Don’t Eat the Spicy Sichuan Fish!

Sichuan peppers image

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Delicious? I would call it aphrodisiac quality cuisine.

What could possibly be wrong with that? Glad you asked. These powerful little peppercorns can numb your mouth by placing just one or two kernels on your tongue. It’s a wonderful effect. I even drop one in a glass of mediocre wine to spice it up a bit. Chinese Sichuan style dishes use it without reserve. And there’s the problem. They don’t add a few to a recipe. They add a branch of these savory balls of numbing delights. I love them. I love them way too much. The aroma and flavor of these pearls is addicting.

This wasn’t my first rodeo with the fish. I ordered it one week before, but it didn’t bite back. I think it wanted revenge, and when it landed on my table again it was significantly spicier. That didn’t put me off because I’m quite fond of Sichuan and Hunan style food, both of which make South of the Border tacos seem like PB&J. The enticing sauce surrounding my formerly swimming friend lit up my senses. I couldn’t inhale enough, and even poured the remaining broth over my rice and ate until it was completely consumed. Little did I know at the time, that fish was prepared to launch a counterattack.

Culinarily satisfied with my aquatic lunch, I headed home. All was well…until…the next morning. One look in the mirror was all I needed. My face and chest were covered in hives. I grabbed an antihistamine, but several hours later it had gotten worse. Off to the hospital. They did an ultrasound (why?) and gave me an extraordinarily strong antihistamine. I returned home. Shortly after, I was walking into my office when BLAM!! My body collapsed to the floor. I couldn’t move at all. My legs were like petrified wood, and I couldn’t straighten them with my arms. After 10 or 15 minutes they slowly loosened up and I went about my daily routines.  And then…BLAM! It happened again. One more time that day (Saturday) only this time I fell to the floor and smashed my face on the hard tile. Now it was late, and I went to bed. When I woke up the rash was worse. I started walking toward my home office and BLAM! Once again, only this time there was no recovery. My friend came to help, and we decided to call an ambulance ($14.65). Doctors did what doctors do (aka: charge for as many tests as possible), and then checked me into the critical care wing. CT scan, 3-D ultrasound, MRI, and who knows what else.

Who, What, When, Where, and now…Why?

I’ll take “WTF for $1955, Alex.” Several doctors and a bevy of beautiful young nurses held me captive for eight days while they diagnosed and treated a minor battle with pneumonia, the allergic rash that wasn’t going away, and the discovery that without any personal history or family history of diabetes, suddenly I have it. I had routine blood tests in November and glucose/A1C were normal. There was no attempt to find out why everything happened. That was my big question.

Fortunately, I have been treated for about 18 months by a doctor at a hospital one hour north. Every three to four months he would inject steroids into my spine to ease the pressure on my central nerve. The treatments have been successful in eliminating the pain. Dr. Wang speaks English well, so we were able to discuss freely what was happening. One evening while staring at the ceiling, we chatted until 11pm about the possible causes of the sudden collapses. (no charge, just a doctor who cares). I’ll quote the conversation:

Dr.: Any drug or food allergy?
Me: No. But I think the allergic reaction was caused by the spicy Sichuan fish.
Dr.: I could never eat that.

Dr.: Generally speaking, when the human body is suddenly subjected to a strong, harmful stimulus, the body will quickly respond through the hypothalamus to cause adrenaline in the blood. The rapid increase in the concentration of corticosteroids and the high secretion of glucocorticoids causes the increase in blood sugar.

Dr.: If as you say, that would be stress hyperglycemia. Stress Hyperglycemia generally refers to the hyperglycemia caused by stress in patients without a history of diabetes. It is a transient and acute hyperglycemia caused by the increase of insulin antagonistic hormone.

So, the allergic reaction to the Sichuan peppers caused the body to attack the attacker. Did that intense reaction cause my body to collapse? We’ll never know for sure, partly because the hospital paid no attention to the information that I gave them from the beginning. They decided to deal with the resulting issues, and not the cause. I’m not complaining about the doctors. As a matter of fact, I have been pleased with the care and concern they showed.

Hospital Day Five. The primary doctor in critical care came to my room and said, “We’re moving you to orthopedics. You’ll get the injections that were agreed upon with Dr. Wang, then go home. My belongings were shoved into plastic bags and I was wheeled one floor higher. However, the doctor on the third floor changed the plan. He wanted to try various treatments and said, “You need to stay here 5 more days.” I said, “Nope. I’ll give you two days to try your experiments, but I was promised a particular treatment then go home.” I never saw that doctor again, but I did see more IV bags drip into the needle in my hand. After two days I told them I’m checking out. Prepare my bill and get the medications ready for home care. Total hospital charges, 11,143 CNY…or $1,955 for my eight-day staycation.

I feel good now, though a bit weak. If the pain returns to my back, I’ll drive one hour north instead of walking across the street. The injections in my spine cost about $15 each time. As for the diabetes, I’m being coached on WeChat (Chinese app that does everything) by a specialist at the hospital. Bottom line in all this, they discovered a serious problem that I wouldn’t have known about if I hadn’t eaten that evil spicy Sichuan fish.

What a long, strange trip it’s been. (Your mileage may vary)

Doctor using translation app

UPDATE 2022-08-22:  Diabetes has been in remission for 8 months. No medications. Glucose levels are consistently in the ideal range.


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