Long before Super Size Me, the 2004 documentary about a McDonald’s binge, I knew that a steady diet of hamburgers would systematically destroy my heart, my liver, my cardiovascular system, and my sex appeal. But no movie or medical study could prepare me for what it would do to my brain.
For 65 days this summer, I ate basically nothing but burgers. A lot of them were excellent (see Under the Bun: The Best Burgers in Chicago); some were not (see my refrigerator, second shelf from the bottom). All of them were beef, however, and the onslaught of red meat did what drugs and alcohol and fatherhood could not: It made me stupid. Since my “research” began back in April at Flub A Dub Chubs, a hole in the wall on North Broadway, I’ve spaced my grandmother’s 90th birthday, hit a parked car across the street from Jury’s, and spent an entire workday with my fly open. Then there was the little incident in Indiana involving sunscreen and a toothbrush. But let’s not get into that.
Armed with nothing more than a C in high-school biology, my laptop, and a history of cyberchondria, I sought medical answers online. Fifteen minutes later, while finishing my leftovers from Kuma’s, I concluded that I was not permanently stupid—I had developed a mild case of cognitive dysfunction syndrome. CDS (a.k.a. brain fog) can be caused by anything from mercury poisoning to constipation and leads to confusion, difficulty concentrating, and forgetfulness. It also appears mainly in dogs. The warning signs described online sounded familiar: aimless wandering (did this at Epic Burger), inappropriate vocalization (Moody’s), and sudden loss of appetite (Boston Blackie’s).
One night, a frozen turkey fell from my fridge and bonked my noggin, and I barely felt it. I had literally become a numbskull. That’s when I knew, without the aid of scientific proof: Saturated fats had eroded the connections between neurons in my brain.
To keep such connections flexible, the Alzheimer’s Association website recommends mental challenges such as jigsaw puzzles, crosswords, or sudoku. The Alzheimer’s Association is, in my opinion, more reputable than CDSinDogs.com, so I gave it a shot. After successfully conquering my toddler’s 30-piece Thomas the Tank Engine jigsaw in just under four minutes, I moved on to sudoku. Confused, I ended up playing tic-tac-toe against myself in the boxes. (I cheated and still tied myself.) Forty-four minutes into the crossword puzzle, I got distracted while Googling a clue about Norman Fell and spent the rest of the afternoon watching Three’s Company bloopers on YouTube.
Tail between my legs, I returned to CDSinDogs.com, where I read about a wonder drug called Anipryl, sometimes prescribed by veterinarians for CDS. I don’t know any vets, so while drooling onto my plate at TopNotch Beefburgers, I called up my brother-in-law, a professor of emergency medicine at Penn. He asked for my symptoms.
Sluggishness, sweats, irritation, confusion.
“That sounds an awful lot like menopause,” he said. “Has your vagina been particularly dry lately?” Then he hung up. Next I consulted a gastroenterologist I play basketball with. Would it be smart and/or ethical for him to prescribe me Anipryl? I asked. “Or,” he said, “you could just stop eating burgers.”
Three weeks and another 23 burgers later, I finally did. My recovery so far has been excruciatingly slow.
These days, I celebrate small victories, like the fact that I can once again carry my kid in from the car without getting winded. Trouble is, I keep taking him to the wrong apartment.