Confessions of a Diarrhetic Book 1: Pepto Abysmal
“…only a small part is played in great deeds by any hero.”
Tonight while making bacon and eggs I opened the wrong Tupperware container, and what I found inside made me cry. It wasn’t a horrifying scene, I hadn’t found anything nasty or pungent; and the tears were not sad tears, they were happy. Inside were two roasted yams, quartered lengthwise, and lightly salted. Life was full of unexplainable moments, but this one made sense; it just required a lot of explaining.
On May 12, the Nuggets lost the final game of the playoffs to the Lakers. I watched them get beat with Derek at a bar in Boulder. We were both hungry and had ordered and eaten. Nothing special, nothing noteworthy, but like the yams in the Tupperware container, the consequences proved profound. Not the touching happy-tears kind of profound, this was the devastating other kind.
For the past month something had been wrong with me. I was throwing up and going home sick from work and I had a pretty good idea of why. My diet was terrible and I never exercised. I’d sit down in front of my computer with an unopened box of Frosted Flakes or Golden Grahams, Cinnamon Toast Crunch, Honey Bunches of Oats, Raisin Bran, even Cookie Crisp would do in a pinch, and I would eat the whole box. An entire box of cereal in one sitting! I liked it that much. That winter, between boxes of cereal, I ate spaghetti with Italian sausage and a can of green beans at least five times a week, maybe more. It wasn’t a new thing; I had always been that way. I’d go on kicks where all I ate was Chinese takeout or corned beef sandwiches or tacos for weeks at a time. At one point I had eaten at every pho joint on South Federal, sometimes driving out two times a day because I was on a quest to find the best bowl in town. I would find something I liked and eat it again, and again. Turned out this was very unhealthy, especially if gluten messed with you and your guts were bad to begin with.
My tummy would gurgle and murmle and groan and complain. In classes it was something of a joke, my anxious stomach moaning like a dog wanting to be petted. Everyone laughed. I didn’t think anything of it, in fact, I enjoyed the attention. An obscenely long stomach gurgle could really break the monotony of an electrical engineering class, especially if it happened consistently. Every day it distracted people, and with each hilarious infraction, the joke got funnier. I’d pat my belly and tell it affectionately that spaghetti dinner was on the way, and everyone would laugh and shake their heads. Unfortunately, in my beleaguered guts, a timer had been set for May 12, the night the Nuggets lost to the Lakers. Things were about to get pretty not-funny.
I knew something was wrong. I had an amazing boss who put up with the fact that I was an engineering student and couldn’t be around much, but school was out for Maymester and I was free to work, but kept not coming in. I figured it was my diet and assumed I just needed a little cleanse— mostly vegetables and fruit, maybe some exercise. By the time summer semester rolled around, I’d be good as gold, slamming boxes of cereal while cramming for tests.
Then I went to the bar with Derek and ordered some food. Nothing special, nothing spicy; just a little treat to reward myself for all the corn and green beans, and corn with butter and salt, and salty buttered green beans with a side of corn I’d been eating. See, I had this thing about food…
The waitress brought my fried chicken with mashed potatoes and a side of green beans, which I had ordered special on account of my diet and all. The cooks had soaked the green beans in oil, and they were crunchy and under cooked. I liked my green beans soft, slathered in butter and covered in salt, just like we’d eat every summer when mom was canning.
My mom, that unstoppable behemoth of healing. She would head out to the truck farms and pick bushels of broccoli, cauliflower, corn, beets, radishes, cucumbers, carrots, and delicious green beans. My sister and I helped her can and freeze the haul. The work was long and tiresome but also rewarding because of those beans.
When it came to beans our job was to snip the callous ends, then cut them into fork-able slices. I loved how each side was different. The growing end was soft and tender, the other hard and designed for holding on. My mom ran the stove and giant wash basin while simultaneously mowing through her own bushels with a fearsome double-fisted technique that was so powerful it required rubber gloves to avoid cut fingers. My method was slower. I sat in a chair at a table with a cutting board and my kitchen knife and snipped and turned and snipped, then chopped my way through day after day of bushels of beans.
I loved every second. It was the beginning of my artistic journey. Chuck Close said that an artist was someone who liked to be alone in a room. He was right. Writing, painting, sculpture, music: all require their acolytes to slave for years in a quiet place removed from the outside world, repeating the same motions again and again until they get it right. Snipping beans differed from painting only in intent. Art took time, demanded solace and grew with repetition.
Snipping beans was one of my fondest childhood memories. The work mimicked the artistic process, and for dinner we always ate giant mounds of fresh green beans slathered in butter and covered in salt. Don’t get me wrong, canned green beans were great, too, but the fresh steamed summer variety were one of the highlights of my year.
