Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Love in a Time of E. Coli

When you're standing at the altar, repeating, "For richer, for poorer. In sickness and in health," you're probably thinking some combination of, "Spanx make me sweaty," "My nipple might be showing," "I want booze," and "I should be paying attention." Or maybe you really are paying attention, because you drank far too much coffee, and with each vow, you stare with unblinking ardor into your beloved's face and imagine buying a home, birthing children, nursing each other through bouts of the flu, loving each other mightily and lustily.

In neither scenario, do you truly appreciate the nature of marriage. Perhaps for a while you'll tuck those dampened, musky Spanx at the back of the closet, keeping them separate from the more dignified family laundry. Similarly, you'll make sure that your nipples are neatly tucked into your blouse. But then you birth those children, and your pungent Spanx suddenly seem like an acceptable, flesh-toned alternative to your spit-up-covered yoga pants. You no longer wear blouses, and hiding your nipples will seem both counterproductive and impossible. For a long time, every day will feel like a bout of the flu -- runny and wet. You will still want booze; so that, at least, you can cling to.

Yet the vulgarity of the day-to-day is what makes marriage (or any other committed relationship) worthwhile. You can peel off your sopping thigh shaper in the private sanctuary of singledom, but there's a physical and emotional freedom that comes with admitting that dignity is a spandex-encased illusion.

All of this Spanx talk is, obviously, a metaphor. A metaphor for an E. coli infection, which, like Spanx, can make you lose your faith in the goodness of humanity. And which, like Spanx, can test the very foundations of your marriage once it reveals itself.

A little over 2 weeks ago, my husband set off on a short business trip to Florida. He travels routinely for work, and Pork Chop and I manage without him through the grace of leftovers and Skype. Shelby flew out at dawn on Monday and was set to return by midnight on Wednesday -- a pretty typical jaunt for my husband, but one, he noted, that would be jam-packed with important meetings. In other words, Shelby didn't want me to text him in the middle of the day, asking, yet again, how to use our fancy TV remote.

Skies were blue, I was in good spirits, and my kid seemed healthy and whatever passes for mentally stable among toddlers. But by late Monday evening, I started to feel a bit off, a cold deep in my bones. I sent Shelby a quick email: "I think I'm getting a fever." There were no other symptoms: no cough, no runny nose, no bellyache. I popped a thermometer in my mouth before bedtime, and sure enough, I was pushing 102. Must be a sinus infection, I reasoned. My head ached mildly. After two Tylenol and a brief video chat with my husband, I hunkered down in bed with a cup of hot mint tea and a good book (or maybe a BuzzFeed "Which Pair of Jorts Are You" Quiz, but whatever). Shelby was sorry to hear that I was feeling badly, but neither of us was concerned.

By morning, the fever had broken and I felt well enough to host a play group for five moms and eight kids. The fact that I even agreed to host the play group in the first place should have put somebody on alert. But no, the gathering went off without a hitch. I mean, yes, there was some punching and kicking and minor blood loss, but nothing out of the ordinary. However, by nightfall, I wasn't feeling right. In fact, I was feeling pretty damn wrong. I tucked Pork Chop in at 8 p.m. I video chatted with Shelby just long enough to say that the fever seemed to be back and bringing a terrible migraine with it. He suggested that I visit Patient First in the morning; he was starting to sound worried. After hanging up, I grabbed an ice pack, took my migraine medication, and climbed miserably into bed. But the meds didn't stand a chance. I upchucked for a solid 5 hours. Eventually, I managed to keep down some anti-nausea medication that also, mercifully, knocked me out cold.

When I woke on Wednesday morning I felt, yet again, much better -- still mildly headachy and a tad queasy, but nothing I couldn't attribute to the onset of that damned sinus infection. I had work to do, so passed on going to the emergency care clinic. Instead, I noshed on bland foods throughout the day and picked up a large bottle of Gatorade to help set me right. Shelby messaged me to say that the meetings had wrapped up early and that he had switched up flights so that he could be home by 9 instead of by midnight. I looked forward to seeing him before I turned in for the evening.

His flight was right on time, and he walked in the door at 9 p.m. sharp. He gave me a bit of grief for not calling a doctor, but mostly we chatted about his trip and about Pork Chop. It was, however, a very abbreviated chat. Within 30 of my husband's arrival, my stomach began to cramp and ache. I daintily sipped my Gatorade. I felt sweat prickle on my nose. I lay down on the kitchen banquette, thinking that a change in position might somehow rearrange the pain. My dashing husband, still in his tailored navy suit and sipping a bourbon on the rocks, was recounting some bit of office gossip when my intestines tried suddenly to exit my body.

