Oh No, it’s Norovirus!
(Trigger warning for anyone with emetophobia or an aversion to stories about gastrointestinal illness…and anyone who doesn’t want to read about gross sickness stuff)
I haven’t really written anything this month. Sorry that the one thing that I took time to write is about…getting sick. But, it was a big event this weekend. This narrative is not flattering or fun. It is the story of me and my pal, Norovirus. I feel that if we were both characters in a novel, there is enough tension and antagonism that we might even love each other…in that Batman/Joker sort of way (that the “other” defines you). What a weird thought. I had a lot of time to have weird thoughts this weekend. Norovirus is my nemesis, but like any nemesis, it grows familiar through obsession. It was certainly no stranger on Thanksgiving.
I’ve come a long way in my journey to overcome emetophobia. In other years, I had panic attacks as the holidays approached since it is prime time for winter vomiting bug…aka…norovirus. I would fret over my food and stay inside. But, having come a long way, I didn’t think much of it this year…or at least not as much as other years. Even though Thanksgiving at the shelter inevitably means norovirus. As predictable as the shortening days, the shelter will experience norovirus in November. Sure enough, many residents, though mostly children, vomited through my nine day stretch of shifts. One person vomited in the kitchen and in the office. I always find this befuddling. The kitchen and dining room are the absolute worst places to vomit- seeing as norovirus can spread through vomit particles launched through the air. Yet, this seems to rank highly on everyone’s Top 5 Best Vomit Spots in the shelter. In any event, it isn’t really surprising that at 2am on Thursday night I began to feel a little ill. At first I thought it was hunger, since I hadn’t eaten since 6pm. I ate some leftover stuffing, but became increasingly bloated and uncomfortable. At 4am, the liquid diarrhea began. This was followed by nausea and a single retch. By 4:30, I had used the bathroom three times and felt that this was just the beginning. I decided that I needed to leave (leaving my coworker alone and rushing home).
I drove home without incident, hurried to unlock the door, and raced upstairs to the toilet to dry heave twice and turn around for some more diarrhea action. This was about when the searing stomach ache began. It felt as though someone was stabbing me in the stomach with scissors. The next two hours was a lovely relay race from my bed to the bathroom to take turns retching and shitting green swamp water. (Yes, this is all very unpretty, but this story isn’t meant to be attractive). I dry heaved hard four times at six a.m. (I am not sure why nothing comes up, but it had already been four hours since I had eaten so maybe there was nothing to come up.) My usual sources of relief: emetrol and pepto bismol did nothing. I felt weak and was not able to drink much, but sometimes sipped tiny amounts of water through my teeth. The stomach pain continued nonstop for eight hours. This time was spent in moments of fitful sleep or pitiful whimpering.
My trusted allies failed me…
I watched the time. Time is a friend when stomach bugs hit. The worst symptoms don’t last forever and do tend to slow down over time. It took time for things to slow down. It took eight hours for the stomach cramps to go away. The nausea did improve and the dry heaving stopped (mostly because I willed myself to stop it- as I was too worn out to endure the effort of punching up my innards). But, the diarrhea was remarkably constant. Another remarkable characteristic of the diarrhea was how uncontrollable it was. While I have certainly had my share of the “green apple trots” as my grandpa used to call it, I have never had uncontrollable “trots.” Yes. Indeed, the deluge of darkness arrived without herald or the slightest urge. In other words, I pooped myself….more than once…without even feeling like I needed to go, was going to go, or that “going” was going to happen. It was as if a magical spigot was suddenly turned on…and ta da! That was a first in my life time. Now, admitting this makes me feel like a swamp monster. But really, it was not in my capacity to predict or control this bodily function. That is humbling. And disgusting, of course. But, as I mentioned earlier, time is a friend. By the late evening on Friday I was able to suck on ice and everything had slowed down. However, I was met by a new symptom: severe body aches.
Being sick is a learning opportunity. The body aches were severe and made it hard to rest. Still, they were preferable to the other symptoms. I could not take any Tylenol because I had no desire to ingest more than ice. So, I just wined quietly to myself as I curled up into various positions. These body aches, while annoying, at least show that my body was trying to fight the virus. The lower half of my body was where most of the pain was concentrated. I guess that when the immune system makes antibodies, it also releases histamines to the infected area- which dilate the blood vessels and allows for more antibodies to pass through. But, the histamines can pass to other areas of the body, where they trigger pain receptors. I am not knowledgeable about health or medicine, but it is comforting to think of when I don’t feel well. Once I felt well enough to drink enough water and have something in my stomach, I eventually took some Tylenol and this pain subsided (but by then it had been another eight hours). From then on, I slept until about 2pm on Saturday. This meant that I spent about 34 hours in bed (or between bed and the toilet).
When I awoke, the sun was shining and it was a balmy 34 degrees F. I put on several layers and decided that the most logical thing I could do was celebrate my recovery with a brisk, wintery hike in the Superior Municipal Forest in search of a geocache. This was certainly an ambitious goal after sustaining myself on ice cubes. I didn’t have my appetite back yet, but set out anyway….since I was done being sick. Nope, I wasn’t done being sick. I went for a hike, against my better judgment, feeling weary and light headed. But, I stayed out anyway (yes, I know this was foolish but I wanted to be better and was tired of staying in bed). I didn’t find the cache, but was determined that the hike was what I needed. After an hour of hiking/searching for the cache, I returned to my car. Even though I felt rather weak, I decided to try to find another cache. I also failed to find this one. By the third attempt to find a cache, I felt that I could no longer stay awake. I promptly went home and fell asleep for several more hours. However, by the time I awoke, I did have my appetite back and a bit more energy. By Sunday afternoon, I had indeed recovered (and had a more successful attempt at hiking and geocaching).