The green beans on my plate in the bar weren’t as good as those from summers past, but they were green beans and that counted for something in my book. My stomach kicked and lurched and groaned angrily. I watched the game and figured I shouldn’t have eaten out, but I was hungry and not at home and I’d do better tomorrow. Derek and I drove to Denver from Boulder in separate cars. By the time I got to my apartment, I knew I was in bad shape. I lay down to go to sleep but something inside was broken. The timer hit zero. Game over.
I threw up my expensive bar dinner, green beans and all. No big deal. It had been happening. I’d been missing work because of it. I needed to get back on track. Tomorrow I’d only eat green beans and corn and everything would be all right. I might even get some exercise.
A few minutes later it happened again. The second time was easier because the muscles and ligaments had stretched a bit. The third time was gentle and the fourth was cake. I knew a lot about throwing up. I had spent two years in Alaska working as a seasick fisherman. In two years, I never got over it, just toughed it out. If you threw up enough, the passages and muscles got used to it, vomiting became like sneezing, or any other bodily function – no big deal. The fifth time green bile burst out my throat. My muscles were relaxed, but bile tasted nasty with no dinner to dilute it. I brushed my teeth and climbed back into bed. Then back to the bathroom where I threw up again.
I’m what you’d call a poetic type, numbers are not my strong suit. I don’t know how many times I vomited, but eventually something happened that gave even this salty fisherman pause; my bile turned the color of chocolate – deep mocha with a hint of malice. And there wasn’t less of it, there was more.
The stuff in my stomach had previously been finite. Once I’d drained my belly it was dry heaves and smooth sailing, but this time a huge belching gulp of bracken ichor convulsed and heaved me so hard I missed the toilet. Something inside had snapped, something important.
For the next three days I vomited constantly. My body rejected everything, even water. I was an expert at throwing up but now the vomit was accompanied by something new: pain. Like all things, it started small. A little keychain-sized Swiss Army knife poked me in the gut, but with each passing moment it grew. The gurgles returned but this time instead of being hilarious they signaled the end, a release from the stabbing. I’d be comfortable for a while and then the pain would return. It built until it hurt so bad I moaned in my bed. The elastic band of my boxers felt constricting and oppressive. I took them off but there was little relief. The pain grew until it felt like a bowie knife trying to get out. I thrashed and groaned and begged and pleaded and cried out to God and then the no longer hilarious gurgling sounds would tear through my insides like a bloated demon prince.
For a few minutes the spasms would stop. I’d lay there breathing like a normal, bed ridden, naked, pale, scrawny human being. That had to be the last one, right? This was over now, yeah? Yeah, for sure.
And then it started again, that tiny pain culminating in agony and gurgles. I threw up everything. For three days an unseen enemy raged inside and I fought back with every pitiful, hopeless, desperate ounce of strength I had, but the busted pieces continued to lay waste.
These were not the poetic kind of three days; they had not been flavored with a bit of this or a little less of that. This was exactly three days; I knew because the Nuggets lost to the Lakers on Saturday and my condition remained consistent until Tuesday night when I was finally able to swallow and keep down two delicious, sparkling sips of water. But that didn’t happen until the evening.
For three days I had been without food or water. I was beginning to shrivel. It was around noon that I decided to do something drastic, something I had never done before. It was bold, inspired even. I was 90 percent sure it would work. I decided to drive to the grocery store and purchase then consume an entire bottle of Pepto-Bismol. I checked the Internet. The Google image of the bottle read: Soothing Relief For: Upset Stomach,
Bile kind of burnt when it came up, so, check.
I hadn’t pooped in days but three out of four with a solid kicker was still a playable hand. I steeled my resolve and prepared for the coming trial. Like Frodo, I would travel far and endure great difficulty. I would not look back. I would accomplish this quest and bring healing to Middle Earth, which would henceforth be known as Middle Intestines.
Why was this drastic? How was this inspired? And why, for fuck’s sake, after four days of vomiting and untold suffering had I not driven to a hospital where doctors fixed broken human beings with the marvels of modern medicine? To understand me, one needed to understand my mother, the lion-hearted-bull-dog-of-a-thousand-paradoxes: Ms. Diane Dvirnak.
to be continued
I Knew You Were Mine
FREE SONG!! ACT NOW BEFORE PRICES SOAR! To under stand why this is hear you’ll have to listen to the podcast. To listen to the podcast click ‘LISTEN’ on the button above.
I wrote this song in response to my girlfriend’s mom dying. At that time this was the closest I had been to tragedy. Now I have been sick in the deeply profound way that changes a person. The recording is rough, hopefully my emotions come through.