Thursday, February 26, 2009

Nightshades, Solanine, and Pain

I spent last weekend painting a small room: sanding, taping all the edges, and priming. Having lived with fibromyalgia and whatever autoimmune issue causes my joint pain for years, I knew I’d pay for all this bending and stretching, and I did. When I got out of bed Sunday morning, I wasn’t sure I’d be able to walk.

By Monday I started to feel better. My legs still hurt, but at least they functioned. At work Tuesday evening, though, I felt worse. I was puzzled, but fibromyalgia is a quirky thing, as are autoimmune conditions, and I just accepted that my recovery was going to take a while.

Tuesday night I developed a headache in my sleep. I rarely get headaches. I woke up Wednesday morning feeling awful: pounding head, pain all over, shooting nerve pains in various places, total brain fog. I felt poisoned.

Being poisoned is not new to me. I have a wicked reaction to solanine, the substance that forms under the skin of potatoes, and if I get too close to potatoes in their raw state it gets life-threatening. Potatoes belong to the nightshade family. The other nightshades—tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant—also contain solanine and cause problems for me as well, mostly in the form of joint pain. It has been exceedingly hard for me to stop acting like a passionate tomato gardener, and I still haven’t succeeded 100%. But I may after what I discovered this week.

Getting back to Wednesday, I managed to drag myself to work, driving the 25 miles without running over anyone (as far as I know). Fortunately, my tasks for that day involved sitting down for the most part. At 7:00 p.m. I heated up a mug of soup. As I took it out of the microwave and stirred, I eyed the vegetables. Okra had floated to the top. I hardly ever eat okra, but I had created a creole soup around it on Sunday and had been eating it every day since. I remembered what the plant looked like in my garden when I grew it years ago. Could okra conceivably be one of the nightshades, and somehow I’d missed this fact?

I Googled okra nightshade. No, okra wasn’t part of the nightshade family. But it contained solanine. That was startling enough, but my eye moved to the next line and stayed there. Another food that contains solanine is artichokes. The day before, Tuesday, I had cooked two artichokes. I ate one before I left to work, and I ate the other that night, when I got home. They were delicious. I love artichokes. I’ll never eat another.

I’ve been doing some reading on nightshades and solanine. Among the websites I checked out, this one explains that solanine is a powerful inhibitor of cholinesterase, an enzyme that originates in the brain and is responsible for flexibility of muscle movement.

It also talks a bit about Dr. Norman F. Childers, a former Professor of Horticulture at Rutgers, who observed livestock kneeling in pain from inflamed joints after consuming weeds containing solanine. This reinforced his own experience, as he knew first-hand the effects of nightshades on joints.

According to this website (which originates in the UK), Dr. Childers proved that the majority of people who ache, regardless of their diagnosis, have a sensitivity to nightshades.

So I'd been dosing myself with solanine for days. I expect it'll take a while for the effects to wear off. I wonder . . . how many flares have I had as a result of eating artichokes, the cause a mystery at the time? I’m passing along my experience this week on the chance that others may be unwittingly poisoning themselves, too.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Trees vs. Wind

Once upon a time, there was a lovely clump of maples at the side of the road. Out walking the dogs, I was sometimes a little edgy about the way it creaked in the wind, so I walked quickly under it. But I liked the way it looked.

On the road again

A few months ago, a strong wind brought down the entwined trunks on the left. We shared them with a neighbor for firewood.

Last week, wind screamed and roared all day. When I went out to my mailbox, it sounded as though an 18-wheeler was racing to run me down. I watched a tree come down in the woods, and when I reluctantly set out for work, I got about a quarter-mile down the road before I had to turn back because of another huge tree jackknifed across the road, and the power line spread out on the ground like a 100-foot snake.

The remainder of the maple clump came down—not on the shed, as we had feared, but directly into the crotch of a tall ash tree. The force of the hit split the ash vertically in half. When my son happened upon it the next day, the ash was still standing, the maple caught in it. He cut a wedge into the base of the ash and brought it down. A simple description of a dangerous job.

Here's a picture of the split:


The next photo is supposed to give you an idea of the immense height of the ash. I'm not sure it succeeds.


Here's the remains of the maple:


Assuming I had the strength and knowledge to accomplish it, I would have considered felling the ash to be a full month's work. But Joe got busy immediately, slicing up the maple for firewood.


Again, I would have quit right there, drifting off to make a pot of soup, write a book, or take to my bed with a stack of DVDs. But my son was back a day later, using a monster maul to split all the wood by hand. And now I have a lovely pile of firewood!


Friday, February 13, 2009

Dancing By the Light of the Moon

Painting on tin by my cousin Barbara of the two of us at age two. Notice my foot about to crush hers.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Friday, February 06, 2009

Brenda Starr Would Be Proud

No, this has nothing to do with the news. But when I was a newspaper reporter I sometimes joked that Brenda Starr was my role model, and if I didn't always get the story I at least always got the photo.

I pass this stand of trees every day on my way to work. The snow is always pristine, and as I drive past in late afternoon, the shadows are long. They beg to be photographed.

I never seem to leave the house early enough to stop to take pictures, but on my day off last week I had the opportunity. The time was late morning, so the shadows weren't exactly where I wanted them, but I was in the right place even it was the wrong time, and I had a camera with me.

I pulled into a driveway and got out of the car, looking at the trees to figure out my best angle. While I stood there thinking artistic thoughts, some guy drove by at a high rate of speed, and his tires threw up a large quantity of dirty slush. It hit me in the side of the face, my hair, my jacket, and my jeans, and it splashed over the inside of my car door and leather upholstery.

My camera was spared, though, and I got off a bunch of shots. What we won't do for art. But we can't really say I braved dirty slush to get the picture I wanted. The truth is that if I'd known I was going to get slushed (as opposed to sloshed) at that spot, I would have seen to it that I was somewhere else that day.

I still want shots of those long, late-day shadows. And I'm gonna get 'em.