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Pain and Food Association

Francis Fourie finds that food associations can sometimes throw you a curveball.



I hate mushroom soup with a passion.


One’s body is a work of wonder! One’s brain, genial! And both were created by the Greatest Magician, ever. And as we grow older, we realise that our bodies and minds can get hurt, from the tiniest prick on the finger to the crashing sound of a bone broken somewhere in the body.


“Almost everyone experiences pain at some point. It might feel stabbing, jolting, aching, throbbing, pinching, pulsating, or burning. Pain begets pain, so it’s important to stop it early”, says the medical geniuses at Harvard Medical School. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to pain relief. And behold, if you had food in your hand or close by, you would associate that pain to that food.


“... mushroom soup reminds me of my late sister’s stay in the AZ Saint Lucas hospital palliative care ward in Ghent...”

That is the reason I dislike mushroom soup with a passion! It reminds me of my late sister Charmaine’s stay in the AZ Saint Lucas hospital palliative care ward in Ghent, Belgium; the ward where patients waited to die, mainly of cancer. The hospital where my other sisters with their husbands went daily, and got stuck in the lift because we were apparently too heavy. The hospital where we were a ray of African sunshine to other patients who never received any visitors. Charmaine received 14 people every day. I hate mushroom soup with a passion. It evokes too much pain in my mind and heart. And my sister died in 2000.


That mushroom soup that drives me up the wall.

Pain and the food memory can throw you a curveball. For instance, you look forward to a restaurant visit. As soon as you sit down, you get a whiff of that smell that you desperately want erased from your memory, but the Great Magician programmed that aroma so deep into your brain that you just cannot remove it.

You so vividly remember the phone call that day. The cake finally came out just perfectly - you finally got the recipe just right! You bite into a heavenly piece of food. And then you received The Call. And from that day onward, cheesecake brings back a smell, a taste, a memory that you don’t want to remember.


“The aroma of that percolated coffee brings a bitter taste to your mouth.”

The aroma of that percolated coffee brings a bitter taste to your mouth. The juiciness of that fresh peach that you bought at the farm stall will never taste as good. In my case, the preparation of my sister, Charmaine’s voorstel (confirmation)! My father went to fetch his older brother in Ravensmead for this momentous occasion; the last born would be confirmed. On their return to Wellington, they had an accident. My father died on the scene and his brother two days later.


We were so happy to plan the last voorstel in our house, but we received a call that changed our entire lives in a split second. Up to today, it is difficult for me to attend a confirmation celebration. The smell of the sweet cakes, the swooshing sound of gassy cooldrinks (that time it was Bashews fizzy drinks), evokes a painful memory that I wished never happened.

“...hospital food brings back so many good food memories, even if only the happy smile on Danville’s face...”

My husband, Danville, loves to visit me whenever I am hospitalised. Not so much for the visit to his wife, but rather to eat my food! Imagine. MediClinic hospitals give the best food and we’ve started using them 25-odd years ago with our daughter’s birth, and subsequently with all my other ailments and operations. One can order from a menu, and for his sake, I would order everything but the tasteless food I received after the operations; food that he would eat as if a two-star Michelin chef had prepared it. The hospital food service brings back so many good food memories, even if only the happy smile on Danville’s face when he ate that chicken breast, or the red jelly, as I was too much in physical pain to even eat the food.


Some of my hospital meals from when I had my knee-replacement surgery a few days ago.



And so often, the medical staff would ask you your pain level on a scale from 1 to 10. Every time, the nurses and the physio therapists would tell me I have a high pain threshold, because I walked the corridors after one day of a total knee replacement operation. The therapists told me other patients only want to attempt to walk after three days. The pain would be too much for them. Yes, I manage my pain with medication, but also with the mind-over-matter approach.


If only the threshold of mental pain was as easy to control, and I could take the mind-over-matter approach with my mental pain, too. However, the mental pain ebbs and flows years after the fact. And people can so easily say, “She/he should move on now. The funeral was years ago!”, or “What is the matter with him? It was only a kidney stone, not childbirth!”.


Each one carries his/her pain in a way that makes it bearable. Each one carries pain that many do not know exists. Each one has pain, as we are human, not artificial beings that try to mimic pain as we see in movies. And God builds pain into our being for a reason; to tell us something is wrong somewhere in our bodies and psyche. If we were oblivious to pain, we would see a lot of zombies walking the streets, burning limbs while cooking and baking, and then we would get a whiff of something rotting that we will never be able to remove… the smell of death.


“And while I scan through the turmeric, incense, cloves, ... and so many other herbs and spices, I realised how ingenious our mothers, grandmothers and great-grandmothers were...”

Interestingly while doing my librarian duties on the Web, the built-in AI popped up with herbs and spices that one can use to alleviate pain. And while I scan through the turmeric, incense, cloves, lavender, rosemary, chili, ginger, bay leaves, and so many other herbs and spices, I realised how ingenious our mothers, grandmothers and great-grandmothers into infinity were with using herbs and spices. Firstly, medicinal, then in food to help digestion, or adding flavour, reducing arthritis pains, soothing throats, and stomachs.


I also realise why one uses a pinch of this and that, and not the entire root or leave. More than a pinch may do more harm than good. As folklore have it, magicians and witches were instrumental in curing and killing. Who would think that the aromatic nutmeg in large doses is fatal, and that cinnamon may cause mouth sores and breathing problems? Imagine going to the forest fairy to heal your arthritis pain and be dead the next due to an overdose?


As unpleasant as the sensation is, there is a very good reason why everyone experiences pain on a daily basis. But as the Harvard Medical School concluded, “Pain begets pain, so it’s important to stop it early!”

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