"Well it's been a long time since I did that." I said the words aloud, though no one was around to hear them. The only sound to that point had been my crunching.
I was at home alone, eating a bowl of cereal. I had no appetite, not since the sudden onset of whatever it was attacking my body from within, but I thought that perhaps some sugar would calm the headache and shore up my energy against the fatigue.
The day had been a normal one. I visited a routine client in the morning, then headed off to install a firewall and vpn at a new break/fix client. It would be a quick 2 hour visit, then home to work on my taxes. My body felt fine, and my head free of pressure.
The firewall installed and configured, I tended to a few minor issues that had been troubling the client's network. It was just after 3:00 when they asked me to upgrade their antivirus, because it had been a few years since anyone had paid any attention to it. I figured it would take about 90 minutes, and since every minute onsite was billable I decided to stay and get it done. I was also looking to impress, since they are a fairly new client and their network in need of some tender loving surgery.
I stepped outside to call Elizabeth and told her that I would most likely not be back in time to watch Solomon when she and the other kids left for their music and ballet classes. We chatted for a moment, and as we did the sun peeked through the grey above, just for a few minutes. I felt good.
Back to work, and before long the work was done. I was feeling good, having accomplished a lot in this single visit, and adding an extra 5 hours of billing to my month. I was sitting at the server desk, making my last checks to the system before logging off and heading for home when it hit.
The chills came on in an instant, followed by a dizzy sensation that had me wavering as I stood. I reached out and grabbed at the wall in order to steady myself. The moment my hand touched the dry, white surface, a stabbing cramp gripped my stomach. My hand pulled away from the wall, my reflexes acting to protect me from what they interpreted in a flash to be an electric shock. With nothing to hold me steady, I spun around in a lightheaded circle, crashing back into the chair I had left just a moment before.
I doubled over with a groan as a longer ripple of cramps that must have fallen short of birthing contractions but was still one of the most painful sensations I had ever felt stretched across my belly. Beads of sweat popped out along my forehead, as the chills were replaced with an instant fever.
"What the hell?" I groaned, my arms wrapped around my waist, my face between my knees.
I took a few deep breaths, and the fever subsided, taking the cramps with it. I walked with a ginger gait over to my laptop and packed it away. Within a few seconds I had bid goodbye to my client (without a hand shake) and climbed into my car with some effort. I called Elizabeth at once.
"I am leaving now, and I am just calling to let you know that if I don't make it home tonight, I love you." My joking voice was laced with a perceptible seriousness.
"Kid, what happened?" She always calls me "Kid" when I am being silly.
"I don't know, but I feel like I've been through the ringer. I almost passed out earlier, and I am achy all over." I whined.
"Kid, it sounds like you've got it." She didn't have to say it; I knew she meant the Norovirus. It had attacked her friend just a few days earlier. All the same symptoms in a sudden onset.
"I hope not, but this is how bad it is; I want to go to bed in my clothes, without taking a shower first." (Whine)
"Ok, that's pretty bad." She agreed.
We traded a few sentences of catch-up talk as we did every day on my drive home. The kids, school, etc.
She interrupted, "Ok, you need to focus on driving, I am going to let you go. Everybody say hi to Dad!" I pictured her holding the phone aloft and heard our kids shout happy hellos and love-yous.
We hung up and I focused on the road. I listened to a loud comedy show from BBC radio in order to stay sharp. The loud laughter, high-pitched comic host with thick Northern accent, and the obnoxious musical tones screeched against the blackboard of my mind, but it kept me from driving off into the guardrail.
I made it home and dropped everything on my desk, stripping off clothes as I made my way to the bathroom. Ten minutes of a soothing hot shower later I was feeling better, but I knew that there was more to come. I just didn't know how bad or how long it would last.
I was standing naked in my bedroom when the doorbell rang. I made the mistake of peeking out the window, and was sure that the driver of the car had caught sight of the blinds shifting as I did so. I sighed, pulled on my pajama pants (inside-out) and slid a tee-shirt over my head.