I sat bolt upright. "I don't feel good," I said urgently, cutting Shelby off mid-sentence. I ran for the white, tiled salvation of our master bathroom. There was a moment of panicked fumbling. Were my intestines taking a northern or a southern exit? I threw down my pants and sat on the toilet, making certain that the trash can was also within arm's reach. But nothing happened. Nothing but pain, pain in powerful waves that made my joints feel loose and made my head feel heavy, like it was filled with syrup. My head was just so heavy. Very heavy.

"That's it. We're going to the hospital!" I heard Shelby say. Somehow my husband was hovering over me, looking pale and scared.

A moment before, I had been dreaming, something about a deadline and a broken computer. In the dream, windows kept popping open on my laptop, disparate images overlapping one another. I swiped at the screen, frantically trying to sort through the kaleidoscopic confusion. Just as I managed to clear the screen, I opened my eyes. I was lying on the bathroom floor. My head hurt. My teeth hurt. My husband waited for me to say something.

"Get out! Get out! Get out!" I bellowed. Shelby stared at me, wide-eyed, backing out of the bathroom.

I had passed out face first onto our tiled floor. My pants were down. For all I knew, I was lying in a pile of my own waste. I was pretty sure that my insides were actively turning into stew, but I decided that I'd rather die alone than let my husband see me in the throes of gastrointestinal devastation. All the sex, I thought to myself, is over.

This is the single weirdest stock photo I've ever found, but it still
perfectly illustrates the gap between what you think marriage will be like
and the big, beautiful shit show that marriage turns out to actually be.

And this, my friends, is what I mean by the true nature of marriage. Because after I hoisted up my pants, checked to make sure my teeth were intact, inspected the knot on my forehead, and wobbled out of the bathroom, there was my husband, sitting at the edge of our bed, waiting for me. The same man who could make a full-time job of cracking jokes about my klutziness or my inability to understand driving directions, simply looked up at me and said, "I thought you were dead." Not, as I had expected, "Haha! I saw your butt."

He held my hand in the emergency room as I wailed for the nurses to help me. (The pain reached levels of intensity that I'd only ever experienced during labor.) He watched my heart monitor, calling the RN to my bedside every time he noticed an errant blip. My squeamish husband sat by my side while they inserted an IV and asked me 50 questions about diarrhea. Later, he filled my prescriptions and prepared bowls of chicken broth and watched Pork Chop while I drooled on my pillow in a luxurious haze of Percocet.

What we had thought was a bad stomach bug turned out to be an E. coli infection, complete with intestinal bleeding. The likely culprit was a powerhouse sandwich packed with raw bean sprouts, proving, yet again, that vegetables are bad for you. It took a full week before I could eat Tostitos without cramping up. Total nightmare.

Yet, even during the hours spent nestled in the bosom of narcotic painkillers, I still worried about that moment, the one where my husband found me ass-up on the bathroom floor. My guts would recover, but would our marriage? I finally plucked up the courage to ask him what happened. We were sitting in bed together.

"I heard a crash," Shelby explained, "so I went upstairs and knocked on the bathroom door. When you didn't answer, I listened, and I heard snoring."

"What? I was snoring?"

"Yeah, really loudly."

Okay, so it was worse than I thought.

"Well, I opened the door," he said, "and it took a minute for me to understand what was going on. You were on your knees, with your backside in the air, your face smashed into the side of the tub, and one arm sprawled out at a 90-degree angle beside you."

Mmm, very sexy.

He went on, "I moved you onto your side, and you stopped snoring. But then I couldn't tell if you were breathing, and I couldn't rouse you for a long time. It was scary as hell."

He paused, then went on, "I mean, it's kind of funny now. But at the time, I thought for a minute there that you might be dead."

He looked me right in the face when he said that. He squeezed my hand under the sheets. He gave me a weak little smile, but then his eyes lit up in a familiar way.

"Your pants were completely down and your ass was just hanging out. Oh my god. Just sticking straight up. It was ridiculous."

And I know he was right. It was scary as hell. It was ridiculous. And we were a little richer, a little poorer for the whole experience.

24 comments:

  1. I'm just impressed you found a stock photo that so perfectly matches what you wear around the house every night. You know, for easy access to your intestines.

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    1. You do realize that it sounds like you're making some kind of nasty butt sex joke, right? (Also, I wear this around the house because clogs and knee highs are practical.)

