A NOTE FROM PENNY: It's that time of year when a lot of sickness goes around, and since my "sickness" this week is writer's block, I thought you all might appreciate a past column instead. This one's from 2013. Stay healthy out there.
You know what? I’ve learned something this month: that, given the choice between the two, I’d rather have diarrhea than nausea and vomiting.
Golly, I hope you aren’t reading this over breakfast. Bon appetit.
That common malady that we call the stomach flu — even though it’s usually a virus — knocked me down and stomped on me about a week and a half ago. I mean, that Big Bad Bug wollered me right on into the ground.
My niece Stephanie, at age 10, is wiser than I am. I hung out in the hospital all day with a family friend who was having surgery, and I didn’t worry too much. I’m not “healthy,” per se, but I do have a pretty good immune system, far as I can tell.
When Steph found out that we’d both been in the halls and waiting rooms of the hospital for hours, she was horrified and asked her mom if we’d “been in that hospital all day!? With all those germs?!!”
This family friend has known me since before I was born. That is, she and my mom met in college. So she is kind of like our crazy aunt — hey, coming from me, that’s a compliment! But I shall refrain from naming her directly in this column to preserve what might be left of her dignity.
I have so little dignity that, well, it’s too late for me, anyway.
I stayed with her the night of her surgery. She was a bit nauseous and dizzy, but seemed to be holding her own. I was exhausted after not getting much sleep the nights before for unrelated reasons, so we both were recovering the next couple of days.
It started on a Saturday.
Our Old Family Friend (OFF, for short...heh heh) was too dizzy to walk alone, so I hung out at her place that day, my old nurse’s aide skills at the ready. Suddenly, she was having diarrhea that was worse than Speedy Gonzales: just when you knew it was coming, it had done come and gone.
After a while, I teased and suggested Depends might be in order. She said she actually had some, and then suddenly the idea didn’t seem so far-fetched. It was a light-bulb moment that did end up saving a lot of laundry.
Toward evening, I began to feel hot. Then sick to my stomach. After a trip to the bathroom that was starkly familiar in purpose and result to what my OFF had been doing all day, I made my diagnosis.
“We have the flu!”
I know, technically influenza is that old enemy that wreaks havoc on your respiratory system. What we commonly call “stomach flu” is gastroenteritis — and I can think of a few other colorful words to use in identifying it — but y’all know what I mean.
I went back to my house to get pajamas and return to stay all night to help my OFF, who was weak and dizzy. I felt the need to keep an emesis basin nearby, and by family tradition chose an empty 1-gallon ice cream bucket ... Prairie Farms, if you want to know.
It was a useful friend which I carried with me the next couple of days even more diligently than I clutched my iPhone when it was new. I don’t think there’s an app for this.
That night, each of us turned in with a bed pad to protect the sheets and a pair of adult diapers almost proudly covering our hineys — hey, it beat the alternative. And her with her water bottle, and I with my ice cream bucket, just settled down for a rough flu-ridden night.
The nausea was the worst. I mean the worst, Jerry, the worst! (Adapted “Seinfeld” reference alert).
The next morning, my friend seemed slightly better and I felt like one of those possums you see flattened on the road — although still fresh, for roadkill, anyway — so I limped home to be sick alone.
It’s been a long time since I had the flu, but I’ve never been as sick as I was last week. It took me days to get enough strength back to go back to work (after I was no longer contagious, of course) and I have a sit-down-and-type kind of job, for crying out loud!
My OFF didn’t fare quite as well and ended up dehydrated and back in the hospital, “with all those germs?!!”
Yes, we forced fluids. Yes, I followed my own advice: hand-washing diligence, getting some extra Vitamin C, etc. It didn’t do the trick this time.
Now, not to be gross — although the first paragraph of this column should have warned you already — but it took a few days just to get my, um, lower intestines working right again, never mind being able to eat solid food once more. Then one night I ballooned up with so much gas that I thought I might float away from my cubicle.
I made the best effort I could, with as much dignity as possible (none) in such a situation, to mitigate the circumstances. What I really needed was one of Ameren’s “gas pressurization equalization stations” that you see sometimes inside a little fence.
But all I had was the commonplace toilet and a bathroom with the acoustics of a metal coffee can (no pun intended). Good grief! I felt like a cannon! For a while I wondered if indentations of my head would be left in the ceiling tile above.
Luckily, my friend and I both lived to tell about it. Now, just enough time has passed (OK, pun intended) that I can almost laugh about it. I tried to make it into a funny story for those unfortunate enough to get within earshot, after the worst was over.
“Mom! They wore adult diapers!” my nephew Tyler crowed over the phone when I was telling him the story later.
My goodness! Isn’t it amazing the things we take for granted?! It’s so nice to be able to take flatulence in stride, without fear of the awful repercussions of the Big Bad Bug. My friend and I even reported our first normal, ah, waste expelling functions to each other, and not without a bit of glee and excitement.
Oh mercy. How wonderful it is when our bodies are relatively healthy and all the plumbing, etc., is working right!
I hope none of you have to go through this nastiness, but if you do, trust me: keep your ice cream bucket and adult diapers close at hand for this frightening roller coaster.
It ain’t a pretty ride. Actually, it just plain stinks.