Several minutes later, after a long discussion with an apologetic neighborhood boy and his mother about a moment of bullying that had taken place that day (something I knew nothing about), I wandered into the kitchen to eat something in hopes of calming down the intense headache that had just gotten worse. I really don't like bullies.
I poured a bowl of cereal and sat down to eat. The bowl was almost empty when I felt a rumbling. It was the kind of rumbling that signals the onset of something nasty. The rumbling spread through my belly, then turned south, snaking its way through my guts.
And then I pooped my pants.
Just a little.
The gaps are for comedic timing, but it really wasn't funny. It was terrible.
I haven't pooped my pants in years. The last time I did was in Paraguay, at the age of 20. I remember visiting one of the poorest husband and wife that I have ever known. They lived in a shack on the side of a hill, and had at least a half a dozen kids. They had nothing. I mean nothing. Clothes, some dishes, and a place to sleep. That was the whole of their life together, but I remember them being happy. The mother smiled as her children ran up to greet us, the father taking my hand in his and chattering a happy welcome, the words passing with a whistle between large gaps in his blackened teeth. I marveled at their obvious affection for each other under such miserable circumstances.
They offered us some water. I looked across their dirt yard and noticed their well. It was a hole in the earth, right beside their cooking fire. I could see the water, just six inches below the edge of the hole. It was stagnant. I looked up at the shacks settled above theirs on the hillside, and wondered how much of the waste from the people living up there drained down into this family's well.
The moment was one of innumerable opportunities I had already been given to offend while in Paraguay. To refuse their offer of the only thing they had to give would have broken their spirit. Neither I nor my companion had the cold courage to do so. We nodded in acceptance.
The mother produced two glasses, dipping them one at a time into the well, filling them with water. She carried them over to us I like a waiter at a swanky restaurant carrying two bottles of fine wine. As she approached I noticed that the water looked like lemonade.
It looked like lemonade, but it wasn't lemonade. I took the glass offered with a gracious thanks, and my eyes widened at the sight of tiny little somethings swirling around in the dirty drink. I looked over at my companion and smiled with a slight shrug. He returned the same, his glass of liquid looking no better than mine.
And then we drank. Both glasses drained to the bottom in one long synchronous pull. We left the couple and their children after twenty or so minutes of chatting, the national pastime of Paraguayans. The sun was high and hot as we made our way back to the little house that we shared. My companion and I were sweating more than usual. We knew what was coming, we just didn't know when.
It sucker-punched me as we turned onto our street. I wanted to but was afraid to run. In running I might have lost control of the muscles holding back the onslaught. in the end it didn't matter, because my pants were soaked with the sickness before we made it inside. I entered the shower full dressed. The gravity-fed plumbing had hardly enough pressure to wash it all away, but I did the best I could. I even had to rinse my shoes.
The days that followed were terrible. If not for a woman named Kiti, a midwife by trade and a surrogate mother to us both, we might had died. She spoon fed us on iv drip fluids, keeping us from dehydrating and passing into comas. I lost weight, dropping at least 10 pounds from my hearty 150. It wasn't the first time I had been sick in Paraguay, and it would not be the last, but it was by far one of the worst.
20 years later it had happened again, and my reaction was to laugh and say, "Well it's been a long time since I did that."
A few minutes later I stood in the shower, rinsing a tiny amount (in comparison) of sick from my body and clothes. I was achy, feverish, and my stomach was convulsing. I wanted to collapse into bed and sleep until the weekend. I was too beat up to be ashamed, but I did hide my (rinsed) pajama pants in the dirty clothes, crammed down deep between the towels.
I spent a miserable night and all of today plagued by intermittent cramps, an everlasting headache, and a feverish chill that would not relent.
But I am looking on the bright side. I don't live in a shack on a hill, I have filtered water, and a beautiful nursemaid brings me medicine and soda crackers whenever I ask.
And best of all, it has been 24 hours since I pooped my pants!