by Valerie Lester
Quick! I must write this down before I forget the horror. The other night, a Saturday, I was mugged, flattened, beaten to a pulp and left for dead the victim of food poisoning. The perpetrator fled and I don’t know its identity.
It has been decades since I was attacked like this, 30 years at least since the clam whose memory is graven forever on my brain. This time, I had eaten lamb stew of my own making; my husband ate the same meal and was unaffected. After dinner, I chatted to my daughter on the telephone; during our conversation I felt my waistband tightening so much that I had to loosen the top of my jeans. When we hung up, I decided to go to bed early. As I donned my nightdress I caught a glimpse of my stomach in the bathroom mirror and was appalled to see how distended it was. Time to lose those festival pounds, I said to myself.
When I got into bed, I told my husband I was feeling odd. “Take an aspirin,” he said. “Not that kind of odd,” I said. And then it struck.
I fled to the bathroom, slammed the door and fell to my knees at the shrine of St. Toilet Bowl.
We vomit so infrequently as adults. Children regularly bring back their meals. They get car sick, air sick, sick if you spin them around too much or hold them upside down, sick as a way of ridding themselves of infection, and they do it without much dolor. But we adults suffer mightily. We convulse, we heave, we cough, we spew, we shake, we pant, we strain, and tears stream from our eyes. Even the mightiest among us is brought low. Vomiting is democratic.
The first bout, though ususally the largest, is not the worst. The worst is probably the third, when you’re reaching into the depths of the stomach and bringing up something akin to battery acid, something that stuns you with disgust. Then comes the alarming moment when the other end makes its own demands, and you don’t know whether to sit on the toilet or kneel in front of it. Later come the dry heaves; still later comes the almost pure fountain after you’ve drunk some water.
I fled to the bathroom eight times that night, and came to know my toilet intimately. It served me well, flushing efficiently on cue, staying calm and bright throughout. I gazed fixedly at its blue, a color I recommend for the nauseated, the color of sky and dreams.
At dawn I sent my husband out for Coca Cola. I remembered a terrible bout of stomach flu my children had when they were small. I took them, limp as rags, to the pediatrician and draped them over his examination table. He prescribed a tablespoonful of flat Coke once an hour. Nothing else. They kept it down.
I spent the day dozing a lot, reading a little, sipping flat Coke. I slept for 10 hours the following night and got up the next day, woozy but sentient. My ribs ached, my stomach muscles were sore and I had the sensation that my navel had been turned inside out. I started drinking water, a little at a time, and I kept that down, too. The next day I added Gatorade and began to fully understood the importance of rehydration, that miraculous therapy that restores life to the moribund.
I have finally begun eating again. First I tried a spoonful of plain boiled rice. It stayed down. For my next meal, I added a sprinkle of powdered ginger to the rice: very appetizing. Then at dinner, I splashed a little soy sauce on the rice. That tasted absolutely delicious. Soon I will be back to eating regular food.
Dear Reader, should you suffer a similar horrible attack, remember this: Your body is fighting for you, not against you. It is purging you of poison, and as soon as it has completed that task, it will start the mending process. Now it’s your turn to help.
Take it slowly, sip by sip.
Valerie Lester, of Annapolis, is healing on the West Indian island of Nevis.