Barbecues were our thing on the weekend. Just about every Saturday or Sunday Paul and I were entertaining family or friends, sometimes both together. A case of beer, steaks sizzling on the barbecue in the backyard and I’m inside preparing an array of side dishes and salad. Lot’s of people have their signature dishes and I certainly have mine- the esteemed cauliflower bake. That was my signature dish until, one Sunday, Paul says to me “Can’t you make something different for a change?” Hahaha, nope. My culinary skills are unparalleled and exceptional but also limited. Paul was what we called “l’expert extraordinaire du barbecue” (noun. meaning expert in the field of cooking a mean barbecue.) He mastered the art of a decent, tender, wholesome steak. However you like it, he would deliver.
I can’t believe how much I miss those days. Today, I can’t bring myself to wipe the dust off the ‘ole gas grill and fire up the damn thing. I feel as if I am betraying my husband and the barbecue legacy we built for our family. Since Paul’s accident, he has not been able to have a decent meal. Bleeding in the brain stem meant that his swallowing, breathing, speech and sleep were all affected. No burgers, no pasta, no chilli, no steak and worst of all for Paul….no cauliflower bake.
For nearly 4 years now, Paul has endured the liquid diet and not the good kind (is there a good kind though?) so I have to wonder how hard it is for him to watch the rest of us eat when he cannot. For most of us, eating for sustenance is only a minute part of the experience. We eat food we enjoy, do we not? It is something of pleasure and joy. Food brings people together and is a staple part of many celebrations. But I feel guilty, nevertheless. It’s not enjoyable to consume a culinary degustation without my love. So I eat my not-so-hearty meal away from him because I cannot bear the guilt.
About two and a half years ago, I boldly made the decision to give Paul small amounts of food, in thickened liquid form, orally, as a trial with the doctor’s permission of course. We started with small amounts of hospital chocolate pudding…. sugar- free, flavour-free exquisiteness. His Speech Pathologist at the time was overly cautious and not particularly confident in my decision to push on with oral intake. She hovered over my shoulder a lot, watching intently for any adverse signs and discomfort. Paul was a known aspirator. A silent one at that. This meant that the teeny tiniest fraction of food would go down his wind pipe. The rest of us can cough and dissolve this, usually quite easily. Paul, not so much. The small particle of food would be sliding down his trachea like a kid on slippery slide before Paul felt the sensation and tried to cough it out. There was the risk of the food particle making its way down to Paul’s lungs which could then lead to all sorts of nasty infections including pneumonia. So I understood the need to be cautious. But I didn’t want to give up. My motto soon became “Don’t worry. He’ll be right!.”
After the month test period was over, I upped the ante with some yoghurt and thickened apple juice. Unfortunately, Paul’s infection-free ride was over and he became a regular at the Intensive Care Unit because of his leg wound that refused to heal. Paul went back to the brain injury unit and it felt like we had taken ten steps back, right when I thought we were moving forward. “No more food trials for a while,” I was instructed. I thought I was getting used to this game but it never ceased to frustrate me. This was just another one of those well-disposed embraces from the world of brain injury…and man did I get plenty of those.
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