Friday, September 12, 2008


In Which I Achieve My Greatest Aspiration...

So, Wednesday night last week was salmon night at our house. I confess I’m not a big fish guy--one of my earliest memories is of choking on a trout bone, while my parents leaned across from the far end of the table yelling “Are you choking? Are you choking?!?” before it dawned on them that there might be a good reason why I wasn’t answering. Whereupon my Dad got up, grabbed me by the heel and lifted me upside down into the air, pounding my back with a force sufficient to make my ribs creak. The only shining moment from the incident was that when I finally gagged up the obstruction, it landed with a moist plop in my Big Brother’s hair.

But Her Lovely Self really is the most wonderful cook and she manages to make a very nice salmon dish with a mild dill and mustard sauce that I truly enjoy, so it was a happy evening.

Until the salmon, er, swam back upstream.

I had been feeling increasingly bilious as the evening wore on--I blamed it on overexerting myself playing Wii Tennis with Thomas (who has a pro rating on the machine, whereas I rank somewhere lower than blind man. A blind man with no arms or legs). By midnight, I had the worst indigestion, but strove mightily with myself not to be sick. Eventually, I fell into a fitful sleep punctuated by bad dreams involving me racing around the rim of an active volcano, a volcano which occasionally spewed out great heaving masses of sulfurous magma. Then, through the acrid smoke, I peered into the volcano itself and saw the Éclair clinging to a single floating rock and screaming my name.

I sat up, not quite awake.


The Éclair has been cutting some molars--three at once--and the pain of it has been waking her, usually between 2 and 4 in the morning. I hopped out of bed, still half-asleep, and staggered to the baby’s room, where I found her trying to swing a little leg over the railing of her crib. Then she saw me and beamed; Daddy awake, mission successful.

But as soon as I had the baby in my arms, I was aware that an inevitable physiological process was already underway. I knew, in that way that you just can know, that I was about throw up on my daughter.

Not even trusting myself to utter a single word of explanation or comfort, I raced back to my bedroom and dropped the baby on Her Lovely Self, who shot awake with a startled screech. But I had no time to hold a press conference.

If I may be allowed brief moment of self-congratulations, I have to tell you that one of my greatest physical skills is the ability to hold the contents of my stomach until I reach a safe, porcelain haven. As a child, it was one my mom’s most sincere compliments to me, that during flu season I could always make it down the long hall from my bunk bed to the bathroom, saving her a messy cleaning job. It was a particular point of pride that I could do this and my brother could not. BB was a surprise vomiter, famous for appearing at my parents’ bedside in the middle of the night and saying, “Mummy, I’m gonna beEEEEAAARRRRRGLPPHH!!” to the dismay of all.

But this night, I almost didn’t make it.

My stomach was in full seizure, wrenching itself into knot of unprecedented pain and intensity. It took a superhuman act of will to keep myself from redecorating the bedroom there and then. I’m not kidding. I think if I had applied the same physical effort in any other disaster scenario, I probably would have found myself with the ability to lift an overturned truck off of one of my children, so mightily did I strive.

And then I reached the bathroom.

I can safely say now that I have never been so violently ill as I was the other night. That projectile incident in Kansas I wrote about? Not even close. I was heaving so hard that I smashed my forehead into the toilet seat, so hard that my toes were being pulled up into my feet from the suction, so hard that I half-expected to start seeing loops of intestine lassoing the toilet tank.

And I couldn’t stop. For me, as I think for most people, throwing up is something of a tidal action, with a distinct ebb and flow that allows you to at least grab a gasping breath between hurls. But that was not the case Wednesday night. It was one long heave-ho as my stomach just continued to clench harder and harder, until it felt like I had a stone sitting in my sternum. The world began to swim and go gray and I knew I was going to pass out. Finally, I managed to suck in one desperate gasp of air, and almost immediately began coughing and choking from the backwash. It was just awful.

(Ooh, I just realized: I should have put a vomit warning at the top of this post, huh?)

