The Event That Changed My Diet

Answer to the question most often asked of me when eating or sharing recipes.

By Kevin RR Williams

HEALTH My eventful journey to vegetarianism comes to mind after reading the plight of 10-year-old Chelsea Wheeler. She is an inspiring girl with a passion for cooking and a desire to open her own restaurant some day. What makes her story compelling is the fact that she can't eat food. Plagued with several health complications, she has undergone 30 surgeries; the most urgent concern is pseudo-obstruction, requiring a partial intestine transplant.

Despite her adversity, Chelsea helps prepare meals for the rest of the family. She then sits at the table, sipping a maximum of one popsicle. This reminds me of the days I drank my shakes while others enjoyed solid food. I am optimistic that someday soon, with the generous support of others, Chelsea will be able to taste her dishes prepared with so much love.

My Vegetarian Journey

When people ask me why I became a vegetarian, I usually tell them, "The short story is for health reasons." Most then ask, "What's the long story?" Here it is.

Patient Story: Time was ticking away. While getting dressed for a long evening meeting, I peeked in the refrigerator for a bite to eat in lieu of dinner. A container of Kung Pao Chicken from a couple of nights before was just the right size. It warmed up in a hurry and went down just as quickly.

About thirty minutes into the meeting, I began feeling, warm, agitated, and thirsty. On my walk to the water cooler, no one else appeared to be perspiring. Fully suited, I loosened my tie after a few sips of water. Meandering aimlessly somewhat in the direction of my seat while sweating profusely, an attendee who happened to be a nurse remarked, "You don't look so well." To this I replied, "I don't feel so well either." At that moment, my legs went limp.

Two passersby extended their arms just in time to prevent my head from hitting the ceramic tile floor. One man supporting my torso and the other lifting my legs rushed me outside into the evening air. Another person summoned my wife who was oblivious of my deteriorating condition.

The nurse was plying me with questions. I mentioned that the only thing I ate recently was a small quantity of leftover Chinese food. She futilely suggested regurgitation, as I lacked the energy or desire to comply.

Friends came running outside with my wife to rush me in their car to the nearest emergency room. They helped me maintain limited lucidity long enough to stagger into the ER with assistance and collapse on a gurney, hopeful that they got me there in time. Lying on my back as my eyes rolled to the back of my head, I thought to myself, "I made it to safety — a place where people know what to do." Then I blacked out.

Hospital Standoff

When my eyes opened, I saw bright lights and began hearing faint voices. (No, this wasn't a near-death, out-of-body experience. There were lights above the gurney in the hallway.) My stomach felt like it was full of hot rocks. I wondered why I was still alone on a gurney after an hour. A nurse said that nothing had been done because they could not find proof of insurance. Reaching into my pants pocket, I handed her the Blue Cross card from my wallet. (They had only looked in my suit jacket.)

Sensing my irascible disposition over the lack of care, another nurse summoned me over to a desk. "Here, we have your doctor on the line," she said. Writhing in pain, I dragged myself to the phone. A voice on the other end of the line said, "I'm the on-call doctor. Why are you at that hospital? It's not in your network." (My health plan listed a preferred facility 6 miles away. But like most plans, emergency care is covered at the nearest hospital.) I told him that I passed out from apparent food poisoning and this is where friends brought me." In a condescending tone, he then asked, "What makes you think someone would want to poison you?"

Fed up with the surreal medical ineptitude and in no mood to have someone second-guess the validity of my illness, I said, "I could have received better care at home," and slammed the phone down on the table. A nurse acknowledged that it was my prerogative to leave but asked that I sign a form releasing them from liability should my condition worsen. If looks could kill, I'd be on death row. She walked away with an unsigned paper. (Unsurprisingly, this hospital was eventually shut down.) Staggering into the waiting room while gripping my stomach, concerned friends and family asked, "What happened? What did the doctor say? What did they do?" To all their questions, I replied, "Nothing! Take me home."

As I climbed under the covers, rocking in agony, my puzzled wife tried to sort through the medical breakdown on the telephone. Once the on-call doctor understood that it was not paranoia over being poisoned by someone, he told her it was too late to pump my stomach. Whatever I ate would eventually work its way out and I should follow up with a visit to my primary health provider in the morning.