The illness gave me a lot of time to think. My roommates were gone-celebrating Thanksgiving with their families over the weekend- spare one roommate who I don’t know well yet. The internet was not working Friday, Saturday, or Sunday. So, I was alone and a bit bored. Even the television converter box was malfunctioning. I didn’t have the energy for reading books- so I mostly sat in bed and thought about things. The topic at the top of my mind was norovirus, of course. There is something so terrible about norovirus. Really, there is very little that can be done to prevent its spread. While it is only spread through the oral-fecal route or by airborne vomit particles, it is extremely virulent. A tiny drop of vomit or pooh contain millions of viral particles. It only takes a few to become sick. At the same time, many cleaners do not destroy the virus. For instance, clorox wipes do not destroy it. Alcohol sanitizer does not destroy it. At work, I bleach surfaces and door knobs at night, but it isn’t actually known how much bleach is needed to destroy norovirus. The diluted bleach solution that I use to clean the office and shelter may be as ineffective as the commercial cleaning supplies at the shelter. Therefore, if norovirus is around you…it is safe to assume that you will probably become ill (though hand washing does work and is probably the only way to really avoid it.)
Kills 99.9% of germs. Guess what that .1% includes? Hmmph….I say rise up against the .1% and take back the means of cellular reproduction!!
I also thought about viruses themselves. Viruses are just plain weird. Scientists had no idea that they existed until speculations in the late 1800s that there might be something smaller than a bacteria. There really is something impressive about the idea that viruses were discovered at all- considering they are so tiny and not even alive. Norovirus was discovered in the 1920s (which seems recent, but ALL viruses are pretty recently known). Viruses are all around us. Relatively few make us sick, but they attack all life forms. Thinking about viruses made me really, really, thankful for vaccines. I mean…anti-viral drugs are rare and really complicated (involving confusing the process by which viruses replicate themselves in cells). So, vaccines are pretty awesome and a lot easier to understand and seemingly to develop than anti-viral drugs. Norovirus does not have a vaccine, but there have been clinical trials for a vaccine in Japan and Ohio. So, someday there could be a vaccine- which would be pretty awesome- since norovirus kills about 200,000 people in the US each year (and of course, countless more in developing countries). Plus, norovirus is the second most common illness in the US after the common cold. Some may say that I am a dreamer, but I want a world where people don’t poop themselves or at least not as much. But on a more serious note, it would actually end a lot of mundane human suffering/real suffering and death. Yep, as I sat in bed, I thought- give me ALL the VACCINES. I also thought about the anti-vaccination movement. While I know that for those who are against vaccination it is a serious issue- I just have to think- c’mon…viruses suck SOOOOO much. HIV/AIDS has killed 25 million people! Influenza killed like 3-6% of the global population in 1918/19! In the throes of my viral misery, it was very easy to be on TEAM VACCINATE. I will admit that this orange tinted version of norovirus is sort of cute. You are my sunshine…my only sunshine….
Oddly enough, I also thought about Rick and Morty, a cartoon I have seen a few times. I thought that maybe Rick is such a jerk because he can see himself in the past, present, future, and all universes. I can only see myself in the past and present. I thought that if I could time travel, my advice to myself would be “don’t be afraid.” One of my fears has been throwing up, but there are lots of little things. I was too miserable to even fear throwing up. This is what actually happens when I am truly sick. The anxiety really happens in the expanse of calm moments between illnesses. And, norovirus is unpleasant and traumatic enough to worry about- but, it does end. It may take a day or three days, but it ends. Ultimately it is hard to control and possible to survive, so it is not worth fearing or worrying about. So yes, past self- don’t be afraid. Don’t be so fearful. I really want past self to know that. Present self is not really an adventurer. I like tea, birds, books, hikes, quietude, etc. Past self was always too afraid. I want to be a jerk to past and present self. I wish present self liked scuba diving, parasailing, rock climbing, roller coasters, sky diving, etc. I don’t. I am more of the bookish, timid sort. Present and past self- you suck. See, I only see two parts of myself and I am already a jerk. So, maybe Rick just sees so many versions of himself that it lends itself to being awful. I mean, in at least several multiverses I am still pooping myself. That is gross and intolerable. All humans are limited by their own mediocrity, mortality, and social conditions. Even if I were entirely fearless, I would be met by the limits of being born into this particular place and time- this person-this body- this class and gender within patriarchal capitalism. To live is to come to terms with limitations of what is possible and to compromise wants against realities. At least I can only see two worlds of disappointment, but if I could see all versions of myself I would probably become soured by the infinite pointlessness of all of our struggles. So…that is what I thought about. Rick and Morty and how it relates to norovirus.
I thought about other things as well, but it would be boring to write about all of my thoughts. I am happy that I am feeling better. At least I probably won’t get norovirus for a few months (immunity does not last very long). I survived it. It was the second worst bout of stomach illness I have had in my life. The number one worst was only worse because it was on an airplane. Now that I am feeling better, I had some fun outdoors and even saw a new bird yesterday. Things aren’t so bad. Norovirus won a battle, but didn’t win the war….