Anyway, after several minutes, I found myself hot and sweating and dazed, collapsed near the edge of the toilet just as if I’d been rendered insensate at the side of that volcano in my dreams. Though empty, my stomach continued to clench and unclench. It was truly misery. Eventually, Her Lovely Self, now fully awake (my retching--rendered even more impressive because of the bathroom acoustics--would have been a hard thing to sleep through) wondered from the other side of the door if I was all right. I muttered something thickly, then proceeded to clean the bathroom. Then I stripped and jumped in the shower--I wasn’t THAT big a mess, understand, but I just wanted to feel cleaner than I was. Finally, after protracted effort, I made it back to bed, shivering and doubled over, my stomach continuing to knot and unknot itself. And then, just as I would fall asleep, a bubble would shift somewhere inside me and I’d emit a positively satanic belch, which seemed to serve no other purpose than to remind me by taste that I wasn’t going to be eating salmon again any time soon.

The next morning, with a fever well over 100 degrees, I realized I had the stomach flu and just stayed in bed. By the weekend, Her Lovely Self got a dose of it too, and while she had the same intense stomach reaction, she was over the bug within 48 hours. As for me, things were getting worse. I know, that sounds like an exaggeration after the hurling spell I just depicted, but I assure you, my troubles were only beginning.

I wasn’t throwing up any more, thank God, but I couldn’t help but notice that my breathing was increasingly labored. It hurt to lay on my right side. I had developed a nasty, hacking cough. In short, I had all the familiar signs of pneumonia, which I seem to be especially prone to. Thus it was that, with a fever still raging and my breathing no better, I presented myself to my doctor. Who confirmed that I had pneumonia all right. But not just any old bacterial pneumonia.

I had aspiration pneumonia.

Funny term, that. When I hear “aspiration,” I think of my greatest hopes and dreams, and I’m here to tell you they don’t involve puking and getting pneumonia. But as I’m sure you know, aspiration is the term used to describe what happens when you inhale a foreign object into your lungs, like water, or a popcorn kernel.

Or, in my case, a goodly portion of your partially digested salmon dinner.

And I thought ass strep was the worst thing that could happen to me. But no. Inhaling your own vomit and getting pneumonia from it, that ranks up there as the worst thing to happen to me in a long, long while.

So I’m home, on bed rest, inhaling somewhat more beneficial substances—nebulized drugs, for example. I had to call in sick to work, but when I told them what was wrong with me, I was pretty circumspect about it.

But I had to tell someone about it, of course, and I knew you wouldn’t mind.

I’m definitely on the mend now--fever’s down and breathing’s better. But both Thomas and the Brownie were feeling a little peaky this morning (it couldn’t be because I told them what really happened to me, though. Surely not.). So I’m keeping an eye on them. If either one of them starts to get sick, I’ll be standing by, ready to help them. I don’t want them to suffer the same fate as me, though, so if I start to see them bringing up their last meal, I intend to grab them by the ankles, flip ‘em upside down over the john, and whack them on the back until their ribs creak. I think if I’d had someone around to do that for me the other night, I probably wouldn’t even be in this pickle.

And with that, I’ll leave you to return to your lunch.

Assuming you still want to.

Have a healthy weekend.

From Somewhere on the Masthead

This comment has been removed by the author.
Luckily(?), I ate just before reading this. Tuna, as a matter of fact.

Good Lord, MM. This raises a number of questions in my mind.

1) What happens to the matter in your lungs? Does it just dissolve or otherwise go away? Being a smoker, I understand that small particulates are more-or-less handled by the lungs, but pieces of fish?

2) Where in your mind did you dredge up the word "bilious"? The only place I can ever recall hearing that was in a Three Stooges comedy. Curly's character name was "Buffalo Bilious" (I believe the other two were "Wild Bill Hiccup" and "Just Plain Bill", but I digress.) Anyway, I've always given that as proof when someone challenges my postulation that the Three Stooges are educational. I looked up the word when I was 6 after hearing it there.

3) You mentioned calling in sick to work, and being circumspect concerning the ailment. That brought to mind your earlier posting concerning possibly blogging for your employer. Any update on that? Has anyone else there uncovered your identity?