No Food In Sight

I literally could not stomach the ordeal. The next morning, my guts convulsed when attempting to eat breakfast. My physician saw me and scheduled a test for a perforated ulcer. I drank a chalky cherry flavored barium before being rotated in various positions while taking X-rays. The gastroenterologist could say with confidence that there were no perforations. The lining of my stomach was apparently irritated. Secretion of gastric juices caused discomfort. "So how long will this last?" I asked. He shrugged it off with uncertainty. Technically, such irritation is still considered an ulceration. A prescription for Tagamet was accepted.

After a few days, starving to death seemed like a real possibility. Determined to find something edible, I gathered various soft foods. Cream of Wheat triggered convulsions, as did scrambled eggs. A bite of toast was painful. Let me qualify the degree of pain. Have you ever had a cramp in your calf? Imagine that feeling in your stomach whenever you take a bite of food.

A human body can survive 8-14 days without water depending on the person and how fast sweat, urine, and tears are leaving the body and up to 7-8 weeks without food depending on conditions like weight, temperature and exertion.Wiki Answers

In a moment of desperation, I blended a concoction from a vitamin distributer with scoops of ice cream. It was both soothing and nutritious. At last, a viable food source was identified. When subsisting on a restricted diet, key nutrients are protein, calcium, vitamin D, B12, iron, zinc, and omega-3 fatty acids.

Each week or two, I sampled a piece of bread, a small bite of an egg, or a bit of cereal as a test, but was halted by the gnawing. Weeks turned into months of ice cream protein drinks and multivitamins. Sometime after the eighth month, I successfully ate an entire piece of toast. It was worthy of celebration. I excitedly prepared my first breakfast in nearly nine months and ate with more delight than you can imagine. That stomach of mine had finally healed!

Too Chicken To Eat

The prospect of eating again had me craving many foods. As you can imagine, Kung Pao Chicken wasn't one of them. In fact, I developed hyper-concern over the freshness of any meat.

By now, my wife had become a full-fledged vegetarian. As a courtesy, she would prepare meat for me. However, each meal began with the obligatory interrogation about the marinade ingredients, meat expiration dates, and length of time food sat out before being served. After my ritualistic sniffing, there was little to enjoy. She would simply say, "If you don't feel like eating it, throw it out." For weeks, I did just that, discarding whole pots of stewed chicken and broiled flank steaks. My one-time favorite porterhouse steak, when marinated in wine or vinegar, was even trashed straight from the refrigerator.

It wasn't any better when dining at friends' homes. We accepted an invitation for a southern fried chicken supper one late afternoon. The elderly cook with limited mobility said she got up early in the morning to prepare everything displayed on the stove. Though the effort was appreciated, the tabulated amount of time that food sat out prevented me from eating. The doggie bag went into the trash when I returned home.

After putting up with food waste and suspicions for a few months, my wife plainly said, "You're throwing away more food than you're eating. If you don't want to eat meat, just become a vegetarian." Thinking back at all the time I could not consume solid food and how circumspect I had become, her logic was sound. So I said, "You're right. Don't buy any more meat."

I have now been a vegetarian for a cumulative total of 10 years and still love spicy foods. To this day, I continue to be squeamish about the freshness of "pot luck" meals. At least I no longer audibly interrogate servers about their preparation and storage methods (much). Compared to typical omnivorous meal plans, vegetarianism may seem like extreme deprivation. But compared to a liquid diet, a plant based diet is a banquet.

What’s Eating You?

All digestive diseases combined affect 60 to 70 million people each year. An estimated 10,000 people have been sickened as a result of a chicken Salmonella outbreak beginning in 2013 that did not trigger any recalls.

You could conclude that I was influenced to become a vegetarian because of an ulcer, a hospital mishap, or tainted meat. Later investigation about how meat is processed and the effects of GMO solidified my decision. For further consideration, view videos on nutritionfacts.org by Dr. Michael Gregor, a plant-based diet advocate, listed below. Is there an event that changed your diet?

Tags: gastroenterology, illnesses, nutrition, survival, vegan, vegetarian

References
  1. National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse (NDDIC). nih.gov
  2. Foster Farms Responds to Chicken Salmonella Outbreaks. nutritionfacts.org
  3. Superbugs in Conventional vs. Organic Chicken. nutritionfacts.org
  4. Why is it Legal to Sell Unsafe Meat? nutritionfacts.org