A superhuman feat for breakfast

This weekend, it will all be over. Will I be relieved? Exhausted? Will I be inspired to live more healthily, do more sport? Possibly, but not because of the Olympics, which do indeed finish this weekend.

It has been wonderful to have the Games in London and I did in the end use my rowing ticket. I accompanied Mr M, Cost Centre #2 and a friend of his, and we had a very pleasant day out in the sun at Eton Dorney. We were privileged to watch Katherine Grainger and Anna Watkins qualify for the double sculls in record-beating time, a precursor to the gold medal they won later in the week. Afterwards we sat on the grass drinking coffee and watching crews training, before we walked the 2km (yes, 2km) back to the bus.

But what will also conclude this weekend is my 10-day stay in the Lanserhof clinic in Austria, a recommendation from a reader (I am very biddable). It has an international clientele, but rather too many vital instructions are in German. This has produced some challenging moments.

The first of these was when I checked in to my room and found some medication in the bathroom, labelled Basensalbe. After trying an online German dictionary with no result, I took the pot down to reception and asked if this was the stuff I had been told to drink half an hour before breakfast each day. No, it was not. I will spare you the details of what it was actually intended for. Let’s just say that, had I not already been apprehensive about the whole experience, I would have become so there and then.

After an initial consultation with a doctor, I was issued with a schedule of appointments, again all in German. But I could definitely make out that at 7:30am the next day I was to present myself in the laboratory, where I would spend 10 minutes.

Since I had been issued with a sample jar, I assumed the lab people would be using the 10 minutes to do an analysis there and then. But as I handed over my sample I learnt that in fact I was booked in for a full blood test. I hate blood tests, and I hate needles, and usually produce so much adrenaline at the sight of one that no one can locate a vein. So perhaps it was just as well that I had only 30 seconds’ notice.

My first few days were spent surviving on a daily ration of about 350 calories. I was issued with two tiny pieces of toast for breakfast and instructed to eat them in small portions, each of which I was to chew 40 times. I was so exhausted after tackling the first piece of toast that I abandoned the other and went to lie down. Lunch is identical and dinner is a small bowl of vegetable soup. I am taking six supplements a day – though I have no idea what any of them are, since they are all labelled in German. (As I said, I am very biddable.) I have so little else inside me that I am starting to rattle.

Worst of all, I have been allocated a seat in the dining room next to a beautiful, slim and much younger Russian lady with whom I’m unable to converse. Not because of any language barrier (she speaks perfect English) but because talking while eating is discouraged. As is reading, watching TV, doing your emails, and so on. You are required to focus on masticating your food. At length. Not eating is hard enough for me, but not talking? On top of that she is clearly not deemed to be in need of such strict diet rules as I am, for she is served a lovely meal while I am confronted with the toast.

So how am I feeling, writing this part-way through the experience? I have a headache, from no tea or coffee, and am completely exhausted. It’s probably just as well that the only person to whom I speak is the doctor, every three days. (All the male masseurs remain perfectly silent as they strategically adjust the towel.) By the time you read this, I too will be preparing to head home – as will the Olympic athletes. It will have been a personal challenge for all of us.


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