Action and reaction [short story]

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My feet got tangled and I went tumbling down.


I had just parked the car and was walking to my favourite coffee shop this morning when something got hold of my foot. I turned my head down but before I could see what was restricting my movements I realised I was tumbling down. I probably fell over in two seconds but it felt like I was falling in slow motion and I could foresee the damage of the impeding impact. Images of my upcoming half-marathon flashed before my eyes. No training today that’s for sure. I went down on my left knee first,—no, not my knee—then the right, then my wrists swung forward to protect my face and finally the rest of my body hit the unprepared surface. I wanted to get up but the forces of gravity and pain were keeping my body stuck to the pavement.

“Are you all right?” I heard worried voices hovering above me. The good samaritans that came to my rescue grabbed my arms and helped me get up. “Are you okay?” someone asked again. I was a bit disoriented and dizzy from the sudden jerk of my head, all I could muster was “I hope so”. They held my arm and walked me inside the nearby hairdresser.

“Please have a seat while I get some water” said a concerned hairdresser. I took a seat next to the window and a deep breath, “what a way the start the day” I joked, finally starting to come to my senses. “If you can laugh about it you might still have a good day ahead” the hairdresser said passing me a glass of water.

“Ouch” I felt a sting when the broken skin touched the water droplets outside the cold glass. I turned my palms up and saw blood and grit from the floor. I looked at my legs to assess the damage and noticed wet spots halfway down the black running pants I was wearing. I tried to roll them up but they were too tight, I had to wait the check my knees when I got home. I sipped the water slowly trying to digest how this happened to me today.

“There was something stuck to my feet,” I said putting the empty glass on the coffee table.

“You don’t know what it was?” asked the hairdresser.

“No, but I’ll find out now,” I said trying to rise up from my seat but my knees ached and trembled and my bottom landed back on the chair. I tried again, this time I placed both hands at the edge of the chair,  pushed down through my arms and began straightening my legs. A sharp pain traveled from my head to toes. That’s the moment I realised I might not be able to run the race. I didn’t just fall, I had a fall. When you fall you get up again and move on with your business but a fall is a beast of another kind, it is an unprovoked attack, a serendipitous act of violence that finds you unprepared and inflicts grievous bodily harm. And it knocked me down really bad.

The hairdresser followed me to the crime scene for our forensic investigation. We found narrow straps of white plastic scattered around the parking. These are the straps used to bundle magazines and stack them in piles. Someone, maybe a delivery person, must have slided the magazines out and mindlessly tossed the used straps. “There are garbage bins everywhere, why couldn’t he or she have walked ten metres to dispose the plastic straps properly?” I squeezed my eyebrows together.

“People can be so thoughtless” the hairdresser sighed.

“If I were an elderly person I’d be in hospital with broken bones” I continued.

“I know,” she said with a tone of concern, “I’ll throw the straps in the bin so no one else gets hurt.” She said walking to the trashcan.

“Thanks heaps for rescuing me today.” I waved to the hairdresser and started limping to the car. I opened the door, squeezed through the opening with half-bent knees and started the engine. My legs felt heavy, it was tricky to operate the pedals and with every new movement I discovered a new pain. Eventually I got home and rushed to the freezer to get the ice packs. I put them in my sore knees, ah, finally a bit of relief.

Every action has a reaction—the pressure of the cold bags of ice in my skin made me think of Newton’s 3rd law of physics. Newton wasn’t referring to human behaviour but I kept thinking of how the actions of the delivery person resulted in pain and suffering to another human being. I’m sure he or she didn’t intend to harm anyone but being unaware of your behaviour is just as bad. I wriggled in the couch trying to find a conformable spot. One of the greatest crimes of our civilisation is the offence of mindlessness, that’s why there is so much pain and suffering in the world. If we were conscious of the consequences of our actions, we would be better equipped to change our behaviour. But we are too busy or preoccupied with our everyday lives and keep on going on auto-pilot, we don’t pause to ponder.

I noticed that with every new trip to the kitchen to replace the ice packs the pain worsened so I decided it was time to inspect my knees and apply some antiseptic cream on the wounds. But there was an obstacle on my way, the stairs. I had to go upstairs to get the first aid kit and a new pair of pants. I grabbed the rails on both sides and swung my legs forward, one at a time and with every step images of people whose physical abilities do not correspond with the demands of their environment flashed in my mind. I felt privileged I was only carrying a temporarily broken body.

By school pick up time my legs were as stiff and heavy as iron bars and I started to move like a robot to keep my legs as straight as I could. The drive to school is literally painfully slow but luckily most of the route is within school zones so the other cars are going slow too. When I get there I have to explain my robot moves to the parents at the gate and one of the mothers asked: “are you going to sue the council?” Hum, I hadn’t thought of that.

