I had another blog at one time. It was fun for me to write and take pictures. The blog was a mix of Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, with a bit of homesteading and frugal ideas, along with a good dose of road trips and reviews. I would often grab a plate of whatever was for dinner and take it to wherever the good lighting was in order to take a picture of it. Meanwhile the family would moan and groan sitting around the table as their food got cold while I did this. Once back at the table, we would all say a prayer of gratefulness for the food that was before us and dig in. Our family always sat at the table together and as I watched my husband and children attack the food, I felt a sense of accomplishment and worthiness. I had prepared something that made them feel good, that made them feel loved.
When my husband was diagnosed with Pulmonary Fibrosis, it became more difficult for him to eat. With oxygen blowing in his nose and struggling for every breath, eating became more of a challenge. For those who do not have this disease it might be hard to imagine how eating can become a workout. But, it was for him. Lifting the fork to the mouth, then the food entering the mouth and the chewing was a great task because he also needed his mouth to breath. It was almost as though food in the mouth was cutting off another part of his air supply. My husband lost weight even though he was eating regular meals and the doctors indicated that he was burning more calories in the action of eating than he was actually taking in. In addition, the fabulous and mouth watering seasoning that made my meals so rich and delicious, was also affecting his digestion. Often, he would struggle with acid-reflux after a meal and would have to stay in the sitting up position for hours while trying to digest.
I knew that my cooking had to change. It would be better for my husband to eat more soft foods that do not require a lot of chewing. He should eat small portions more frequently throughout the day, rather than 3 regular meals. The food should be more bland as to not give his digestive system such a challenge. This might seem like an easy transition to make although there were many factors that came into this change. I had a family to feed and the other members of the family did not have the same issue that my husband did. I also had placed an emotional value to the meals I made and believed that when I cooked for my family it made them feel loved. Even, health-wise, I believed certain meals helped to heal. We have heard the term Chicken Soup for the Soul, which indicates that Chicken Soup is soothing and healing. I also associated food as comfort, how many times had I downed a pint of Rocky Road ice cream after a bad breakup?
There are some with this disease that also believe that certain foods exacerbates the occurrence of inflammation within the lungs that cause the scaring of the lungs. That too many carbohydrates, the eating of processed foods is what makes this disease progress. There is not a lot of data to validate this idea as each individual may have different triggers to the progression of Pulmonary Fibrosis, although personally, I think there may be some validity to this for some; as a form of trying to slow the disease and if it is implemented early enough within the onset.
In my husband's case, the disease was so aggressive that he passed away a little over a year from his diagnosis and during that time, there came two points that he didn't want to eat: The first point was what I am describing above, that he was very much alive and wanted to live, although eating became such a task that it no longer had much appeal. The second point, was in the very last stage of his illness and is also a very natural state of dying. In addressing the first stage I had to be creative in finding easy to eat foods that did not cause him so much discomfort. And I also had to realize that my home cooking wasn't the cure for his ailment. These are some things that I came up with....
Whey Protein Shakes: A scoop of Whey Protein blended with one Banana and 1 1/2 cups of milk or water. I served it in a glass with a spoon, as it was impossible for him to use a straw.
Oatmeal: What a great way to get protein and nutrients and it can be made as thick or thin as desired.
Soups: He enjoyed many types of 'creamed' soups such as cream of chicken, cream of broccoli. I think it gave him that satisfied feeling of a home cooked meal. He also became introduced to 'Miso' soup and loved it very much. I would buy packages of Nori, which is dried and pressed seaweed, found in the Asian section of the supermarket. I cut snippets of Nori into his soup. It becomes very soft and can be swallowed without chewing.
Applesauce: He loved the feeling of cool applesauce in his mouth and throat. I would take zucchini and other vegetables, fully cook them until they are very soft, and blend them into the applesauce. Many times he did not know the vegetables were in there, until I was so proud of the fact I was sneaking them in this way that I had to tell him. He thought it was great!
Yogurt: My husband always hated yogurt and would never try a spoonful of yogurt the whole time we were married. When he got sick and it was hard for him to eat I begged him to try some. He did and literally after the first spoonful he said yes he would like yogurt more often. It was at the end of his life that he became a big yogurt fan. I think it really soothed his sore throat and was nice and sweet. It also helped his digestive system quite a bit.
Rice Pudding: He just loved my rice pudding, plain and simple! There are also easy recipes that include instant rice. He also enjoyed puddings from the store as a dessert.
Instant Mashed Potatoes: I normally used regular potatoes for this although as my role of a caregiver progressed as well as a mother and combined with working out of the home, my time became limited. Instant mashed potatoes is a lifesaver. It can be added with chicken broth to become a potato soup or it can be served as mashed potatoes with a bit of gravy or butter.
Corn Meal: I would take two cups of milk and add it with chicken stock, a little bit of butter and let that come to a nice simmer. Then slowly add the corn meal a little at a time, reduce the heat to low and stir until it become the thickness of a soft Polenta. I then placed a spoonful into the center of a bowl of soup. It has a comforting feeling to eat this and helps with nutrients.
Eggs: Scrambled eggs or even a quiche with very soft, cooked vegetables is delicious and required very little chewing for him.
Crackers and bread: These would be served with soups for dipping as they become very soft and offer more calories for someone drastically losing weight.
Pedialyte: This was a great way for my husband to receive electrolytes, which helps replenish the body to proper hydration. We would buy a bottle of this and add 1/3 to every glass of water.
Cream of Wheat: A nice alternative for breakfast.
Rice Cereal found in Baby Food Section: I did find myself in the baby food section of the store searching for more ideas. This depressed me a great deal to know I was shopping for my husband. But, the reward was I remembered that I used Rice Cereal found in that section when my children were babies. I often added a couple spoonfuls of it into their soft foods. I did the same with my husband. It can be added to the soups or applesauce, pretty much anything.
Herbal Tea: My husband became a great tea drinker at this stage. He loved blueberry tea, that was his favourite. It was soothing on his throat, helped to eliminate mucus and eased coughing.
These are some of the things we did to help assist my husband in his eating. I had to understand that as his personal chef ;) less was more. As a family we all had to adjust and more often than not we all had separate, individual meals at this point. I found myself buying easy things for the rest of us, such as sandwich meats and more soup. Many of the items above can be made ahead of time, or quickly. As things progressed of course the menu changed even more, although at this point, the items above were a big help to keep my husband eating and enjoying his meals without so much distress. I hope it helps you if you are dealing with this situation and if you have any further ideas that might help others, feel free to add them to the comments. With Love, ~Breathing