Sujin and I sat side-by-side in the cafe, doing our due diligence by finishing our homework and preparing for the next day’s test.
This is our usual routine whenever we have time to spare together after class. You can’t really put off studying Chinese for too long, or you’ll fall behind pretty quickly. Usually we find ourselves at our school’s library. But after all my complaining that the air-conditioning in those rooms is just too cold, Sujin finally agreed to head out to our usual cafe a short walk away from our university.
I like this cafe for three reasons. 1) It’s got plenty of table space, 2) Free Wi-Fi, 3) They make great food, including hand-made desserts.
After about 1.5 hours of writing exercises, I found myself staring blankly at my Chinese textbook. I decided to break up the monotony by inviting Sujin to share in one of the few desserts I enjoy.
It was classic homemade tiramisu. Served glace-style, it was petite and had all the usual characteristics of a great classical tiramisu. Sponge fingers soaked with a healthy dose of brewed coffee, nestled between creamy layers of sabayon and finished with a dusting of cocoa. It’s been a long time since I last seen it. I had one at Bodega Del Vin about two months ago, and that was certainly scrumptious. The thought of the previous experience filled my brain with happy memories. I’m ready to discover more delicious tiramisu.
And from first bite in it really was everything I thought it would be. Strong coffee to give you that punch, but all that fresh sabayon to soften the blow. Creamy; not to sweet; sponge was soft but not overly-seeped in coffee. It was a very well-balanced tiramisu indeed, and the foodie inside me was purring with satisfaction. So good in fact, that it completely masked itself for what it was…the mother of all desserts gone bad.
24 hours after consumption
I’m heaving in Taipei 101’s food court. I had come here to grab a quick bite but oddly enough the smell of food evoked strong nausea. Moments from ordering, I slumped down at the counter, sweating like I just ran a marathon. I’m dizzy and seeing red, not because I’m angry, but literally, and I’m not sure why. All I know was that I really needed to get to a bathroom.
Thank goodness I was with another friend. We had plans to see Magic Mike 2 but Channing Tatum and his crew of six-packs can wait. Breathing heavily and swallowing every breath, I was lead to the ladies, where I stumbled in and hurled myself to the floor of the nearest available cubicle. I let myself be sick again as though I’ve drank more than I should. But this is so unfair. I haven’t been drinking! I have been eating well…avoiding fried, greasy foods, not touching bubble tea in the land of bubble tea, and actually cooking my own food more often than usual. But here I am suffering from half a dessert glace of Italian dessert that I felt was well-deserved. The one time I decided to treat myself has lead me to a very public display of vomit.
Feeling exposed, embarrassed and obviously unwell, I bid my friend an apologetic goodbye and took a taxi home even though I live a short walk away.
48 – 60 hours after consumption
Sujin has gone to hospital. She’s dehydrated and in a lot of pain. I feel horrible because it was my idea to go there, and it was my idea to order that darn dessert to share. Hopefully I won’t get to that stage but I probably deserve it too.
I’m bed-ridden except for the occasional run to the bathroom. I have isolated myself to a dark room and all I want to do is drink water and sleep. I had a high fever but paracetamol is working its magic. I’m still sweating like crazy but maybe that’s just because its hot and humid in Taiwan. In general I feel better…surely the worse is over.
11pm – Night sweats continue. I can’t feel my aircon even though I’ve had it on the lowest temperature and going full blast. Is it broken? I can’t tell. Too tired to care. Sleeping now.
4am – I’m rolling around and yelling in pain. My abdomen is killing me. I google the nearest hospital but decide to wait it out after taking pain meds.
7am – After drifting in and out of sleep, I realised I’m actually dizzier than ever. No longer pretending I would be ok, I dragged myself to the Taipei Medical University Hospital. By taxi of course.
65 hours after consumption – and in Hospital
So strange that the worse of this food poisoning fiasco is happening now. I’m getting wheeled from the Registration Counter to the Emergency Department. I failed to use what little Chinese I remember upon checking myself in and had to resort to using their translation services. After hearing my symptoms I was immediately admitted to ED. Thankful I could just finally rest, I slumped back and let the kind volunteer wheel me to wherever I needed to go.
I sat in that wheelchair for awhile, waiting for a bed. Every registrar, nurse or volunteer that I have met up until now have asked if I came with someone. Where is my family? Why am I alone? I didn’t think of it before, but I started to feel very bad for myself. This was the first time I was to be admitted into ED – in a foreign country where I couldn’t even communicate properly, and I don’t have any family members nearby. I’ve been feeling sick and weak for days, unable to eat, and feeling downright shit. So when my sister called to make sure I was alright, I started crying. It was so good to hear her voice.
And I will never underestimate the importance of having something familiar and comforting like that again.
20 minutes later they found me a bed. I talked to the doctor for a little while where he then proceeded to prod my stomach in different places until I yelped in pain. I then fell into an almost robotic state of exhaustion while the kind nurse tried to prepare me for an IV. After telling him my blood vessels are very small, and that he would probably have a hard time locating it, he took his time and a lot of care in finding the right place to prick me. Grateful for his consideration, I fell asleep while he took my blood for testing, and hooked me up to the drip.
70 hours after consumption
So being in ED is really not that bad. I was given shots and pain killers via my IV. I have very little clue what they were, but I was feeling 90% better. The doctor and nurse would check in from time to time to see how I was progressing, and to take my blood pressure. More prodding of the stomach, but being in less pain meant I was no longer yelping. Five hours in and I felt good enough to eat. Food filled my brain…it’s been so long since I had a good meal!
But by doctors’ orders, I was not to eat for the next few days. Not solid food anyway. Just water and electrolytes. That’s exactly what a starving patient wants to hear. And so, though miserable at the prospect of putting up with just fluids for another couple of days, I was grateful to feel perky enough to check out and go home. So perky in fact, I decided to ride a bike home.
Which in retrospect…was probably the stupidest thing a recovering patient could do immediately after leaving Emergency. That IV honestly had me feeling on top of the world though, and after being bed-ridden for so long, my body was aching to use its muscles again. I happily rode home and met the six flights of stairs that will lead to my apartment with eagerness and rigour. Yeah! let’s get moving, I’d thought.
Moments later I was back in bed with heavy regret.
82 hours after consumption
I slept every three hours for what seemed like days after coming home. This stupid bout of food poisoning has confined me to my bed but I’ve past the point of caring about not being active…and almost anything and everything else. I knew that if I didn’t rest properly, I would be back in hospital since I almost undid everything they did for me. I heard Sujin had to go back to hospital because she was still unwell and I could very well be following her footsteps if I’m not careful.
A week after consumption
Sujin and I are well on our way to recovery. We both lost about 4 kgs in a week. That’s way too fast for what I would normally care for and I’m now back into swimming trying to keep everything from sagging. My digestive system has also been weakened tremendously. So much so that when I tried to eat some soft pasta, I broke out into painful hives all over my body for the first time. Seriously, can’t this girl catch a break?
But, this story does have a very happy ending. My next few meals after that fateful incident was not only nutritious and yummy, it was doubly good because I was able to keep it down. As I’ve previously mentioned:
Happiness is having a good friend know your pain because she went through it too after you both shared shitty food.
Contentment is being able to eat again without running to the bathroom to regurgitate it back up.
It takes a really bad bout of food poisoning for you to appreciate 3 things you already know but need a good kick of a reminder of –
1) Food in established places are not necessarily more hygienic than street food in Taiwan.
2) Family and close friends makes all the difference when you’re going through gastro hell (also if a friend sees you vomit but still respects and cares for you, then friends forever).
3) Health should always be your biggest investment.