Monday, November 17, 2008

Down and Out in Seattle, Washington

I must apologize to my readers. My usual standard of honesty--often reaching well beyond the T.M.I. level--has not been maintained. I have been remiss. I have not been forthcoming. I have committed sins of omission.

I have done this for very good reasons, however, and I beg your forgiveness. But it is only within the past two weeks that I have been able to muster the strength and fortitude to share the true story of my last day in Seattle on October 30.

Yes, Halloween eve in Seattle. It was a very frightening day indeed, and it began two days earlier, on the serene day of Wednesday, October 28th.

I was on a business trip. My work took me once again to the west coast city of Seattle, working with Boeing on a Navy program. Most of the day was spent cooped up with engineers from Boeing drafting software architectures. This was not the most exciting stuff, and I was glad when my meetings let out early for the day. I had been eager to steal away downtown, visit the Space Needle and try some of the local seafood at Elliott's Oyster House.

As I wrote before, I settled down to a Bacchanalian feast of two dozen raw oysters and two orders of scotch. Naïvely and eagerly, I wolfed down my first dozen oysters in less than five minutes. I was very hungry, and these would be my dinner for the night. My second dozen came, and these too I powered down as if I were a death row inmate at his final supper.

How soon I'd wish that this were actually the case.

All Thursday passed uneventfully. I ate a great breakfast, a sandwich for lunch, and for dinner, because I had spent over $100 on the oysters and scotch the previous night, I ate a simple cheeseburger, fries and chocolate Frosty from Wendy's. I watched a little CNN, and went to bed by nine PM local time, packed and ready to depart on my seven o'clock morning flight to Dulles.

Cue the ominous music.

At one AM, I awoke with an unhappy digestive system. It always starts like this, and I always know my fate when this happens. My stomach started bubbling and gurgling, softly at first. But relentlessly, it built and built, as waves of nausea hit me. An hour passed, and I was feeling worse.

I laid in bed, feeling ever more nauseated, and wrestled with the decision that I was eventually going to have to make: I must either get better quickly, or I would have to miss my flight home. I did not want to miss my flight, but I definitely was not feeling better.

At two AM, I decided to call Becky. It was five o'clock her time, and I woke her from a dead sleep.

"Hello," she answered, an obvious note of concern in her voice.

"I'm going to be sick."

"Oh, no! What's the matter?" she asked.

"I had a bad meal from Wendy's," I told her.

See, Becky knows my pattern as well as I do. She knew that I could recognize the signs, and that there was no stopping this freight train of sickness. I must push my way through it.

"I'm going to have to miss my flight. I can't fly like this."

"OK. Well, see how you feel and call me later," she responded, still hopeful that I could make it home on time.

I hung up and decided to call United and Hertz. I was feeling really close to being sick now, so I tried to get United to change my flights before I chundered across the room. Unfortunately, when talking to United at two AM, you're not talking to their A-list customer service team, so I had to endure many tens of minutes of searching and "Can I put you on hold a minute?" and "Just a moment please". I didn't think I would make it.

Finally, I got my flight set for the very hopeful time of ten PM. I decided if I'm not well enough by then, I will just have to change my flight again. My Hertz car was postponed. I called down to the front desk to extend my reservation. I put the "Do Not Disturb" sign on my hotel doorknob, wishing they had a "DANGER, QUARANTINE" sign instead.

Actually, at that particular moment, I would have preferred they have a surrogate mother service at the hotel: someone to come in and wipe my brow, check my covers, and bring me small sips of Gatorade. And to check to make sure I wasn't dead. I would have paid hundreds for this service. (Entrepreneurs, take note.)

I crawled weakly back into bed for a few more hours of nausea and sleep. Finally, at five AM--exactly when I should be leaving for my morning flight--it hit me. Time to be sick. I rushed to the bathroom for the disgusting but necessary cleansing of my upper G.I. tract.

