Weighty Topics that Lead to Linguistic Salvation

To look at me, you’d think I might have reached my peak weight. But you’d be wrong. That unhappy event took place several years ago, when I lived in Dallas. I was still working at my business, traveling more frequently on business than I wanted, and eating more than any human should. Based on my height and other factors, my “ideal” weight should be around 165-175 pounds.  My weight reached 251 before I finally decided to do something about it. I began walking a lot. And I lost a lot of weight. I didn’t get even close to my ideal weight, but I dropped to just over 200 pounds. Since we left Dallas, though, I’ve not gotten a lot of exercise. I returned to old bad habits. My weight climbed, reaching a peak of 234 last October. I looked and felt rotten.

If my cancer diagnosis has had any positive side-effects, it has been a forced change in my dietary habits. Since my surgery last November, I’ve lost more than twenty pounds. I haven’t been exercising, so the loss can be attributed almost entirely to diet. I wish I could exercise, but I just don’t have the strength or stamina to get up and walk (or do any exercise, for that matter). Since I began radiation and chemotherapy, my health care team members have urged me to consume lots of calories. “This is not the time to lose weight,” they say. And I haven’t lost a tremendous amount, not since early January, when my weight had dropped (since surgery) to about 223. My weight loss since chemo and radiation began has amounted to about ten pounds.  I wish I could say that was intentional, but it wasn’t. The pain associated with swallowing has, no doubt, contributed to my “success.” I’ve become an unintentional vegetarian. And I’ve discovered I can’t swallow bread and its brethren (e.g., pizza crusts, biscuits, hot dog or burger buns, etc.).

Is there a word for someone who doesn’t eat bread? I’m glad you asked. I looked it up. I didn’t find a word for it, but I found an intriguing French idiom: “Ça mange pas d’pain.” It is translated as “It doesn’t eat bread.” Its meaning is to suggest that something (and undertaking or an item) can’t hurt. While the action or thing may never amount to much or be of much use, if it costs nothing and entails no risk, there’s no reason not to do it. (Thanks to Languagehat for the education on this matter.)  Languagehat gives an example of the idiom’s use: “Passe un coup de fil à ton médecin, ça ne mange pas de pain !” “Give your doctor a call, it doesn’t eat bread!” You see, don’t you, how my mind works? I’d much rather continue down into the bowels of the rabbit warren to learn more about language and French culture and God knows what else than talk about my weight, but I’m trying to mend my ways. So, back to the matter at hand.

The paucity of meat in my diet of late hasn’t bothered me in the least. (I have a very hard time swallowing meat because it hurts like holy hell as it slowly descends my esophagus, meat’s fibers apparently attempting to shred the lining of the organ as it makes its way to my stomach.) I’ve seriously considered trying vegetarianism, but my favorite wife is not inclined to give up meat entirely (or, I think, even to reduce consumption significantly). So, how about pescatariansim? I’m game. I could happily live on a diet rich in fish and shellfish and mollusks and other sea creatures. If I could find a reliable source of fresh halibut cheeks, I could survive quite nicely on that food source, alone. Well, I’d need to supplement it with vegetables and the like, but you get my drift. I’m not good at returning to and sticking with the matter at hand, am I?

I’m quite sure one of the bad habits that has contributed to my weight gain over the years has been my consumption of alcohol. I like beer and wine and hard liquor. I enjoy them immensely. And I tend not to limit my intake. It’s sort of like knowing I should limit my intake of meat to three ounces per meal (if I’m a meat eater) but ignoring what I should do and, instead, consuming an entire sixteen-ounce rib-eye steak, along with a fully-loaded baked potato. One or two glasses of wine is fine. One or two bottles, not so much. Since my surgery, there was only a brief period before my follow-up treatments when I could consume alcohol. So, most of the time since mid-November, I have essentially stopped drinking it. Okay, I’ll admit that I’ve broken the “rules” and have had the equivalent of a glass of wine once every two or three weeks. But, basically I’ve stopped drinking. That, coupled with my inability to swallow most normal food, seems to have resulted in weight loss. If given a choice between drinking alcohol and returning to “normal food,” I’ll choose the latter. I’d rather have both. But maybe, during this three-plus-month period of semi-abstinence, I’ve learned portion control. Both alcohol and food. I get full much faster than I used to, which I take as a good sign.

