Monday, February 10, 2014

Norovirus: A Layman's Journey



Recently, my home became the scene of what I can only describe as a gastrointestinal crime. The suspect was the Norwalk or norovirus (colloquially known as the stomach bug) a highly contagious ailment that has recently become the scourge of the cruise industry. My introduction to it came by way of my son, who began vomiting one afternoon before his nap. While spitting up is not uncommon for our child, Linda Blair impressions are, so we began hydrating and noticed that he was running a slight fever.

Within about 16 hours my wife commented that her stomach felt “uneasy” and that she was not going to be able to go into work. Within a few hours, she began a digestive pyrotechnics demonstration that I was not keen on experiencing firsthand. I was in the midst of a 15 year no-vomit streak and I wasn’t going down without a fight. As my wife lay motionless on the couch, I disinfected and washed my hands to the point of epidermal damage. I knew the gestation period for the virus was short, so I hunkered down and waited to see if my streak would hold. 

Later that same day, I began to sense an intestinal uneasiness that I quickly attributed to psychosomatic influence rather than actual affliction. I convinced myself that I was so concerned with avoiding symptoms I was manifesting them. However, the nausea continued to intensify over the next few hours until I found myself lying motionless on the sofa trying to avoid even the slightest change in my position for fear that it would start a chain reaction.

For several hours, my resolve held even as the television subjected me to what I perceived to be an inordinate number of fast-food ads featuring slow-motion footage of meat patties striking grilling surfaces. Then, in a flash, it was over. My entire adult life I had managed to avoid retching over a toilet, yet here I was muttering half-hearted curses between waves of violent egress. After some Listerine and a cold rag provided by my still ailing wife, I made my way back to the couch where I violently began shivering.

The nausea abated around 5 AM and I was finally able to doze. I spent most of the following day in bed drinking water and Gatorade between bouts of fitful sleep until my fever finally broke. Weak, but confident that the threat of vomiting had safely passed, I rejoiced in the virus’s brevity. It was around this time I became aware of the contagion’s parting gift: the thunder squirts.

The thunder squirts is a much different, but no less violent, form of digestive ejection. Once again I found myself in close proximity to the toilet and, as before, there were audible proclamations of “sweet Moses!” and “son of a podiatrist!” Unaware that my body was still in possession of enough liquids to turn my colon into a luge, I sat in awe of the virus’s potency as I filled the restroom with a cacophony of sounds akin to a fanboat race through a Louisiana swamp.

My reintroduction to solid foods was gradual. I ate a vanilla wafer and then braced myself for three hours, but I eventually was able to return to normal. My sense of taste still seemed to be somewhat skewed (or there had been an industrial accident at the Campbell’s Soup Factory) but other than that the Norwalk virus disappeared from our lives as suddenly as it entered. Here is to the beginning of another 15 years.   

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