Of Chemo and Calories

May 17, 2006

Though it only ended a week or so ago, O Best Beloveds, Jazz Fest seems like just a lovely dream, though that may be related to the amount of sleeping I’ve been doing, and more on that in a moment. Thus far the new chemo regime is right in the middle–not as bad as some, but certainly not as likeable as the previous one, though my affections have no bearing on this matter. But I take back everything I said about Chemo O’ Fun being time-consuming. Here’s how this one goes; we now spend about three hours or so doing the drip (as opposed to a tidy 90 minutes), and then have to return the next day for a couple of hours of additional fluids, in the name of nausea control. All in Manhattan Beach, which is near nothing nice except Diana, so add in double commute as well. But there’s more! On the second week, in addition to those fluids, I get a shot of something or other that is supposed to boost my white blood cell count–expected to take a dive like never before–and which can cause “serious body aches” about 3-5 days post-shot. And finally the news that any nausea issues are cumulative, i.e., will only get worse the more chemo I receive, and there is all sorts of anticipatory unpleasantness.

But for the time being, none of that is the case. Either thanks to Chemo Day Ativan and Fluid Day Ativan, or simply because one of the side effects is “increased fatigue,” I’ve been either asleep or in a fog since last Thursday. Seriously; I wake up, I bumble around, I think “Have I been awake long enough to justify taking a nap?” I realize I’ve been awake about half an hour, I bumble some more, then I fall asleep for a couple of hours, wake up for fifteen minutes, sleep another couple of hours, go to bed early. Snoring—high. Productivity—zip. If this can be attributed to the Ativan (“increased fatigue” to me means “tired,” not “needing to sleep like a hibernating bear,” but perhaps I’m wrong), I’m nonetheless disinclined to change anything, because again, it’s all in the name of keeping my stomach happy. Still, I do have papers to write, and it would be better if I were awake to do so. I’ve been much better these past two days, but two useful days out of seven—sheesh.

Speaking of useful, a fine plan has been worked out with regards to Euro-trip and chemo timing. The trip, by the way, is a week in Estonia, a few days in Hungary, and a week in Salzburg. Dr. W. thought I could just have chemo in Salzburg, but since I’m going there for a conference, doing something that might make me sleep through the whole thing would defeat the purpose. Estonia chemo sounded dubious, so a tentative plan was to skip that country, and stay in London and get chemo there, while hanging out with Paula and Mark. But complex negotiations happened while I was nodding and Chemo Nurse Lisa and, presumably, Dr. W., decided I would just do three weeks of chemo in a row, and then have our trip, medical intervention-free, and then another round when we come back. An excellent compromise, though I worry that by the end of three consecutive rounds (and five total) I will be wrung out like a threadbare washcloth by the time I stagger on to the plane. (For that matter, given that Estonia will have very short nights—it’s summer, and it’s pretty far north—on top of jet lag and the aforementioned sleeping issues, I anticipate either not sleeping at all or not waking up at all until July.) I fully intend to go baldly (literally) to the United counter and beg to be upgraded from business (we use miles to travel thusly internationally) to first class, so that I can enjoy that Zulu coconut of travel, a flat bed seat. I suspect they’ve heard this song before, and will not be moved, but it’s worth a try.

It is also possible that my fog may have resulted from an unfortunate inability to tell the difference between Bactrum DS, prescribed for the staph infection I picked up in NOLA (spider bite, compromised/non-existent immune system, swelling, pain, severe pain, redness, limping and grimacing, call to NP Sister who is a brilliant diagnostician asking if she had any thoughts about what might be going on, early morning call from Nursezog screaming about how I had a staph infection and had to get on antibiotics stat and also some stuff about amputation and death, fast prescription fill by local doctor pal Margaret, filled near Jill’s, all ends well with legs intact but me out of the last day of Fest, though I bet my medical excuse was better than Fats’), and Vicodin. It would explain a lot. Well, they are both large white pills, and the bottles were right next to each other. Shut up.

