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I've Been Very Ill; Making Saved My Sanity

Mashed potatoes: Dinner of Champions

I haven't told a lot of people what's been going on in my life, but I've been more open about it recently, so maybe it's time to relate what's going on to all of you so you understand where I'm coming from.

Back in June, I was out to dinner with my nephew, brother-in-law and sister-in-law. We were at a diner, and I ordered a sandwich. I took a bite and it didn't go down. I took a second bite and it also felt "stuck." I drank some Coke to get it down, but instead of going down, it came right back up all over the floor of the diner. I've never puked that fast in my life, but that's how quickly it was. Right in, right out. I stopped eating immediately and just relaxed until it was time to leave. The next morning I didn't think anything of it and made my usual breakfast: a bialy with cream cheese and a cup of coffee. I took one bite of the bialy, and up it came. Took a sip of the coffee, up it came. Nothing was going down. I was scared.

Over the course of a few weeks I recognized that I had a problem, but I managed it. I didn't know what was going on, but it was definitely scary. I had started losing weight, but that was due to a lot of factors, and I knew that if I had some kind of hiatal hernia, losing weight would help, so I kept going. Managing. Not thriving, but not suffering too much. It was a minor inconvenience.

Progressively it got worse, but at a pace slow enough that I didn't recognize it actually getting worse. In the intervening time, we tried to arrange an appointment with our primary care physician (who I despise) but he wasn't taking new patients, which I was because it had been over ten years since I last saw him (a testament to the kind of doctor he is). I was screwed, so I asked my wife, in whom our health insurance policy is, to find out from the insurance company what we should do since we need a referral to see a specialist. They replied that we have a higher-end policy that doesn't require a pcp and we can go directly to a specialist if we need to! We immediately set up an appointment and last week I went, finding out that I have a mass in my esophagus that required a CAT scan (it isn't cancer, so far at least) and would require major surgery to remove.

This isn't a post about my medical history, though.

I want you to stop reading this for a second, and think about how much of your life revolves around food. Not a food obsession or that sort of thing. I mean your social interactions, your family interactions, and other things. How much of your pleasure comes from having an amazing burger or how much of your ritual your favorite breakfast is. Now, while you're thinking about all those things, erase them. Take them all out of your mind. You can't have them any more.

In the last two weeks I have been living on Rice Krispies, mashed potatoes, and Cheetos. Why? Because for the most part, those things dissolve in my mouth and I can actually swallow them even with the mass in my esophagus. I can't go to a restaurant. I can't even hang out at Starbucks and have a cookie. I can drink coffee, but hot coffee can sometimes trigger me. Cold coffee, if it's too cold can also trigger me. I can maybe have cake, but if the cake has too much frosting on it that could trigger me. If it's too rich? That's doomsday.

Forget meat. Forget bread. Forget most cheese. Nothing carbonated. Dairy is hard. Alcohol? Forget it. Ain't drinkin' this away. Everything is disrupted right now. It's beyond a level of depression I've ever felt in my life. I drive past a McDonald's or a pizza joint and I want to cry. It's so hard to cope I can't even explain it to you.

Aside from the intense amount of love and patience my wife has given me while I deal with this, there's one thing that has kept me sane: making stuff.

I don't know what I did right, but as this got worse, my side hustle of making things seems be growing. It's keeping me occupied and keeping my mind from dwelling. I have been more focused on making things than I have been in my time as a maker, and it's amazing, and the work I'm churning out is some of my best ever. I don't know how exactly the two things are related, but it would appear they are and it's amazing. When I'm making stuff or building something, I'm not thinking about the horrendous condition I'm in or how sad it makes me or how all I want right now is Five Guys, which I haven't had since March. It's amazing how much you can bring your focus down to one spot and keep it there even when the world around you seems to be falling apart.

Thursday I have an appointment with a thoracic surgeon. My guess is we'll be discussing my surgery options and scheduling the surgery to fix this once and for all. In the meantime, I know what I'm going to be doing: making cool stuff, making my clients happy, and working my butt off to not think about what I'm going through and how much I wish I wasn't going through it. I'm not healthy right now, and making has kept me sane. Both the actual making and the community of people around it. I don't even want to think about where I'd be emotionally without it.

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