Life of a Rooster

Memoirs of a psychiatrist, journalist and educator

Jack Spratt Could Eat No Fat

on November 11, 2013

Many years later, in medical school, I learned about haematuria. It means blood in urine. It could be so little blood that it is invisible to the naked eye and only detectable by microscope or chemical testing. Or it could be more, enough to tinge it, or it could be so copious that the whole urine changes color. As I sat in the lecture amphitheater, I suddenly remembered. I had haematuria as a child!

I was probably five by then. I woke up in the middle of the night to faire pipi (make pee). We used to keep a white ceramic chamber pot under the bed precisely for such needs. The product would be kept indoors until morning when you could go and empty it in the bathroom on the second floor.

chamber pot

Half asleep, I pulled it out from under the bed, did my business, stood up again, turned around, and as I was getting ready to push it back, I was shocked to see it completely red. Actually, pinkish red. I wailed, “Ma….ma!”

The details are blurred in my memory. Mama totally hysterical, Dr. Huang coming for a home visit, me getting time off school for two weeks, high fever, dozing in and out of sleep, Mama fussing over me.

Whenever I had high fever, I would get very strange experiences. I would be totally lucid, but my sensations would change, or maybe my brain’s interpretation of my sensations would change.  I would put my fingers on the wall, and the wall felt as if it was slippery, like I was falling down somewhere and grasping the wall as I fell. Or I would pick up a grain of rice, and feel like my fingers were gigantic and the rice tiny though at the same time the rice felt like a huge bale and my fingers felt like tiny things trying to grab it.  Retrospectively, I wonder whether I had encephalitis or meningitis (inflammation of the brain or membranes around the brain)? or just neuritis (inflammation of the nerves)?

Finally, I recovered. I had lost a lot of weight, and from Humpty Dumpty I had become Jack Spratt. Indeed, I could not eat fat anymore. According to my mother, before my illness, I used to love putting a slab of butter on each half of my bread, slap them together and eat the whole thing with delight. Now, the mere smell of butter gave me nausea. I could not drink milk anymore either. I would get diarrhea. Any fatty food, especially with a fatty stink, now caused me to vomit. For example, I used to love eating chicken tails with were called chicken butts at our home. Chickens were always sold whole then, not in trays of separate body parts. So, whenever chicken was served, I used to zoom in on the butt and pick it out before anyone else got to it. Now, I could not stand it.


Fortunately, we discovered an American invention: peanut butter!  Papa bought a can one day and Mama put some on our bread. We tried it. Oh, lovely, wonderful, we loved it! For me, it was heavenly, because it gave me no nausea, vomiting or diarrhea. “Papa, what is it? What do you call it?”  The brand was Dakatine. So, we thought it was called Dakatine and for the longest time we would say to Mama to put some Dakatine on our bread. But that morning, the first day we tasted it, Papa answered, “It’s called caca paste!” It indeed looked like some healthy smooth product of a bowel movement. And since the French word for peanut is unfortunately cacahuete, it sounded truthful. And so we believed him. And so we chimed in unison, “We love caca paste!”

boxy radio

And it was one morning as we sat at the breakfast table, as Mama was spreading caca paste on our breads, and as the big boxy radio was airing the news, that I saw for the first time our unflappable Papa jump and yell, “What! No! Kennedy was shot!”  And we stopped eating our peanut butter breads and hung our jaws, and asked, “Who is Kennedy?”



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *