Hmm Weekly for September 15, 2020

Have you noticed how it gets dark earlier on Tuesdays now

Selfie by Harriet Robinson

CONTRIBUTING WRITERS DEP’T.

How Did You Sleep Last Night?

By Lori Teresa Yearwood

SOUTHERN COLORADO — These days, Harriet Robinson’s anxiety pills are in a zippered canvas case on the stand next to her bed, an increasingly faint reminder of her three-year effort to ensure the peace she needs to get a good night’s rest.  She’s down to just one of the small, round pills every other day. 

“In three weeks, I will be finished with them,” Robinson said from her king-sized bed, decorated with leopard-print blankets.

An actress and satirical writer, Robinson, 60, knows she could likely write a story about her odyssey with sleep. The question is, would it be a comedy? Or an anxiety-filled tragedy?

It all started three years ago, when an allergic reaction to a medication her doctor gave her for a mild, intermittent health issue sent her to an emergency room in southern Colorado.

“I couldn’t breathe, was lightheaded and broke out into a rash,” Robinson said. “I had to call 911.”

An E.R. doctor prescribed a steroid to stop the reaction. But when Robinson stopped taking the steroid, her heart began to race wildly. She was diagnosed with tachycardia, a condition defined by episodes in which the heart beats faster than 100 beats per minute. Robinson’s resting heart rate escalated as high as 136.

“It was very scary—I felt helpless and out of control,” Robinson said.

The Colorado resident started staying up at night, Googling her symptoms, wondering if she actually had a disease that was going to kill her. In the midst of that, Robinson confronted the inevitability of her death. And her anxiety skyrocketed. 

“I couldn’t get through to people how much in a panic I was," she said. "In truth, it was all about the idea of death and that I was afraid my life was threatened and that I was going to die.”

The fear led her down a never-ending rabbit hole of questions.

“What am I afraid of about death?”

“Is it the end of everything?”

“Is there an afterlife after this or not?”

Robinson began going to therapy and studying with a woman who had had a near-death experience and was teaching an online class  That helped. What didn’t help: the doctors who kept telling Robinson that her problems were all in her head.

“And I kept telling them: ‘But I am mentally in distress because my heart is racing.' It became a question of which came first—the chicken or the egg.”

Physical healing began in 2017, with prescribed sleeping medication, Robinson says. After five or six weeks of living in a sleepless state that caused her to feel “hyper-aware of everything,” Robinson’s mind was finally able to relax enough to slip into unconsciousness.

A substantial problem, however remained: She would wake up with the same fear and anxiety she'd had after the original trip to the emergency room. And as those symptoms continued, another symptom formed—depression. For that, Robinson relied on her husband’s steady stream of pep talks, an anti-anxiety prescription, and continued therapy.

At that point, sleep—even when forced through a medication—became a refuge. 

“I was like waiting out the agony of the day, of being awake and being alive and feeling as horrible as I did. I would always ask myself: ‘How long do I have to wait until I can return to sleep?’“

Weaning herself off the sleeping pills caused new bouts of sleeplessness, as Robinson worried that her body wouldn’t be able to fall asleep without them. Still, after nine months, she was done with them altogether. Now she's approaching the end of the anxiety medication as well. 

Along the way, she has learned a lot about herself—namely how much her body needs sleep. Now she winds down with mindfulness meditations, calming music, a soothing view of the Rampart mountain range, and the comforting snore of her Shih Tzu, Josephine ("Jo Jo," for short). She breathes a soft flow of oxygen through plastic tubing at night, to help her cope with her residual anxiety, as well as the 8,500-foot altitude at which she lives. 

“I am so grateful to be able to sleep now,” Robinson said. “Sleep is a basic human need that I no longer take for granted.”

“How Did You Sleep Last Night?” is an ongoing series.

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SANDWICH RECIPES DEP’T.

WE ARE TOTALLY sidetracked, lost, in our presentation of select recipes from the leviathan and encyclopedic 1896 edition of The Boston Cooking-School Cook Book, by Fannie Merritt Farmer, Principal of the Boston Cooking-School, and our selection of items from

CHAPTER XXXVII.
RECIPES ESPECIALLY PREPARED FOR THE SICK.

Beef essence, which is the expressed juices of beef, being nutritious, is given when a condensed form of food is necessary. Many preparations of beef essence are on the market in the form of powder, paste, liquid, and tablets; some of which are valuable, but they are more expensive and not as nutritious as home-made essence, and patients are apt to quickly tire of them. One pound of beef cut from the top of the round will frequently yield four ounces of beef essence.

Beef tea contains the juices of beef diluted with water, and is given as a stimulant, rather than as a nutrient as is popularly supposed. It furnishes a pleasing variety to a liquid diet, and by its use a large quantity of water is ingested. If the color of beef is objectionable to a patient, serve in a colored glass.

Broiled Beef Essence.
1/2 lb. steak from top of round (cut 3/4 inch thick).

Wipe steak, remove all fat, and place in a heated broiler. Broil three minutes over a clear fire, turning every ten seconds to prevent the escape of juices. Put on a hot plate, and cut in one and one-half inch pieces; gash each piece two or three times on each side. Express the juice with a lemon squeezer and turn into a cup, set in a dish of hot water, care being taken that heat is not sufficient to coagulate juices. Season with salt.

Broiled Beef Tea.
Dilute Broiled Beef Essence with water.

Bottled Beef Essence.
1 lb. steak from top of round.

Wipe steak, remove all fat, and cut in small pieces. Place on trivet in kettle and surround with cold water. Allow water to heat slowly, care being taken not to have it reach a higher temperature than 130˚ F. Let stand two hours; strain, and press the meat to obtain all the juices. Salt to taste.

Bottled Beef Tea.
1 lb. steak from top of round.
1 pint cold water.
Salt.

Prepare the beef as for Bottled Beef Essence. Soak fifteen minutes in the water, and cook three hours same as Bottle Beef Essence. Strain and season. In reheating, care should be taken not to coagulate the juices.

Beef tea contains albuminous juices, salts, and a very small amount of fat (so intermingled with the lean meat that it cannot be removed), together with that part of the meat which gives to it flavor and color. The fibre that remains contains much protein in the form of insoluble albumen, which could not be extracted. Although the meat is tasteless, it still holds much nutriment, being deprived of but little other than its stimulating properties. When the albuminous juices of beef tea are allowed to coagulate, and tea is strained, it has about the same value as a cup of hot salted water.

Frozen Beef Tea.
Freeze Beef Tea to the consistency of a mush.

We promise we will get back to sandwiches soon, but in the meantime, if you express one of these liquid items, please won’t you send a picture to hmmweekly@substack.com.

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