As I sit here typing this story you are reading, I am weak, I am shaky, I am nauseous. Surviving getting run over by a school bus, (read me), serious blood clotting (not yet written), a head-on auto accident with a drunk driver and quite a number of other possible fatalities could possibly make some feel that they are indestructible or that their time to go is preordained. I’m old enough now to cherish my life and good health; I know I’m not indestructible and my time on this fragile planet will one day be at hand. (Oh and as an interesting side note, today March 8th, is the anniversary of my getting run over by that bus – 50 years ago today!)
I’m sitting in bed, propped up and hoping that this stomach virus that caused me to heave up my spleen last night is only of the 24-hour variety. I’m visiting my son and his family here in PA for several days and my visit now has been spoiled by another air traveler whom I was unable to avoid. Now I sit in the finished basement, avoiding the babies and hoping like Hell I didn’t already pass this damn thing on. I had to push my stomach back down into my throat last night – that’s how violent it was. Oh, and let’s not forget the side benefit, (or bottom benefit), of getting sick like this, I’m so squeaky clean now I could give myself a colonoscopy.
A charming ‘growing up’ post so far, wouldn’t you say? But I did already have a story note set aside for this topic, one for which I’m in the mood to write given the apropos timing. You see, I have had food poisoning several times in my life. Never had it yourself? Let me tell you, it will make a mouse out of the biggest, burliest guy. This is what I thought I had here last night due to the same symptoms, but fortunately no one else here is sick (and so I am a temporary hermit).
I wanted to share what I recall of my bouts with food poisoning. Perhaps “share” is not an appropriate vocabulary word, how about “document”. After all, all of the stories I am writing here are simply an attempt to document my life. I have many more tales to tell so I hope I make it and hope that I’m entertaining you on some small level (present story excluded of course).
My first bout with food poisoning occurred during a Spring break vacation with my young bride. The year must have been 1984 or 85 as we had brought along my little sister Janelle. Janelle’s job was to help watch our little boy and in exchange, she got free room and transport, a free vacation. My brother Felix was living in the Bradenton, FL area so we decided to visit him while vacationing from OH. One night we were discussing places to get a bite to eat and Felix pointed us to this great chili stand. Great for food poisoning is what he should have told us as I was out of commission for 36 hours. I can’t complain though. I’m fair skinned and was not that well informed about the closeness of the sun to Florida, so this short respite likely saved me from a bout of sun poisoning. I’ve had both and I’d trade sun poisoning off every time for coughing up a spleen. Oh, for those unaware, the sun is normally about 93 million miles away from Earth. In the summer though, it’s only 8 miles away from Florida (translation – use a 1,000,000 SPF lotion if you go there in the summer).
My second two bouts of food poisoning actually occurred within a year of each other while we were living in Louisiana. We absolutely loved our five years in Louisiana, all except for tropical storm Andrew and food poisoning. The first time was from a lone piece of Salisbury steak I got off of a lunch buffet. The year would have been 1991. Several work members and I went out to lunch and I was the lucky/stupid guy that decided that lone piece of Salsbury steak was attractive. What’s in a Salsbury steak anyway? (This one came with a heaping dose of bacteria).
In my own experience, each bout of food poisoning has had very similar symptoms and timing for them to show up. That night I was awakened. I wasn’t awakened by one of the boys who had perhaps fallen out bed from a bad dream, no my body awakened me. It said – get the hell up NOW and get into the bathroom! I had never in my life had to go #2 in the middle of the night, but I knew that I had to go. When I got up, the shallow breathing started. As I sat down, next came the cold sweats. Have you ever had cold sweats? Your whole body feels clammy on the outside, hot on the inside and the sweat comes out of every single pore on your body. If your toenails had pores, sweat would be coming out from them. The next thing I knew, I was waking up on the bathroom floor. Oh, and my left eye was hurting.
I had passed out. I hadn’t passed out the first time, in Florida, so this was new. There I was, just lying on that nice, cool blue bathroom tile. It felt so good to the touch. Man, my eye was hurting. The next day I found out why. Evidently, I had fallen forward off of my perch atop the porcelain god, face first into the ceramic end of the toilet paper holder. Yep, my first and only black eye. In retrospect, this was my roughest bout of food poisoning (so far). Today I like to think that I’m smarter – if it smells a bit like ammonia, I probably shouldn’t eat it. To this day I don’t eat any pressed or ground meat steaks unless “I” cook them.
About a year later I was in New Orleans. I had enrolled in an executive MBA program with Tulane where the professors were flying up to teach us on the weekends in Alexandria. Three separate weeks of the program, (one at the beginning, middle and end), were held on campus at Tulane. The entire program was difficult, but these weeks in particular were jam-packed. I didn’t get to bed before two am on any evening. On one particular evening, a bunch of us had headed over to a Greek restaurant. Me and a guy named Steve White had eaten something the other guys did not – some sort of salad with feta cheese.
I don’t know if it was the cheese or something else in the salad, but that night while studying, I felt the sweats coming on and I knew exactly what I was in for. Luckily, this bout of poisoning wasn’t as deadly as my last bout. When the alarm went off, telling me it was time to get to class, I knew I was unfit. I thought of our meals and remembered Steve had exactly what I did so I phoned him. “Hey Steve, did you get sick last night?” And Steve proceeded to tell me about his night from Hell. Apparently, Steve had never experienced food poisoning before. We briefly conspired to make it in after the lunch break. In terms my own experience with food poisons, this episode was the lightest, (luckily). We did get a refund at least (yee-haw).
I got pretty cautious after this last bout, rarely straying from the popular menu item at a restaurant and sending food back if it wasn’t hot enough. I don’t even remember what it was that I ate the next time I was sickened from a food bacteria some 15 years later, but the onset of the symptoms never fail to disappoint. I felt the shallow breathing and the cold sweats come on so I made my way to the bathroom. Knowing that there was a risk to passing out, I quickly seated myself so that if I did pass out, it would be a shorter fall. That act might have saved me a serious accident as next I knew, I was waking up on our bathroom carpet. Damn, I hate food poisoning!
So here I am. I am visiting one of my sons and family in PA, bearing the frigid winter weather when I could be back in my semi-warm California winter. I see that at the beginning of this story, I called my present ailment a stomach virus. I assumed that I picked up something during my flight out east here. Now I am convinced that it was once again, food poisoning. Had it been something contagious, I’m certain someone here would have gotten it too, but no one did. I can only assume that the can of pineapple juice I picked up at the Amish Bumps and Bruises store had been compromised. It is the only food item that I alone ingested. Into the sink it goes!
When we’re young, especially us boys, we think that we are indestructible. At some point in each of our lives we realize that we are not. The greater the level of self realization and the healthier and happier we are, the more we wish to cling to life; there’s a direct line of correlation. If you’re not healthy or not happy, there are days when you can feel like there is nothing worth getting out of bed for. If you live long enough, you’ll get to experience a few of those days yourself. If you live your life right, (and if you are very, very lucky), you’ll get to experience what it feels like to cherish your life, your spouse, your children…and you’ll never want it to end. That’s where I’m at today. It’s all just a part of growing up.