This was bad stuff, but at least it was over. It was out of me. I began to feel better immediately, but still overcome by chills and weakness, I headed straight into bed and slept for four more hours.

The rest of my day was spent in that hotel room--curtains drawn, TV on--dividing my time between sleep, CNN, and calling Becky to let her know I was still alive. She desperately wanted me to come home on the afternoon flight, but I knew that this would not be possible. I was too tired and still too nauseated. I couldn't fly home strapped in a middle seat between two burly salesmen while I chundered in the quart-sized bag provided by the airline.

And at this point, I wasn't sure if I was done chundering.

Damn that value meal at Wendy's! I thought. Certainly, it couldn't be the oysters. It had been over thirty hours since I ate the oysters. All day Wednesday had been fine! No, it was definitely not the oysters. I couldn't bear it if it was the oysters. I love oysters!

I cursed the unsanitary practices at Wendy's. I was sure that my frosty was a lethal cocktail of chocolate, sugar, powdered dairy and E. coli. I swore I'd never eat another Wendy's value meal.

As the day wore on, I became absolutely bored with CNN's pre-election coverage. I couldn't bear to listen to another campaign speech, so I switched over to Discovery to learn about fractal antennas and the parting of the Red Sea. This was wondrous stuff! I was so ready to go home.

Feeling a little stronger, I trekked down to the front desk to purchase Gatorade. The mini twelve ounce bottles at the front desk cost $5 each, but I was desperate and they knew it. Cha-ching, cha-ching.

Slowly, I introduced the Gatorade into my system, small sips at a time. Able to keep that down, I slept more and waited restlessly for eight PM to arrive. Finally, it was time, and I could leave for the airport and my ten PM red-eye flight home.

I was still very queasy, but I desperately wanted to get home. I would have to take my chances. As I got on the plane--yes, in a middle seat between two large salesmen--I prayed, yes prayed, to just let me sleep. I couldn't take five hours of queasy wakefulness, the endless flight rolling by minute by minute. I just couldn't bear it.

Thankfully, I did sleep the whole way home, and by six AM, I felt the wheels of the plane bump down onto the tarmac. We had landed, and I was on my way to the parking garage.

I still had not conceded the oysters to be the cause of my ailment. It was only later, when my mother, an R.N., informed me that, "No, in fact, it takes between 24 and 48 hours for bacteria to incubate in the gut," that I began to suspect maybe I had gotten a little crazy with the oysters.

You can look at this as a numbers game. If there is a 2% chance that one oyster will make you sick, then eating six increases your odds sixfold, to a 12% chance of being sick. Not too bad. But then you get nuts and decide that 24 oysters sure would be nice. I now have just under a 50% chance of being deathly ill. It's like playing Russian roulette with a full clip of bullets. The more bullets, the more likely I am to die.

Later, my friend Sharon chastised me. "Scott, you're too damned old to eat that crap! Hell, you're almost forty now!"

Cousin Mary Kay also smirked on Facebook, "Methinks maybe one too many erster?"

Okay. Maybe. Maybe it was the oysters. Maybe I should issue an apology to Wendy's.

And now, the thought of eating oysters makes me sick to my stomach. I don't think I can ever eat another one. They've been ruined for me.

Anthony Bourdain, the executive chef at New York City's Les Halles and author of Kitchen Confidential, wrote this:

Good food and good eating are about risk. Every once in a while an oyster, for instance, will make you sick to your stomach. Does this mean you should stop eating oysters? No way. The more exotic the food, the more adventurous the serious eater, the higher the likelihood of later discomfort.


Like I said before, your body is not a temple, it's an amusement park. Enjoy the ride. Sure, it's a "play you pay" sort of an adventure, but you knew that already, every time you ever ordered a taco or dirty-water hot dog... why not take a chance on the good stuff?

You only go around once, and by God, you should enjoy it. Get back on the horse and start wolfing down those oysters again.

Well, I'd like to. I really would.

But I'm just not quite ready for that. Yet.

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Please do not reproduce or copy without the permission of the author.