Sorry for the many questions, but you probably need something to do, right? :-)
That's one hell of an "aspiration!" Hope you are back in fine fettle really, really soon and remember the care your Dad gave you if you should need to utilize that with your kids or "her lovely self."
Now, go answer Suldog's questions.
Okay, I actually went back after the first indication of vomit to look for the warning. Thanks MM, I was eating while reading that.

I'll admit though, I was feeling all sorry for you and shaking my head at your poor luck but then burst out laughing when I got to ass strep.

Hope you mend quickly, and that the kiddos are spared.
I ate 4 hours ago and I still wanna hurl after reading that... arrggghhhhh!

Cindy in CO
Reading this caused an odd combination of hysterical laughter and eye-popping "ewwwwwwww."

Bilious... I remember in high school, learning that this was one of the 4 descriptive terms assigned to people in the, hmmmm, middle ages? Bilious meant they were bitter--too much bile. Sanguine? Too full of blood... There were two other descriptor terms--wish I could recall them... Anyway. Dude. You are bilious. Sorry you were struck so violently. Glad you're recovering--and I loved the Blaze-to-the-Eclaire's-rescue story.
@mel - I am pretty sure the terms you are looking for are phlegmatic and melancholy (melancholic?). My brain is a treasure trove of useless information like that, but darned if I can remember where I leave my keys...
Bilious is also known as choleric...
I just had dinner about an hour ago. Thank god it wasn't salmon.

Actually, it must have been a very good dinner since this story didn't make me a bit queasy...
Bro, as much as I feel for you, I have to admit that I laughed uncontrollably at this one. For some reason, puke stories really make me laugh - it's an arrested development thing, I'm sure. And it's not schadenfreude - I feel for you, I really do. It's just that your writing is so very effective, and you hit the mark with this one. The intestine lasso line was especially on target - a huge laugh missile.

This doesn't quite reach your pinnacle, that of ass-strep (whose refrain my wife and I still repeat whenever our dog tries to french kiss us) - still, salmon aspiration pneumonia is going to be giggled about for a while today. Hope you feel better!
Ew, gross. You do manage to run into some of the most disgusting illnesses. Glad you're only sharing the descriptions and not the germs! I hope the kids stay well.
Is a vomit warming needed when commenting on this topic?

Hasn't anyone in your family heard of keeping a pot or bucket in the bedroom of a sick person?

Personally I can't bear to vomit in a toilet. If it's a surprise attack I take the trash/mop bucket in the bathroom, dump the contents on the floor, and use that. And I take the bucket back to the bedroom when I'm done.

Though my grossest moment was a midnight event where I had just emptied the bucket but not rinsed it and the dog was begging for what was left.
oh dear. i thought weird stuff happened to me, until i "met" you. i hope you're feeling better!
I know it's wrong to laugh. Pneumonia, aspirational or otherwise, is serious. Even stomach flu can be serious. Really serious. But from "swam back upstream", I just couldn't stop. I was spraying porridge everywhere in a small scale re-enactment of this post. (Yes, I kept eating.) I'm sorry. I'm a bad bad person. I hope you feel better really soon.
Get Well Soon!
Your writing brings your experience "to life", MM. I could imagine my toes curling and clenching in flashbacks of spewing chunks in previous episodes of my own.

Sorry to hear you're sick, but I hope you feel better soon.

Glad(?) you're feeling well enough to write about your experience... Maybe glad is the wrong word? "Thanks for sharing" as it were. :-)
who knew vomit could be so entertaining.

oh, and i was planning to have salmon for dinner tonight, but i think i'll pass.
Dang. Definitely need to put a vomit warning on this post...still, I have no problem downing my salmon dinner this evening. Can't wait.
I hope you haven't ruined salmon for me. I just love stuffed salmon. Now I wonder if I'll be able to look at another salmon and not be reminded of your "aspirations". Geez! I'm glad you are feeling better!
I think you should just rename the blog to "Somewhere in the Bathroom".

And post a permanent Vomit Alert at the top...

Feel better!

Thim :)
I'm perpetually shocked at the amount of illness that permeates the Magazine Mansion. Please tell me you have a.) incredible health insurance and b.) a very, very patient employer. Yikes.

At any rate (and always), I hope you're feeling better. I'm beginning to wonder if we don't need to chip in and buy you a giant bubble for your own protection.
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