Blurry-eyed, I bitterly crawled up the stairs and begged to be taken to the hospital...

A Mainer through and through, my family has lived here nine generations—or more. With roots as deep as mine, one can’t help but love this land and care about the people who live here. And in my mind that means helping make sure that my bad experience never becomes the experience of another.

I’ve always been kind of an unstoppable force. In fact, my mother says she’s never seen a kid as stubborn as me. If I see something I want to do, I do it. In high school I was a good student and upstanding member of the choir, but the area in which I really excelled was on the sports field. Soccer, basketball, softball, even cheerleading–I loved the physicality of it all and the way it made me feel.

I had decided that after graduation I would become a nurse, so it was a surprise when I ended up in the fields of insurance and finance. Seeing how I’ve always liked people, spending my days with numbers has not always been my first choice. Having people around, be it family or friends, makes life enjoyable. Whether going out or staying home, good food and conversation are always on the menu. Having been blessed with a wide variety of people to love, I like having my own house and the responsibilities that come with that. And I’m crazy about my family–for my grandfather all the way down to the younger kids–I love to play hostess and entertain.

At the end of October 2011 I had friends over sharing tacos and talking about the next day’s events: Halloween! Having kids in my neighborhood and in my life means this is a holiday that cannot be missed. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, I started feeling like I had the flu, and by the next day’s festivities, I just wanted to be left alone.

I had to be back at work November 1st and since it’s a forty-five minute drive I was on the road early. Thinking I had gas, I abruptly found out otherwise and had to pull over to get filled up. When I finally got to work I was running to the bathroom every few minutes. Before long I ended up leaving. But as the day got progressively worse, I realized that missing work was the least of my problems. I felt terrible, but considering I had an appointment the next day that I could not miss I had to grit my teeth and deal with the pain.

Typically, Tuesday evenings are occupied with a poker game. But tonight I was utterly sidelined. I was wrapped up in ten blankets and passed out while my friends played in the next room. And after they’d gone, I spent pretty much the rest of the night in the bathroom.

By daybreak my condition had worsened. Plagued with persistent, bloody diarrhea the very thought of food or even water turned my stomach. Running to the toilet every few minutes, I pulled myself together and made it through my meeting. Afterwards, I tried to eat with my mother and grandfather but just one bite sent me into a tailspin.

At some point, during the haze which was Wednesday, I called the doctor. After another agonizing night of misery, I finally got to see him and was immediately directed to the Emergency Room! Though aware that I was extremely tired, I was clueless to the fact that I was dehydrated to the point of jeopardy.

At the hospital, I was hooked up to IVs; specimens of all kinds were taken and promptly sent away. Having never had colitis or any other gastrointestinal issues, I was surprised to hear such things mentioned as possible diagnoses. It never crossed my mind that it could be something I’d eaten. And, apparently, it never made a blip on the hospital staff’s radar either.

Only able to eat ice chips, nurses gave me tons of fluids, but everything was coming back up. After keeping down a cracker and some chicken broth there was talk about letting me go home. Within an hour I was home on the sofa and satisfying my craving for more broth.

Then came the worst night of all.

Not wanting to climb stairs or keep my boyfriend from the decent night’s sleep he needed to be at work by 4 am, I was sleeping on the couch. In the dead of night I started bleeding again. Blurry-eyed, I bitterly crawled up the stairs and begged him to take me to the hospital. They already had my sample from the day before, but seeing how Salmonella culture doesn’t grow for three days, no results had been returned yet. Puzzled as to what it was, they discussed the possibility of an emergency blood transfusion and out of caution quarantined me at the very end of the hall. Required to wear full gowns, I could see the grave concern in the hesitant eyes of everyone who came to see me.

For four harrowing days I was given morphine—every 2 or 3 hours! It had become seriously alarming. The prick of pain starts small, like a hot knife stabbing soft butter. Then, intense and acute fades to aching and dull… and it’s tolerable (or so you tell yourself) as long as you turn down the noise inside… Lay still; breathe as if not breathing at all. Don’t think about it – how it started or how it’s going to end, ignore the whooshing throbbing blood racing through veins and the Herculean pangs of hunger and thirst. Deny the terror in mother’s eyes. Just. Try. Not. To be. Without any warning the slightest twitch brings pain that feels like a fist or jagged hook has been thrust into my abdomen to dig around in the dark as if looking for a specific point. It squeezes and rips my insides out while twisting my head in a paralyzing vise.

Dear God, forgive me – I got scared when I started wishing myself dead. I love life but was beginning to wonder if fighting was worth it.

When finally able to have something to eat, I felt as though I’d turned a corner. A colonoscopy was planned but then the doctor came in and said, “You’ve got Salmonella Typhimurium.” (It was later that the CDC informed me that the Salmonella infection I’d had was antibiotic-resistant and from ground beef.)

Thankfully, the antibiotics worked. The Cipro prescribed brought me back and took me home. I’d gone a week and a half fighting this terrifying menace singlehandedly, but now I had reinforcements. And hope. Those who held me in their prayers and hearts during my darkest hour clearly shaped my future making it clear through their actions and words that we cannot let fear rule our hearts. And for that they have my deepest gratitude.

People ask if this ordeal has changed me. And I can honestly say the whole experience has been a pain in more ways than one. I’ve definitely made adjustments to the way I see food. I’m very careful about cross contamination and I make sure everything is fully cooked. I pay attention to where food comes from and how it was raised. I want to know how it was handled before it got to me and what’s been put into it – intentionally or not. During and after eating, the slightest change in the feel of my body makes me a little freaky. It annoys me that I can get nervous about food now.

Besides the obvious concerns of being sick and finding a cure, most people don’t consider the problem of days and weeks of missing work and the burden on the pocketbook that results. Or the frustration and damage caused by the unintended neglect of people who are depending on us. When you’re sick there are responsibilities that go abandoned to the detriment of everyone involved. And then there’s the possibility of it all happening again…my anxiety is palpable. I am the legal guardian for my grandfather, Herman. Considering that I cook for him, I hate to even think about the outcome had he eaten the same meat that made me sick. I tear up just at the thought!! It is for him that I want to be part of this movement to make food safer.
Contaminated food and the poisoning that accompanies it doesn’t just hurt the individual who is sick, it hurts family as well as the wider community. For me, caring about food safety is caring about my grandfather, my friends and neighbors.

July 2012

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