Inspired by H. Hugg's appendix
There is nothing like abdominal pain. I have broken bones, had 30 stitches in my face, scraped off all the skin on my leg, torn ligaments in both ankles, numerous times, had nine teeth pulled in one sitting, had a car door slammed shut on my hand, fallen into a cactus, been stung by a jellyfish, swallowed a yellowjacket, given corporal punishment three times in middle school and that's pants down, had a head-on collision with a car traveling 40 miles an hour on a motorcycle wearing shorts and a tee shirt, caught my balls in my pants zipper, been bitten by hundreds maybe thousands of fire ants at the same time, eaten a habanero pepper raw, experienced jealousy, lied to a friend, lived through my parent's nasty divorce, been dumped by the only person in the world who mattered to me, been caught shoplifting, suffered premature ejaculation and erectile dysfunction (occasionally in the same evening), been beaten in a game of chess by a seven year old, worked at Jiffy Lube vacuuming cars eight hours a day, dated Jewish women, listened to top 40 radio lately, lost my keys, been outbid on eBay, lived with a roommate who wouldn't do dishes, lived with a roommate who ate my cookie dough, slept in a wet sleeping bag, had garbage thrown on me while I searched through a dumpster, endured the look of the clerk in the used CD store when I sold my eighties music, gotten five speeding tickets in one week, tried to pick up a girl at a bar, gotten lost in Bangkok, and am now growing hair on my back.
I have looked into the mouth of the universe and seen nothing but a cold and indifferent godless black space.
But nothing can compare to the muffuletta sandwich I ate at Jason's Deli on my way back from New Orleans jazzfest in 1998. I was driving alone, stoned and satisfied with a weekend that saw Madeski, Martin and Wood, Galactic, Santana, Coolbone, lots of gospel, and old friends. 20 miles outside of Dallas I stopped for gas, got out of the car and realized something was wrong, but through the haze of marijuana smoke could not for a moment figure out what it was, and then it hit me. A warning shot. I paid at the pump. I got back in the car and drove like mad. My belly was calm for a few minutes, and then, as if to the slow beat of a drum, the pain started at my naval and marched through my entire body. Rhythmic paroxysms of a pain that refused to contain itself to any one organ but raged wanton through all of me. I couldn't breath or see by the time I got to my one bedroom apartment and collapsed onto my living room floor with the front door still wide open, in fetal position, making myself as small as possible so I might with my hands be able to clutch all the pain.
After some time in this position my bowels awoke from the previous hours' horror to let me know that I had better get to the toilet. With diarrhea came a very transient relief; I lay down on the bathroom floor with my pants at my knees, utterly thankful for the thirty or forty seconds of pain-free existence that punctuated ten minute episodes of ripping, burning, liquid bowel movements. There was no room for new sensations so the feeling of impending explosive diarrhea subsided just enough to allow for an intense, acute nausea to grab hold of me. My whole body shook as I emptied most of my insides through my mouth. Bits of partially digested ham sandwich took their place at the bottom of the toilet next to pieces of my kidneys and liver. The next few hours were filled with spasms of vomiting and diarrhea, often at the same time, while the infinite pain continued unabated. I felt I was being punished but did not know what for. Then I recalled my hebrew school teacher reciting Jewish dietary law to our impressionable young ears, but in hindsight she had a threatening look, as if admonishing us to the consequences of eating pork.
The toilet and wastebasket held all my fluids now and there was nothing left to feed the monster inside of me and this seemed to anger him. The diarrhea diminished but was replaced by unproductive retching that felt like my insides were being wrung like a towel. The pain which I previously thought was endless now seemed to not be satisfied with just my body but wanted to burst through my skin and cover my vomit sweat and diarrhea soaked bathroom floor. The instinct to resist pain had been beaten out of me. The disease was winning. I went through the motions of rising to dry heave and falling to the ground, no longer wondering or caring if it would end. At some point I entertained the illusion that I might make it to the kitchen for a glass of water. I stood up and before the room started spinning, sending me back down to the wet tile, I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror. Pale, pale, pale white. Eyes bulging and red, neck veins engorged, lips cracked, body wasted.
I woke up a few hours later with my head in the toilet. I flushed the remainder of the evening's misery down with the last few remnants of muffuletta sauce and my stomach lining. I was thirsty. My front door was wide open.
We learn in the second year of medical school that food poisoning caused by the bacterium staphylococcus aureus causes two stages of symptoms: for the first six hours you think you're going to die, and for the next six hours you wish you would die.