I was felled by food poisoning on Wednesday. I'd been feeling strangely ravenous and wolfed down three deviled eggs (homemade the day before) straight from the fridge, and then a strawberry-mango-banana smoothie, also homemade. Shortly afterward, I began feeling woozy and queer. Then it hit me. Enough said.
Except I do have more to say. When have I not had more to say?
I seldom feel as sick I did that afternoon. So I had forgotten how, for me, intense nausea brings back sharp memories of childhood illnesses. I was periodically sick as a child, almost predictably in the early spring. I spent several Easter vacations either in bed "dying" or wobbling around the house recovering from a stomach bug.
As I reminisced, lying on the sofa, too ill to move, I revisited those days, wondering if it had anything to do with all the Easter baskets (about a dozen) loaded with candy and gifts that I always received from my parents, aunts, and uncle. Was it sugar overload instead of a bug? I don't think so. It's not that I didn't eat too much candy. It's just that I was so accustomed to eating massive amounts of sweet stuff in those days — we always had plenty of candy, and I was always baking cakes and brownies or making pans of "fudge" from frosting mix and margarine. So I don't think a little more would have affected me. I was known to a whole box of eight Entenmann's chocolate donuts in a day.
Today, even half of one of those fudge-coated, leaden concoctions would do me in. (I tried eating one a few years ago; those things aren't digestible.)
I spent my childhood and adolescence in chronic sugar overload (actually, it went on until about last year) without any obvious negative effects. But when I was very small, I would get sick after every relative's birthday celebration because they'd always give me all of the icing roses from the cake. We were a large, extended family so it happened a lot. I estimate that I was fed about a half-cup of Crisco and sugar in each pile of sugar roses in addition to my own piece of cake. After a few years of me throwing up late on Sunday nights after birthday parties my mother figured it out.
I never imagined that illness would be my Proustian madeleine. I do have other, nicer ones, but those are for another story.
On Wednesday, I spent a couple of hours struggling with nausea (deep breathing, in and out) while revisiting Easters of the 1960s, remembering pastel dresses (often made by my mother, a wonderful seamstress who let me spend hours choosing fabrics and patterns), spring coats and matching shoes... that I sometimes wasn't well enough to wear to church on Easter Sunday. I remembered that I'd sometimes got sick before the Easter Bunny arrived, proving my point about my chocolate intake not being the cause.
Although I was sick a lot as a child, I wasn't very good at it, aside from the deep breathing trick, which still helps me. I hated to be left alone when I was ill, so I would moan loudly and pathetically until my mother gave up and sat by my bed until I fell asleep. I would beg plaintively for inappropriate foods like purple grape juice, against her better judgment. She gave me Jello, Campbell's noodle soup, and room-temperature Coke.
I hated to throw up, even when I knew it would make me feel better, so I fought it as hard as I could, my mother witnessing the battle. I remember asking her if I might die because I felt so awful. My mother told me I was melodramatic. I'd tell her she had no idea just how sick I was. Then I'd moan some more and she'd threaten to call the doctor.
I hated doctors almost as much I hated puking. They terrified me and they also subjected me to indignities, like making me take off my clothes. Our family doctor was a quiet man from my mother's high school class. Looking back, now that I'm much older than he must have been at the time, I realize he was shy. He made house calls; at least he did for our family. He had a way of looking at me over the tops of his half-glasses, telling me sternly that I was "bony," as if this were a defect I could fix. I heard this at every visit in spite of all the cake, cookies, brownies, donuts, candy, TastyKakes, school-birthday cupcakes,* soda, and "fudge," I consumed routinely. Looking back, I suspect there was a twinkle in his eye. That's the worst I can say about him; he was actually a gem.
Oh, to be bony again.
Lying on the sofa, remembering all this, I also remembered the relief I felt when I'd finally gave up and threw up. I knew it had to be done this time, too, even without my mother egging me on.
Sometimes, you have to be your own mother. When the timing was right, I got off the sofa and walked purposefully into the bedroom, reaching into a box to grab a hair elastic without breaking my stride. I had my hair in a ponytail by the time I got to the bathroom door.
And there was Harris, curled up adorably on the toilet seat, having a little rest.
Goodbye, Harris, out, out. I closed the door behind him.
And then I felt much better.
And then I felt rotten again after a while, because one always does... but I did what had to be done.
* My mother was an elementary public school secretary. The kids all liked her, so she brought home birthday cupcakes for me several days a week.