Three Kinds of Hell

This is yet another cautionary tale against going out to eat. I know there are plenty of them out there on the internet. And with my history, you’d think I would have learned by now. Out of a group of ten people, I’m the one most likely to get food poisoning. It’s a curse. Think I’m kidding? Read on and learn.

When I was pregnant with my daughter, I was served, not once, not twice, but three different times undercooked chicken. Fortunately, after the first time, I became obsessive about checking my food. At one point a few years ago, I was given food poisoning – again, not once, not twice, but on three different occasions from three different locations no less! – food poisoning from Subway’s chicken breast. Another case in point, I bought some steaks (years ago) from Walmart, not once but twice, was given food poisoning from the meat (despite cooking to the proper temperature). 

Mind you, I have a sensitive stomach anyway. There’s a long list of things I’m allergic to – chocolate, red wine, any kind of dried pepper or spice (paprika, cayenne, chili, cumin, taco seasoning) and any kind of hot pepper. I have to be careful around marinara sauces and pizza sauces. I’m the queen of bland foods – the spiciest I get is black pepper. 

But this weekend, a group of us (five) decided to go out to eat at a local chinese place that serves mongolian BBQ. I’ve been going there for four and a half years. The food is always perfect – I know what I can eat and what to stay away from. I did my usual – I grabbed a bowl for the mongolian bbq, filled it with mushrooms, onions, a nice scoop of garlic, a little carrots for crunch and color. Along the way I was behind a gentleman who had a heaping bowl of veggies and a second bowl in his hand for his condiments. I watched him ladle three heaping spoons of chili sauce, plus garlic pepper and jalapenos. I remember thinking, “Wow, that’s gonna be one hot dish! Glad I’m not eating that – it would just about kill me”. (Now don’t get ahead of me here).

He leaves his bowl and I stand and wait with my bowl, as I always do. I turn my head for a second as my daughter is talking to me, taking my eye off my bowl. I turn back and I’m momentarily disoriented. My bowl is gone. Startled I look up and the server nods and smiles at me, confident and in control. I look at the silver disk and there’s two heaps of veggies but I can’t tell at all which one is which. My boyfriend walks up with his bowl and I give him a baffled look. He points at the server, I shrug. I walk over to him and he suggests I go get food with our daughter and he’ll bring the food to the table. I smile, say thanks, tell him I think mine is on the left but the server should know, and off we go. 

The trouble doesn’t really start until the first bite. “Wow, that’s a bit spicy,” I mutter as my mouth catches on fire. My oldest stepdaughter takes a bite and declares, “I don’t taste anything.” My boyfriend does the same with the same result. I shrug, figuring it’s just me and take a few more bites. I’m picking around the edges, I’m grabbing from the middle and every couple of bites seems a little hotter. 

Then I find it. A sliver of zucchini under a piece of chicken. I don’t like zucchini. No way I put any in there, not even by accident. My boyfriend finds a red pepper flake – another thing I never put in my food.

Jalapeno_Estonia_3So I start digging a little deeper. Then I find it. Buried like a dubloon, seeds still intact, is a bright green sliced jalapeno. I pick it up with my fork like it’s diseased and hold it up for the table to see. There’s a stunned silence. Everyone there knows – beyond a doubt – I would never put something like that in my food, even accidentally.

My mouth is officially aflame. I can feel the roof of my mouth swelling. My tongue feels a little thick and I feel a slightly sick to my stomach. This is my favorite restaurant other than Olive Garden. My mind is madly calculating – how much did I eat? How long will I pay for this careless mistake? I’ve eaten at least a dozen or more good sized mouthfuls. About 1/10th of the plate is gone. I can practically picture the little chili flakes, red pepper and jalapeno seeds swimming gleefully in my stomach acid, bouncing off my stomach walls, leaving sizzling pockmarks in the tissue before joyously smashing and bashing their way through the rest of my digestive system. I’m almost paralyzed with terror.

This means 24 hours of three kinds of hell. It means the kind of diarrhea that has you clinging to the toilet for dear life, praying for death. It means hours of sweating, groaning, and intense pain that will leave me weak, drained, and exhausted. At this point, I’m done eating. I try to force myself to eat a little something. I’m trying not to ruin it for everyone else. I manage to eat most of a roll, part of some sweet and sour chicken and a handful of jello, terrified to eat anything more for fear of the consequences.

None of them have a clue what awaits me but I’m remembering the last time. I went to a Mexican restaurant (another thing I can’t eat) and ordered a grilled chicken salad. Little did I know their chicken came pre-seasoned in paprika. I didn’t realize it until the meal was done and I was running to the bathroom. That was about eight months ago.

I tell the manager, request a refund of the meal, which he gives us (but not before asking all kinds of questions as to what kind of reaction I will have. I’m not sure if he’s afraid we’ll sue or is fascinated), somewhat reluctantly it would seem. We go home and I take a benadryl, hoping it will lessen the effects but pretty certain it will only delay the agony.

As if that weren’t bad enough, I wake up the very next day, twelve hours later, and start my period. My esophagus feels like someone poured battery acid down it. My stomach is full of lead and I’m cramping fit to put a full grown man into the fetal position, sobbing and begging for mercy. The universe has a really fucked up sense of humor.

I take Midol and Advil like they are candy all day, eat some soup for lunch and generally keep the food consumption light until about midday when I can’t take it anymore. I must eat – I’m dizzy with hunger. So I have some salad and chicken and veggies for dinner.

Around 11 p.m. it hits me, like a freightliner to an iceberg. I’m trapped on the toilet, sweat pouring off of me. It’s hell and I’m practically in tears from the pain. Four hours later, I finally emerge, take another Benadryl in the hopes it will help unclench my sphincter muscles from their death throes, and crawl into bed, praying for sleep. It takes another hour but finally sleep comes at almost 3 a.m.

I’m up again at 7, groggy and dealing with two ornery children and a daughter trying to get ready for work. I have a meeting at 9 a.m. that I’m barely conscious for and currently I’m sitting here typing this dreaming of my bed. I just ate a bagel, which has somewhat soothed my stomach, although not the rest. Now instead of 24 hours of hell, this has turned into about 72 hours. And my week has only just begun.

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