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  2. Oh Jess. You had me at "Love in the Time of E. Coli." Seriously - I snorted when I read the title alone. Love you and hope you are all better now. Damned bean sprouts. xoxo

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    1. Hooray! I knew I could count on my fellow lit nerds to appreciate that title. You make my heart swell (with pride, not with bacteria).

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  3. I wonder if Shelby is looking for a divorce lawyer or a live-in nurse's aid. I hope neither. (By the way Shelby, don't post those pictures. Just some advice from a more experienced husband.)

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    1. This is some sound advice! If your significant other passes out half-naked by the toilet, don't take a photo. (Because, trust me, my husband would be the one who would need the nurse's aid.)

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  4. I cannot believe you made me read a scatological post and I can't believe I enjoyed it, because your writing is so damned good! Curses, we are even now for my making you read a book you resent.
    You've also touched on my DEEPEST fears in marriage. When I had the baby, and they asked me the questions they ask after a c-section that involve the functioning of one's intestines, I said to the nurse, Can you please have the decency to ask me these things in private? Yes, I said that, because I am so terrified of intestines and my ownership of them and my husband finding out about that that I can't believe any nurse wouldn't feel the same way. So I am glad I am not alone. And I am quite sure that Shelby loves you ten times more for thinking he almost lost you. Cause love is WAY stronger than E.Coli. I'm so glad you are better. I will never eat a vegetable again.

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    1. Oh, Leslie, my heart goes out to you. I know that I manage to work a little poop joke into almost every post, but the truth is, I'm actually a bit private. I told Shelby that I would prefer he not be in the delivery room AT ALL. That got vetoed pretty hard, but I swear, I get where you're coming from.

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  5. OMG! I know exactly what you mean. When Matt and I had only been together a few months I got the worst stomach bug ever. I was hospitalized but when I got home I was still SUPER sick. I crapped the bed and he had to buy me adult diapers. It was horrible. He also had to "treat" me for a very chaffed bum.

    And that's when I knew I would marry him. I'm sorry you had to deal with all of this, but I couldn't help but laugh when you passed out face first on the bathroom floor. At least you know he loves you!

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    1. Have you written about this? If so, why have I not read it yet? I didn't just kinda LOL, I for-real laughed out loud reading this. Adult diapers: the final marriage frontier.

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  6. Holy crap (no pun intended) Jess, I'm glad you're okay and all of your teeth are still intact. And what a keeper you've got there!!

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    1. Oh, don't kid yourself, Teri, that pun was totally intended (as it should be). And, yeah, he's a keeper, if only because he has too much dirt on me to let him go.

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  7. Every time I eat vegetables, I feel horrible. When I eat chocolate, I feel great. Can't be a coincidence.

    I can't operate the TV remote either. We have like 5 of them. WTF are they all for???

    Glad you're feeling better.

    (Perfect stock photo, by the way.)

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    1. WTF, vegetables? A friend once roasted brussel sprouts on the grill. I had never had such a delicious veggie in my life, so I ate about 900 of them (obviously). And I felt AWFUL. Why? Why? Because vegetables are assholes, that's why.

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  8. You make me believe in love again--that was beautiful. And gross, but really beautiful.

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    1. Holly, I couldn't have made it through without you. (That's for serious.) And thanks to you, I now not only have my health, but I have read 50 Shades of Grey (which I'm pretty sure is best read while high on painkillers). You are an angel to me.

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  9. The morals of the story:
    1. Sprouts are evil. Stick with safe tostitos, cronuts, and samoas.
    2. You have an eye for catchy stock photos.
    3. You picked the right guy.

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    1. Michele, you're right: Tostitos, Somoas, and cronuts have NEVER let me down. Thank you for enabling me. You are a true friend.

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  10. Although I loved this when I heard it live, reading it somehow brings to light the reality of the horror of landing ass-end-up in the bathroom and of vegetables. I will never eat sprouts ever ever again and may require the lovely and talented chefs at Red Robin to stop putting lettuce on my bacon cheese burger. So glad you're feeling better!

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    1. "The lovely and talented chefs at Red Robin" -- that's why I love you. You get me. You just really get me.

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  11. Hilarious writing. And that stock photo is the most awesomely disturbing thing I've seen in a while. Cheers!

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    1. Thanks, Isaac. I may be just as proud of finding that photo as I am of writing about passing out with my pants down.

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  12. Next time you say you're sick, I will know you mean it and will giggle a little about your butt. I'm so glad your intestines are still in place.

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  13. my husband and I have had similar moments (emphasis on the plural). unfortunately, he's had to hold me up (and clean up after me) due to terrible things coming out of my ass. good times.

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