“No,” I replied with a pause, “I don’t even know who the tosser was.”

“They might have caught the fall on CC TV” she insisted.

“Good point,” I reply, “but I don’t want to put my energy on a litigation.” The glares of disappointment from the parents made me feel like justifying my position so I said “I might send a letter to the council though, to alert them to be more vigilant.”

“But they’re more likely to do something about it they feel the pain with their pockets.” stressed another mother.

“That may be true,” I said slowly trying to calculate the impact of my words, I don’t like the blame and sue culture that has developed in our society but I didn’t want to offend anyone so I carefully added as limped over eggs shells on the way to the car park: “but I don’t think every accident should be a case for litigation.” They didn’t say anything back and continued to walk at normal pace so I was left behind wondering if because they found me too slow or too righteous.

On my way home I was in so much pain I was thinking of driving to a medical centre but I pulled over at the chemist instead and asked the pharmacist for her opinion. I rolled up my pants and she frowned. “Looks quite nasty.” Drops of sweat run down my shoulders, maybe I broke something. “But I don’t think you broke anything,” she said as if reading my mind, “I don’t think you would have been able to drive here otherwise.” Phew. She recommended an anti-inflammatory tablet and a visit to the doctor next morning “if you don’t wake up feeling better.”

As the day progressed the pain got stronger and my knees stiffer and I started to get cranky at the possibility of breaking my tradition of joining the Sydney running festival. I’ve been doing the half-marathon for five years straight, now thanks to that mindless delivery guy I might have to give it a miss.

I was picturing the fall over and over in my head and what I could have done differently. I was cursing whoever tossed the rubbish in the parking. I wanted to stomp to my room and start the day over but instead I had to gently swing my hips from side to side to move my legs, sit in the edge of my bed and carefully lay down and place ice packs in both knees.

But staring alone at the ceiling I started to think about how I was reacting to the situation. I was joining the mindless mob. It’s not the end of the world if I missed the race and being angry at the world was not going to make me recover faster. I was not able to run but I was capable of taking a step back and turn off the auto-pilot. Instead of continuing ruminating my story, I put my headphones on and played some soft music. It did not take away the pain but by the time I got up to change the ice packs I was counting my blessings, the accident could have been much worse.

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Gluten-freedom: don’t be a slave of the food hype

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I’ve been on a gluten-dairy-sugar free diet for four weeks. When I signed up to the challenge I told myself if I noticed any positive changes to my health I would permanently remove these ingredients from my shopping list. The verdict: I haven’t seen any improvements whatsoever. None, zero, nill.

This is disappointing. I have several friends that made an oath of allegiance to such diet and swear they got rid of their medical problems. Everywhere I go I hear people talking about paleo and the evil grains and how much better they feel by eliminating these items from their diets. And I did my research, both online and by reading these two books:

Brain Maker by Dr Perlmutter – the author makes a strong case for the connection between brain and gut health and the important of cultivating good intestinal bacterial for your overall health. He proposes a gluten and grain free diet supplemented by lots of fermented food.

A Mind of Your Own by Dr Kelly Brogan – the author advocates a gluten-free paleo diet through which you can cure your depression and anxiety and many other health issues without the need of medication.

I grew confident that diet was the answer to most maladies of our health, even though my new gained knowledge was contrary to my doctors opinions. When I spoken to them about it, doctor #1 a GP, said that unless you are allergic to these ingredients such diets increase the risk of you becoming mineral and vitamin deficient – her recommendation was to stick to a balanced diet. Doctor #2, a psychiatrist, said more or less the same thing but emphasised the importance of eating more nutritional food as opposed to eliminating certain food categories. But then, the resources I consulted warned that mainstream doctors are part of the system to keep us hooked on medication.

The issues that I was trying to address with a better diet were my slow digestive system and a tendency for anxiety and insomnia, but none of these conditions improved by restricting what I ate. I still wake up at 3am once a week and can’t go back to sleep and my gut mobility continues below the speed limit.

Some well meaning friends have argued that I already eat well enough so it would take much longer than four weeks to see a difference. But c’mon, my body and mind have not given me any signs that a month on a high intake of vegetables, fruits, eggs, nuts, pulses and a small amount of organic meat have had any impact on my health.

