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patterns of ink

How fruitless to be ever thinking yet never embrace a thought... to have the power to believe and believe it's all for naught. I, too, have reckoned time and truth (content to wonder if not think) in metaphors and meaning and endless patterns of ink. Perhaps a few may find their way to the world where others live, sharing not just thoughts I've gathered but those I wish to give. Tom Kapanka

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Speared In The Back By An Old Friend!

Last Thursday was my birthday, and I received cards and calls from friends and family. That’s always nice. When I was a kid, birthday’s were special—not because we got lots of gifts…we didn’t. (One or two nice things under $15 total was typical.) Not because we had lots of big parties with our home full of classmates. Each of us kids had one birthday party during our elementary school years. That was plenty in Mom and Dad’s book, but we did make birthday’s special days within our family. Mom always made the cake of our choice (which was nearly always her specialty—banana cake with butter cream frosting) And for supper, Mom would fix whatever family meal the birthday person picked.

I thought of that on Thursday, when Julie and Natalie and I went out to eat for my birthday after Nat’s soccer game. (In which she scored her first goal!) I didn’t say anything at the time, but I remembered that, as a kid, we never went out to eat at restaurants. (I remember one or two times my entire life—not counting the occasional stop at an A&W while on vacation.) But I also remembered how special it was to get to set the menu for Mom’s home-cooked meal each time we turned one year older.

What was my favorite meal? The one that stands out, the one from my junior high and high school years, was Mom’s Swiss steak with sautéed mushrooms with asparagus on the side (with butter and vinegar). The three main ingredients were a bit pricy by Dad’s grocery standards so it was special to have such a meal on my birthday. There is a reason I am sharing this: I needed to trace back time to know how long I have liked and eaten asparagus, and it's pert-near 45 years.

Last night, two nights after my birthday, Julie and I were dining at our school’s Junior-Senior Banquet with lots of students and faculty. It is a nice event—coat and tie, lots of pictures, and good food.

In spite of the formal setting, the delicious meal was set out on a long buffet table, and I was happy to see long, bright green spears of freshly steamed asparagus. I put six or seven stalks on the side of my plate.

Michigan is among the top three states for asparagus production, yielding 25 million pounds annually on about 11,000 acres, most of which are a short drive from our home in Oceana County. We have ridden our bikes along those miles of wispy, fern-like plants that by mid-summer look nothing like the edible spears we eat.

About 75% of asparagus is sold frozen or canned. The delicious spears I had last night were fresh and probably California-grown , since the Michigan crop is barely poking through the ground in April. (California begins shipping its crop nationwide in March.)

I know what you’re thinking: “Wow, Tom! You really do like asparagus. I’ve never heard so many facts per minute about a vegetable in all my life.”

The truth is I never knew any of this until doing some research this morning. I HAD TO DO SOME RESEARCH THIS MORNING! You see, that asparagus on the buffet was so good, that I had a second serving—probably another six of seven tender, young spears. I wasn’t trying to be a veggie-glutton, but the truth is we almost never have it at our house because I'm the only one in my family who likes it. Likewise, very few of the students were eating it, and I hated to see all that nice asparagus go to waste.

Shortly after the meal, I began feeling flushed—much like when I have accidentally taking niacin capsules that were not “flush free.”  My head started feeling light, but I said nothing to the guests around my table. About a half hour after the banquet, Julie and I stayed with some of the faculty to box-up table decorations. My joints began to ache as if I had the flu. My head began to ache as well. I mentioned to Julie that I didn’t feel well, and went to wait in the car.

Sitting there, the symptoms increased. My skin was hot. I felt slightly short of breath and rolled down the window for cool air. What in the world was going on? How did such symptoms come on so quickly? When Julie joined me, I was able to drive home. I did not feel nauseated, but my joints and muscles ached so much I felt like Tim Conway's "old man" character as I walked from the car to our house. Within an hour, I had chills and my hands were trembling. Julie was worried, but I told her I was just going to take some "cold and flu" medicine and go to bed. When my body hit our cool, fresh sheets, the chills and tremors increased, but as the sheets warmed, my body relaxed and I slowly drifted off to sleep. In the middle of the night, I woke up expecting to feel awful, but I felt fine. Every symptom was gone. “That is weird,” I thought and went back to sleep. In the morning, I began a Google search.

