six hours of each of those five days, my brother and I were at school. Another ten or so hours of each day we should have been asleep (but probably weren't). That would have given the twenty-four-year-old (which was considered a consummate "Old Maid" by LDS standards) nanny substantial down time during which to conduct her own life, but it was, apparently, not quite enough. The food we ate, if we ate, consisted largely of frozen dinners that we, the  five- and six-year-olds (we turned six during the interval in which she was responsible for us), heated up ourselves.

At some point while under this quasi-relative's care, I came to the ridiculous realization that I had in front of me a perfect opportunity to test my long-held hypothesis that a body could sustain itself in at least moderately good health almost indefinitely by eating nothing but candy. I had saved allowance for quite some time, and there was a convenience market about five blocks from our house. (One might argue that an undersized five- or six-year-old shouldn't have been walking five blocks to and from her home by herself, subsisting entirely on candy notwithstanding, but what's done has already been done.)

The candy diet seemed like heaven for awhile. I don't remember how long the honeymoon period lasted, but after what was probably a few weeks or so of eating nothing but sugar-laden junk, it ceased to appeal to my appetite. The problem was that nothing else appealed to my appetite, either. No one at home was paying enough attention to notice. (The adolescent cousins who were filling in on weekends to give my uncle's sister her "much-needed" time off were better care providers than she was, but were probably too young and inexperienced to notice anything wrong.)

At some point, I think I fell asleep at my desk at school and couldn't be woken up. Something of that nature must have occurred, because an ambulance was called, and my father had to leave my mother and fly from southern California to find out what the problem was. It didn't take long to figure it out. I was in big trouble because even though I was just six, my father felt that I should have known better. The babysitter was in even more trouble, and was provided with a one-way ticket home to Utah, along with instructions to pack her bags and to be out of the house before my father saw her and said words he was not supposed to say. (Now that we're older, no one keeps up such pretenses on our behalf; we've heard his rather expansive vocabulary firsthand.)

I had to stay in the hospital for almost a week. Part of the issue wasn't even nutition-related, as bone-marrow compatibility testing had to be done. The rest of the treatment involved IV's, injections, supplements, and having every sort of food I've ever hated in my life shoved into my mouth. Resisting would have been suicidal in more ways than one.

The miraculous thing was that my teeth survived the ordeal, which is largely a testament to the power of vitamins containing fluoride supplements, and the fact that I was still years away from any permanent tooth breaking the surface of my gums. Neither my brother nor I has ever had a cavity. I did brush my teeth feverishly during my "diet," but the fluoride and the grace of God probably did more to save the enamel of my baby teeth than did my brushing.

The uncle's sister who "took care of" my brother and me successfully rectified her "Old Maid" status and now has five children of her own. I certainly hope she pays more attention to them than she did to my brother and me.

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