Right, so now that we’ve covered all the medical matters, let us move on to the greater happiness that is food porn. I would talk more about Fest, but if you’ve been following Blogger Boy’s adventures (and you should have; he worked damn hard, and this is some of the best stuff he’s written), you’ve gotten the story. But it was magical—at once intense, emotional, invigorating, life-affirming, revitalizing, and at the same time, just like any other Jazz Fest, which is perhaps every bit as meaningful, under the circumstances. We all stopped down on day one, barely an hour into it, and looked around, just for a moment, holding our piggie sandwiches, to acknowledge it, because on Sept 1, we didn’t think this thing would be possible. And yet, there it was. Chills and thrills in addition to the previously discussed Springsteen included Charmaine Neville, “exercising my right to speak freely” with her indictment of “The Bushyman,” and falling into full voodoo-queen-ridden-by-a-loa mode, as she abandoned herself to the music, the transformation of the Mahogany Hall Brass Band from good-time party musicians to artists with a such a deeper understanding of what home, place and culture mean that it seems to have caught them off guard, the on-going loving collaboration of Allan Toussaint and Elvis Costello, every single band in the Gospel Tent, the unashamed hilarity of Bobby Lounge, the Jazz Vipers exhorting people to “come home to New Orleans,” (the very first line of music Robin and I heard when we arrived on the first day), and, oh, go read Steve’s stuff. He writes about music better than I do.

Right. Food porn. I was a little off my feed much of the time, which meant that my Starter Food at Fest, what should have been the first of five courses (yes, and what of it?), was often also my Closer Food, plus, disappointingly, we only had a few meals really worth describing in lascivious detail (the luck of the draw, plus we tried a couple of brand new places that probably haven’t quite gotten into their groove yet), and even then, I seem to have misplaced the menus. (Or swallowed them, thinking they were Bactrum. Or a cookie.) But here are some highlights:

1) Couchon de lait. Oh, how I looked forward to this, and oh, how it did not disappoint. They may even have hit a personal high point. Bless them forever. Also, the andouille calas (fried balls of rice with local sausage) with the creamy green onion sauce are a fine new Fest fare addition, and we hope they will be back.

2) Dinner at Cafe Adelaide. I had the Ponchatoula strawberry salad, sweet and savory thanks to a little touch of goat cheese, and a main course of quail stuffed with rice and, I think, foie gras. Quails are too often just little dry tough birds, hardly worth the effort. This one, however, was moist and tender, easily the best quail I’ve ever had. Also on the table; the seared duck with extra duck cracklin’ cornbread (crunchy and fatty all in one, which doesn’t do it justice as a description), the buttery wild shrimp BBQ shortcake, at dessert time more shortcake topped with more of those tiny delicious juicy Louisiana strawberries, and scads more I’ve forgotten, which is terrible, since there were nine of us dining, three courses each at least, and there wasn’t a bum dish in the lot.

3) Dinner at Alberta’s, a small homey elegant new spot uptown. A creamily smooth tourchon of foie gras as an amuse, plus bready Tuscan-style gazpacho for a starter, then a creamy pasta of fresh crab and shrimp for me, perfectly seared lamp chops for Ti, and nicely done large scallops for Steve. Nothing was trend-making, but everything was prettily done, with presentation and flavor taking equal part, and it was just delightful. A sweet new restaurant.

4) Dinner at Cuvee, for which I do have the menu, which is lucky, because it was a tasting that went on and on and on. An amuse of fresh crab over fried mirliton started us off, then it was foie gras three ways–seared (with a nice batch of fresh greens), tourchon topped with praline bacon on toast, and–wait for it–as a crème brulee. Like the best bacon and egg dish ever, except even more so. Lord, we could have left then, but we would have missed the sweetbreads in puff pastry, and the seared yellowfin tuna on top of lush avocado salad, with sides of heirloom tomato sorbet and a watermelon vodka gazpacho shot (I snatched Jill’s off the tray as the waiter was taking it away and downed it, much to his amusement), and the “deconstructed” osso buco which included veal cheeks and a “bone” made of potato with more potato with marrow whipped into it in the center, the mustard and herb crusted salmon on crabmeat-brie orzo with lemon comfit, and of course, the four desserts (thick mousse-style chocolate tart with strawberry ice cream, panna cotta with fruit compote, tapioca pudding with bourbon ice cream and a sort of nouvelle “drumstick.”) We ate and ate and ate and kind of wanted to stay and do it all over again right on the spot.

5) Crawfish at the Savoy annual boil. We had heard that crawfish were expensive and small this year, thanks to the storms, but the ones we had were as big and flavorful as ever. Todd’s bbq chicken, as always, was falling off the bone (asked how he knows when to take it off the fire, he replies “I give it about two Budweisers.”). And boudin and cracklin’s from the Best Stop in Scott.

6) A chocolate Hubig’s pie. Oh, hush–it’s a New Orleans tradition, and we are so glad they are back. Plus, there’s a place for good junk food. And there you have it. A divine trip, and I remain homesick for Fest, for NOLA, for our house, for our housemates, but all of those things, and you, Best Beloveds, help me get through the part about not making me sick-sick any more. I’ll try to pay you back with more food porn and less medical porn.

Surprisingly alert, but that will change tomorrow,