Wow! There is a ton of stuff out there about asparagus and some of the common allergic reactions people have to it. Among the ones I had were “fatigue; hyperactivity; anxiety; headaches; sore muscles and joints; [and] urticaria (hives)..." which I may have had when my skin felt hot (but I did not look).

None of the articles I read mentioned my chills and tremors but I have no doubt it was all connected. Why now after 45 years did I have a reaction? The only asparagus after-effect I had ever notice before was the distinct olfactory response to methyl mercaptan, a statement that sounds sufficiently scientific to warrant no further explanation. Evidently some people, however, develop allergies to asparagus later in life.

One comment on a site said, “I too have eaten asparagus for years, ate some for lunch today and ended up in the emergency room a severe allergic reaction to it. My throat was closing, and one eye was swollen shut. No more asparagus for me.” Another person at the same site wrote: “This absolutely is a real allergy. I ate asparagus for years with no problem, but within the last 2 years, I've developed the same problem. I can eat 1 or 2 stalks of the thick, older stalks, but even a bite or two of the thinner stalks makes me break out in hives for hours. My doc told me to just stay away from asparagus forever.”

It's possible that I'm like those people who developed the allergy after mid-life, but there was something even more likely at play: I was eating young, fresh, asparagus. Many of the sites I read warned that asparagus from the early part of the growing season is much more potent when it comes to allergies. “The allergen, however, appears to be 1,2,3-Trithiane-5-carboxylic acid, a sulfur-containing growth inhibitor which appears to be present mainly in the early phase of the growth season.”

Aha! So that's what happened. I was speared in the back by my old friend. I had two servings of young, early-season asparagus with more 1,2,3-Trithiane-5-carboxylic acid than I had ever ingested in my life. It’s a very good thing I didn’t allow myself to have a third serving of the spears. Who knows what would have happened. At any rate, I’m happy to be here, and I think none of this would have happened had I had Mom’s Swiss steak, mushrooms, and canned asparagus like I used to have as a kid.
Have a wonderful week. Bon appétit!


Blogger the walking man said...

Meat, meet Tom...Tom meet meat.

27/4/10 8:03 AM  
Blogger Jesse and Stacie said...

This is so funny (and kinda scary) because I also LOVE asparagus and the past two days I've eaten A TON for lunch. Ah! Now I'm paranoid :) And I still have a big, fresh bundle in the fridge. Maybe I'll skip it for tomorrow :)

27/4/10 8:38 PM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

As Shakespeare said, "Brevity is the soul of wit" and you are the master of brevity! I could go on and on about it. By the way, give me a good steak or prime rib any day!

Jesse and Stacie,
Good to hear from you. How are the not-so newlyweds? You are probably fine. I ate it for decades with no problem. The articles I read said beware of the thinner stalks in early spring. I guess they're the most potent if you are allergic. Now that I know, I'll not eat so much at one time.

27/4/10 11:17 PM  
Blogger Nancy said...

Happy Birthday Tom...sorry to hear about the allergic reaction but delighted you narrowed it down and that the symptoms were short lived. I've suffered with hives for several days now and I've had do the cortisone shot/prednisone regimine for 10 days. No luck at tracking down the source...I just call it allergy overload.

I guess moderation is the key to most things in life. Blessings to you my friend!

30/4/10 12:24 PM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

Hi, Nancy,
Hope you figure out what's giving you hives. Careful with the steroids--not that you'll look like Arnold Swartzenecker--but you've got to follow the dr's orders. I was on some sort of cortisone for poison ivy two years ago and when the rash went away I just stopped takinng it--not good. Ease off like your dr will tell you. =)

1/5/10 7:52 AM  
Blogger Ana said...


My name is Ana and I have similar reactions when I eat asparagus. Your blog has ben the only information I have been able to find that closely resembles what I go through. In fact I had a reaction yesterday when I unknowingly ate asparagus and ended up in the ER having seizure-like symptoms. Have you been able to find more information on this?

Thank you

25/3/14 9:02 AM  

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