Monday, March 21, 2011

Plain Stir

I have grown fond of a brand of yoghurt called Plain Stir. Its packaging is indeed quite plain: blue lettering on a white bottle. Only one small logo, akin to the Starbucks logo in size, except for the Plain Stir logo is of a cow in a field and the Starbucks logo is of a mermaid. The rest of the labeling is all Chinese characters, except for the ‘Pro-B’ designation that indicates this yoghurt contains active cultures.

I really don’t care about the packaging; all I care about is that this yoghurt contains those active cultures that aid digestion. For nearly a year I have had problems with my stomach. Drinking Pro-Biotic yoghurt helps a lot. And, it is not bad tasting. I have one 4-ounce glass of it with my breakfast and a second small glass after dinner, and my stomach ills have virtually disappeared. No heartburn, no gas, no bloating. I think my stomach problems are a result of aging and I’m very glad to have a natural remedy, rather than having to take a supplement or an actual medication.

Buying this yoghurt is not as easy as going to any of the stores on The Street. Some of the stores around campus sell certain brands of yoghurt, but none are Pro-Biotic and Plain Stir is not sold at all. I can either buy it while I’m out at one of the major stores in town, or else the closest outlet is a store eight bus stops from campus. I have to ride the bus, and then cross the street and battle construction debris to get to that store. On good days I walk there. It is a nice workout, as well as a sport to dodge traffic and not inhale too much dust. To me, it is well worth it because of how well that yoghurt balances my digestive system. Usually, as I return to campus from some foray I’ve taken into the city, I simply get off the bus, go to that store and pick up a bottle, board the bus again and go home.

For as well as Plain Stir yoghurt worked on my digestive system, and for as long, imagine my perplexion when my stomach ills returned. Very strange: I’ve been drinking my regular two glasses every day, as I have been nearly since I discovered how much it helps me.

I think I discovered the problem when I set out to buy my next 1.5 liter bottle of Plain Stir: the label no longer said ‘Pro-B’.

That’s a little strange! Why did they stop putting active cultures in Plain Stir? I don’t know, but I did take a minute to reflect on the irony of Plain Stir yoghurt now actually being plain, instead of enriched with cultures. Luckily I found another brand of yoghurt that is Pro-Biotic and bought it instead of my habitual brand. I admit: I’m not brand loyal; I just don’t want any stomach troubles.

When I got home that day I looked at my current bottle of Plain Stir. Sure enough, it did not say Pro-B. So that’s why my stomach was acting up again! And I never even noticed the absence of Pro-B, I just kept drinking happily away, thinking I’m doing a body good. I finished what I had left of Plain Stir and started on the new brand, relishing the thought of imminent banishment of my stomach woes.

About two weeks ago I started getting really sick. Stuffy head, blocked sinuses, swollen eyes, wheezing breath, inability to breathe and pounding heart, especially at night. All of this coincided with the arrival of Spring and the fact that I had started throwing the windows open at the first hint of sunshine, so I thought it was just pollen allergies. Although I’ve only had such a severe environmental allergy reaction one time before, when I visited New Orleans, I did recognize it for what it was and just blamed the terrible air quality of Wuhan for my current host of respiratory ills.

I also thought that the mold growing on my walls might have something to do with my steadily worsening condition. Not just the above listed symptoms, but also a terrible ear infection which required a round of antibiotics to get over. I felt like I was deteriorating fast! As I wrote in A Certain Lassitude, things got to the point where I could not bring myself to face another day.

Until the day that Lavender had to hustle me out of the house without so much as a breakfast under my belt. True, my breathing problems continued all through that day, but the next morning, after about 2 hours of violent coughing to clear my lungs, my wheezing, gasping breathing gave way to clear, deep breaths. Blissful, blessed air! I was once again able to breathe like a normal person: full lung expansion, no wheezing and no gravelly voice when I tried to talk.

It is a miracle! I honestly thought that the mold on the walls was the culprit and now that the mold was gone, my respiratory system breathed a sigh of relief – pun intended. After my usual Sunday morning Skype chats, I fixed my breakfast of eggs, rice and bacon, a piece of fruit and a glass of yoghurt.

Much to my dismay, my breathing problems returned full force that night. At 2AM I woke up gasping for air, heart pounding, coughing and wheezing so loud I could not catch my breath, let alone get back to sleep. I confess that I lay in my bed and cried. I couldn’t handle going back to being sick again after this one-day respite. I simply could not embrace the prospect of such a crippling problem continuing on. Not that my lifestyle has been particularly active since I’ve been here, but still: the idea that I could not even so much as walk The Street or to my next class without panic and agony filled me with such bitter and impotent rage that sobbing in my pillow was all I could think to do. And I couldn’t even cry very well because I couldn’t breathe enough to cry effectively.

Don’t ask me why or how, but last night, as I was drifting off to sleep fortified by a dose of Benadryl, the words ‘anaphylactic shock’ drifted into my head. How every curious, but then this is not the first time I’ve had this type of epiphany. As I fell asleep I resolved to look up the symptoms of anaphylactic shock first thing in the morning.

Another agonizing night, interrupted by a struggle for air. Again too wrung out to cry properly, I propped myself up in my bed in the wee hours, waiting for the latest dose of Benadryl to start working.

My mind was effectively blown when I read what constitutes anaphylaxis the next morning. Anaphylaxis is a result of an allergic reaction to a toxin, either insect sting or bite, food, or drug. It is very serious, leading to shock, and in worst cases, respiratory and/or cardiac failure and death.

I had nearly every symptom: wheezing, not being able to breathe, coughing, swollen eyelids, dry skin, heart palpitations and rapid pulse, mental confusion and low energy, just to name a few. The only symptom I did not have was nausea and vomiting. I stared at my computer screen, trying to figure out what was trying to kill me.

Then I remembered that I had not had any yoghurt on Saturday, and Sunday I felt better. Sunday afternoon and night I partook of yoghurt and by Sunday evening I was feeling like at death’s door again. Monday I had yoghurt and Tuesday I could barely make it to class. I actually had to double up on the Benadryl just to make it through that hour and half of teaching.

I have not had a glass of yoghurt since that revelation on Tuesday morning. I am still on the mend and still having to take Benadryl, but now my ears have gone back to their normal size and feel, my eyelids are no longer swollen, my voice is not gravelly and my heart is behaving as it always has. I no longer itch uncontrollably and I no longer cough incessantly and unproductively. I can draw deep breaths, one after the other, and enjoy the feeling of full lung expansion. I do not feel dizzy, lost, confused and anxious.

I do not blame Plain Stir yoghurt. That brand worked really well for me although I did have a few problems. I only got terribly sick when I switched brands, and I think the new brand has something in it that I’m violently allergic to.

What I am deeply grateful for is the ability to listen to my body when it tells me something. I caution you: if your body starts acting dramatically different, take stock and think about what you have changed in your diet or routine. Keep a food diary if you must, even though it is a tedious task. There is nothing less than your life at stake. Anaphylactic shock is nothing to play with. Being able to trace the beginning of my symptoms back to when I started ingesting that new brand of yoghurt may well have saved my life.

Especially because people here seem to think I wasn’t drinking enough hot water!

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