Another thing I found troubling with this diet, specially the gluten-free part is that many people encourage replacing gluten with other refined grains. But if you do this you end-up worse off in terms of nutrition. See for yourself in this comparison of a gluten-free and a wheat bread loaf:

Baker’s Delight wholemeal loaf, ingredient list: Whole Grain Wholemeal Wheat Flour (65%), Water, Yeast, Iodised Salt, Vegetable Oil (Canola), Wheat Flour, Soy Flour, Vitamins (Thiamin, Folic Acid). Nutrition (per 100g): protein 10.9g,  sugar 1.4g, fibre 6.4g, carbs 37.9g

Helga’s sunflower and quinoa gluten-free loaf, ingredient list: I couldn’t find the ingredient list on their website so here is an image from the package. Nutrition (per 100g): 6.3g protein,  sugar 3.8g, fibre 4.2g, carbs 40.1g

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Wholemeal wheat flour provides more protein, fibre, vitamins and minerals than the gluten-free alternatives like rice flour, tapioca and maize starch. I’d rather eat the wheat loaf, it’s much more nutritional. Unless you are intolerant or allergic I see no point in settling for a poorer alternative.

So what’s my conclusion from all this? Well, although food doesn’t seem to be the villain in my health, I feel that this is a better way of eating overall. Once you eliminate gluten, sugar and dairy you inevitably reduce the purchasing of processed and take-away food. You buy more raw and natural ingredients and cook more at home. And this is a better alternative for the environment as there is less packaging and chemicals involved. I didn’t start this journey with the planet in mind but for me this is now the one of the main benefits of changing my diet. The other take-away from this experience is that I became more aware of what I eat and the nutritional value of food.

I’m not going to ordinarily put sugar, gluten or diary back in my shopping trolley but I’ll put a few grains of salt on this food hype.

An overdose of wellbeing

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Today I had too much of a good thing

Exhausted. That’s how I’m feeling after a day of wellness. And I didn’t even manage to squeeze in a work out. Today I woke up with a wellness obsession. This happens to me from time to time, normally after I read a convincing article or book or speak to someone whose life has been transformed by a new diet. Like when I went crazy about fortifying my gut wall with good bacteria and ended up horribly constipated and three kilos lighter (for those who don’t know me I’m already skinny enough), thanks to my brother and his fermentation fever and the living creatures he was keeping in the fridge.

I think of myself as a health conscious woman. I exercise, I meditate and I eat my fruit and veggies. But for some inexplicable reason today I went to great lengths to have a naturally healthy day. This morning I did my normal meditation as soon as I got up – so far so good – but then, instead of my regular Saturday run, I got down on the floor for 20 minutes of yoga. Inversions! They filled my body with the anticipatory delight of how great this day was going to turn out.

Maybe it was the extra oxygen in my brain but suddenly it was borne in upon me that I had not used the juicer in a long time. That warranted a trip to the supermarket with a list of ingredients I had quickly Googled. And as I was at the shops, why not visit the health food store too, a good wellness warrior must have a pack of organic coconut flour in the pantry.

Two hours later I got back home and spread my plentiful harvest in the kitchen bench. Oh God, what have I done! There’s more foliage here than in the Amazon forest. It took me over two hours to wash, sort and pack my fruit and vegetables. By then, half the day was gone and the kids were hovering over the pantry. I offered them organic corn chips while I whipped up a quinoa and smoked salmon salad for a late lunch. They weren’t impressed. For desert I sliced fruit – victory, no processed sugar today!

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Colours of health

Of course, let’s not forget the wellbeing of the dog. Another hour quickly passed as I cooked his meat and veggies casserole and divided it in individual portions to freeze. Snoopy is the only family member that seems to appreciate my fits of wellness.

Then it was time for afternoon tea, or shall I say, afternoon juice. For the kids I squeezed ‘nothing but 10 apples’ as this is the Nudie juice I buy for them every now and then. When the juice is homemade though, the audience never shows the same enthusiasm. “It doesn’t taste the same mum, can’t you just get a normal juice?”. The jug is still in the fridge.

For me this was the moment I had anticipated since morning: my kale juice, yeah! Tons of nutrition in a single glass. It didn’t taste as bad as I expected and it did feel like I was nourishing my body and soul. I felt invigorated and thought I could repeat the dose tomorrow. This was before I went back to the kitchen to clean up the mess. Another hour of fun.

I finally sit down to do my writing and it’s 5:30pm and I’m wondering what to do with the lentils I left soaking all afternoon and I don’t think I’ll have time to make the coconut muffins. Man, I was inspired, but as usual I packed too much for one day. Unfortunately, I was carried away by my enthusiasm and wasn’t very mindful of my behaviours. On the flip side, I have a supply of healthy food that should fuel the family for a week and tonight I should sleep like a rock – and good quality sleep, you know, is vital for wellbeing.

Tomorrow I’ll continue my quest of finding the right balance.