The human body is amazing. Mine is, anyway. Have you seen it? It’s soft, lumpy, and hairy, like somebody dropped a big ball of bread dough in a pile of barbershop sweepings.
I take good care of my body, providing it with only the finest Hot Pockets and Frosted Mini-Wheats, with plenty of Oreo filling to keep the joints lubricated. But even a well-maintained machine occasionally malfunctions, and such was the case several weeks ago, when I suddenly found myself “sick at both ends,” as the saying goes. (The saying means that I was vomiting and pooping.) The expression “sick at both ends” sounds like it should indicate being ill at your head and your feet, but it turns out the butt also qualifies as an “end,” anatomically speaking, despite being located closer to the middle. As I said, the human body is amazing.
The illness was ill-timed. The best time to get sick, of course, is when it causes you to miss something you didn’t want to do anyway, such as attending a co-worker’s wedding reception or a friend’s poetry reading. But I was supposed to be flying to another state for the weekend for a friend’s 40th birthday party, and this was something I very much did want to do. But how could I get on an airplane in my current condition? Surely the change in cabin pressure would make me explode, and that’s if I even managed to get my volatile contents past airport security. Even if I made it to my friend’s house, I’d just be sick there instead of at home, and that wouldn’t help anybody. It was Well Eric who’d been invited to the party, not Sick Eric.
So I didn’t go — and then I was afraid I just had food poisoning, and that I was going to wake up the next morning feeling fine and wishing I’d gotten on the plane. Our bodies, as amazing as they are, can be real bastards like that sometimes. Luckily, I woke up the next morning still feeling barfy and poopy, and these conditions lasted for most of the weekend. My decision not to take the trip was vindicated. My decision to trade all my Pepto-Bismol for magic beans, less so.
I did have food poisoning several years ago. It caused a terrible thing to happen. I am about to describe that terrible thing to you so that you will understand. You know how sometimes the force of a sneeze can make you break wind at the same time? It was like that, but on a more, shall we say, colorful scale. I had hurried into my bathroom, urgently aware that two events of great magnitude were about to occur but uncertain which was more imminent, and doubtful of my ability to influence the timeline anyway. And then … and then. Imagine if you took a tube of toothpaste, cut the bottom off of it, removed the cap, then held the tube in the middle and squeezed. Yes, imagine that. Imagine that good and hard. That’s what it was like. Fortunately, I’d had the foresight, when I stumbled into the bathroom, to strip naked, my instincts having alerted me that whatever devastation was to occur would be easier to clean up if no clothes were involved. Afterward, my bathroom had to be cordoned off as a crime scene, but at least I didn’t have to do laundry. Now imagine that for a while. YOU’RE WELCOME.
Throwing up is terrible, even more so because there’s no good reason for it. The human body has a very effective everyday system for removing toxins and other undesirable elements. It’s called going No. 1 and No. 2. Vomiting is overkill. Oh, what, the stuff in your stomach is soooo bad it has to come out NOW, the same way it came in? It can’t wait its turn and be processed like everything else, or even request expedited shipping? Please. Vomiting is just your stomach’s way of being a drama queen. “Aaaah! Aaaahhh! Poison! Getitoutgetitoutgetitout!! Aaaaah!!” Get over yourself, stomach. It’s not all about you.
But it’s nice how life tends to provide highs to balance out the lows. For example, vomiting is an awful experience. But afterward, you get to rest your head against the cool, smooth bathroom floor — something you would never consider doing normally, because eww, bathroom floor, but right after throwing up it is exactly what you want to do. Those cold tiles against your fevered face are just what the doctor ordered. This is why the Torah says that bathrooms should never be carpeted.
Like most people, whenever I throw up, I think about my mom. It’s a holdover from childhood. You want your mom to fix you when you get sick as a kid, and you never really grow out of that. My parents had six children, so there was never a shortage of vile substances being spewed from one shrieking orifice or another. Looking back now, I don’t know how they put up with it. When one of us would get sick we’d do that thing where you’re moaning and saying “Mom” at the same time — “Mo-o-o-o-om!” — which must be music to a mother’s ears. Or even worse: “Mo-o-o-om, I’m gonna throw up!” Because she needs to be on alert, I guess? “Mo-o-o-om, just FYI, I’m about to vomit, OK? So be ready. Be ready for that.” It never occurred to me when I was a kid that my mom might not be interested in being present when I upchucked, nor in cleaning it up afterward. I just assumed it was part of her job as a mom. She loved being a mom; ergo, she loved dealing with puke. She must love changing diapers, too, I figured, or she wouldn’t have kept having babies.
At some point after I became an adult, the subject arose and my mom confessed that she always hated being witness to a yakking, or even the aftermath of yak. I was actually astonished to learn this. If I had ever paused to give the matter even cursory consideration, I’d have realized that of course she hated it, because it was gross and normal people hate gross things. But it had never occurred to me. She’d never shown anything other than motherly compassion and tenderness when my siblings and I were sick, never let on that certain aspects of her job were decidedly unappealing. And if you think about it, that’s one of the greatest gifts a mother can give her children: not letting them know how much they disgust her. Thanks, Mom!
(P.S. This was a Mother’s Day column.)