Killing me softly, one poached egg at a time

Runny poached egg on toast

True confession: I love poached eggs. A poached egg on toast is the perfect breakfast. The other day I was reviewing the recommended diet for the immunocompromised person, and I discovered, to my horror, that any egg that is not hard cooked is a no-no. Have I been taking my life in my hands with each perfectly runny poached egg?

People with blood disorders, including CML, and those undergoing chemotherapy, often have a low level of neutrophils, those white blood cells critical for fighting infection. My neutrophils run high, yet they don’t function well, so I am sometimes infection prone. For this reason, I feel I should take reasonable dietary precautions.

I’ve written about this neutropenic diet before. Anything unpasteurized is out. Many fermented products, which are supposed to help our gut bacteria flourish, are verboten. Finally, a valid excuse not to drink kombucha. Raw cheeses, deli meats, salad bars, raw nuts, any uncooked vegetable or fruit may pose a danger. Too bad I ate an apple this morning instead of apple sauce. Meat must be shoe leather. And sayonara sushi. Even lox is on the list. (Hot smoked fish is safe, but cold-smoked fish is not.) Sure, I shouldn’t be eating that sodium bomb, and I rarely do, but consider this Jewish equation: brunch = lox + cream cheese. I’ll be a pariah if I skip the lox.

A few years back, the CBC published a blog by a resident physician undergoing treatment for Hodgkin’s lymphoma. (If you’re interested, here’s a link to his first post.) The self-named Dr. C. (for Cancer; his real name is Nikhil Joshi), shared his cancer journey across the country. Because he was in a chemotherapy-induced immunocompromised state through his treatment, his oncologist had forbidden him from eating out altogether. Eating out is dangerous when one’s immune functioning is weak.

Dr. C. was the model patient. Then one day he really craved a slice of pizza, so he went out for one. He knew better but he didn’t stop there, going out to eat a few more times. (He confessed his sins to all of Canada, but did he ever tell his oncologist?) He acknowledged he’d break the rules again were he in the same position. Even this doctor, knowing the risks he was taking, couldn’t be the good patient all the time. I imagine that experience made the now-cancer-free Dr. C. a better physician.

My infection risk pales in comparison to Dr. C.’s during his chemotherapy, yet it’s there, and I’ve been unknowingly pushing the limits on a daily basis. That slice of old cheddar–old cheddar is bad but medium cheddar is okay?–the miso in that salad dressing, the perfectly soft-poached eggs which I love. Every salad I make could be the death of me since it appears my vegetable washing isn’t up to snuff. Unlike Dr. C., I needn’t visit a restaurant to make myself sick; I can easily poison myself at home.

I might as well go out, don’t you think? There are great deals at hot restaurants during this week’s dining festival, and J. and I are going for lunch today. I am such a rebel. Maybe I’ll skip the burger on offer, though. Better that than shaming myself by insisting it be well done.


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