In 2001, I suffered a touch football accident, falling over a bluff next to the lawn where we were playing, cracking my ribs and puncturing my left lung. After catching a pass, I landed on the ball with one of the ends pointed to my chest, so the ribs shattered rather than broke; fragments were sandwiched between the collapsed lung and the skin. My surgeon, Dr. David Dieter of Central DuPage in Winfield, Illinois, was a special character. He began his career as a veterinarian, switched to people and rose to the top of the surgical staff at this fine hospital. He did two remarkable things: convinced me to quit smoking cold turkey, and introduced me to the pleasures of eating raw lettuce and cabbage. In fact, cabbage leaves had become his primary diet for lunch as well as snacking, having replaced over the years a lettuce and cabbage mix. Sounds nasty, but it’s OK when it’s the only thing you eat.
I was in the hospital for eight days. Having a recently deceased mother (RIP) and recently stroked father, plus scattered siblings, I accepted a ride home from the hospital from Dr. Dieter. Before he helped me climb into his well preserved VW bug, he moved a head of cabbage from its place on the passenger seat to the back, as if it was his briefcase or a PC. “I keep one in my car, always in the seat next to me, so I can peel off a leaf whenever I want.” As we drove the dozen miles to my house, he recounted the health benefits of both raw lettuce and cabbage. “Stick to the large head types. Romaine is OK, but bitter after awhile and too messy sometimes. I prefer Iceberg. And stick to the light green round head cabbage, just the ordinary kind. It’s the mildest and, when fresh, it’s slightly sweet.” He grew a garden in his suburban yard, and enjoyed collecting daylilies.
A fellow bachelor, but about 10 years older, Dr. Dieter cheerfully responded to my many questions. “Well, at night I eat a bit of meat and cheese—mostly fish actually, some chicken, very simply prepared—and for breakfast I drink a lot of water and have oatmeal with one cup of coffee—occasionally fried egg whites on toast.” A half hour car ride changed my life. “If I hear you started smoking again, I’ll come to Pennsylvania and break your ribs again,” he warned. Then he waved good-bye and rumbled off in his bug. We trade Christmas presents and New Year’s phone calls every year.