Exercise, though. That’s missing. And that’s necessary. For now, though, I just can’t. And, unless my $##!@ing cough doesn’t get resolved, I can’t even imagine trying. Yes, my cough seems to be getting worse. And the dimwit oncologist keeps insisting it is related to acid reflux. Okay. I’ll admit I’m not a doctor, but I think I’d be aware if I suffered from acid reflux. And, so far, the pills she’s prescribed have done nothing to address the cough. And the cough syrup she supposedly prescribed for me last Friday has yet to be acknowledged by the pharmacy. Frankly, I’m not sure the nurse navigator has been particularly helpful, by the way. I explain issues to her and she seems to suggest that she agrees, “but the doctor makes the final call, soooo…” If I could actually speak to/communicate with the doctor, I might let her know what I think. But, then, that might not be the best way to relate to the physician who determines the level of chemical poisons injected into one’s blood stream. How the hell did I get off of the subject of exercise, veering into the potential for murder-by-injection at the hands of an irate physician?

A very good sign, within the last couple of days, is that I haven’t spent those days comatose in my recliner. So, it appears the worst of the post-chemo fatigue has lifted. Today, I plan to drive around and do errands. First, I have to go to the local compounding pharmacy to renew my prescription for one of the drugs intended to mitigate my problem with swallowing. This particular drug, a stand-in for another one for which a nationwide shortage exists, is mixed in with a tar-like goo whose nasty flavor is ostensibly hidden beneath the taste of grapes. In reality, the stuff makes me thinks of post-digested rotted grapes mixed in a slurry of road-repair tar and hatred.  Blechh!  Then, I will go to the bank to deposit a check for the Writers’ Club (I seem to be the perpetual treasurer, a role I’d like to relinquish to someone else). Thence to Walmart, where I’ll buy razor blades; if I shave just once more with the blade in my razor, I’m afraid they’ll find me dead, my throat slit with a dull blade. At some point this morning, again connected to my role as treasurer, I must drop off a check to ensure the Writers’ Club continues it membership in the Village Arts Council. I’ll probably go to the Post Office and, if my prescription for cough syrup ever reaches Walgreen’s, to that pharmacy to pick it up. Such a busy day! I should go to a grocery store, too, in search of esophagus-friendly edibles. I’m afraid macaroni and cheese gets old. And it’s so damn caloric!

It’s obvious, isn’t it, that I could spend the entire day writing about things that matter only to me? Yes, my writing is narcissistic. Such is life. I’d really like to return to French phrases and spend the day listening to and writing about them. After learning of “Ça mange pas d’pain,” my mind wanders back to one of my favorite French phrases (actually, my favorite English translations of a French phrase): Le jeu n’en vaut pas la chandelle, which translates into “the game is not worth the candle.” By the way, listening to French phrases online is fascinating. I love the sound of French, but replicating the sounds of the French language is beyond the capabilities of my tongue and lips. If I could suddenly be fluent in three more languages, I would select Spanish, French, and Mandarin Chinese. Selecting only three, though, is really hard. I’d like to, if I may, add German, Italian, Vietnamese, Hindustani, and Arabic. Thank you for that.

Based on what I’ve written here, I think the subject of my overweight has slinked away from my conscious mind, replaced by things more intriguing. And I’m grateful to have been saved from that, as well.


About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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One Response to Weighty Topics that Lead to Linguistic Salvation

  1. Beautifully written essay. I’m not sure how I landed on your site, but I’m happy I did.

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