I woke up around midnight, cold, even though I was perspiring freely. Every joint in my body ached. My head throbbed. I was nauseous, my abdomen was cramping, I felt like vomiting and my bowels trembled alarmingly. I thought back to what I had eaten the previous day.
Bread, cheese, ham, oranges – nothing remotely suspicious … unless, that was, I considered the source of that bread, a wholesome ‘integral’ loaf sold in the local market by travellers who didn’t appear to wash.
I staggered down the stairs to the bathroom and had a violently explosive crap. Whatever Sir Thomas got right in the invention of the water closet, he failed to allow for these sorts of event.
The next day, I got up late, tottered down for a shower, clamboured back up the two flights to the kitchen, reeled about in some confusion, and then reached for the sink and retched into it. Up came the remnants of the oranges and a trace of what looked like ham fat. No sign of any bread. The retching was in two spasms, both remarkably unpleasant, seismic upheavals; as if an electrical surge had been administered to my stomach sac.
I returned to bed where I lay contemplating the woes of humanity for the rest of the day and well into the following night. I ate a small bowl of brown rice and drank innumerable glasses of water. My headache stayed with me, as did my cramping stomach and the nausea. The fever left around teatime.
As darkness approached, I ventured downstairs to urinate. I sat to do this as I didn’t altogether trust the dual mechanism of my organs of elimination. In particular, I sensed my sphincter muscle was on a somewhat short fuse and could be activated mistakenly.
I tempted fate by an exploratory suggestion – no more – that that muscle might relax its vigilance. It was as if a switch had been thrown and a gusher of what sounded like water cascaded from me – through me, realistically – into Thomas Crapper’s unsatisfactory bowl.
I cleaned up and crept back to bed, having drunk another glass of water and put one by my side for later. I wasn’t thirsty but I had begun to worry about dehydration. I also took the precaution of donning a man nappy made up of two pairs of underpants and a tee-shirt. I lay awake, listening to the incessant gurgling of my stomach and worrying about cholera. I remember drinking my waiting glass of water and feeling it slide down my gullet, splash into my stomach, and then drain through my intestine, until it came up against the final barrier.
That night, I clenched that barrier tightly as I moved in and out of fitful sleep. Five more times I descended the stairs, sat to urinate, effectively ‘urinated’ again as I allowed my sphincter muscle the luxury of momentary relaxation, and replenished the lost liquid by swallowing beaker after beaker of water, each of which I could hear rushing like quicksilver through my digestive system, until it reached the plug at the end, where it waited, ready to activate the cycle again.
As day broke, I croaked feebly to my companion that what I needed to end this nightmare was – arrowroot! Returning with the miraculous powder, I was administered a half teaspoon, jellified with the addition of a little water. As soon as her back was turned, I imbibed another, more generous teaspoon. I knew what was going on: I had had to wash my man nappy!
It seemed to do the trick. The gurgling was stopped in its tracks, and my sphincter muscle has returned to its default state. I’m eating normally, again, too; but I can’t face the rest of that loaf of bread.
The moral of this story is, along with their deodorant stone and bottle of Hydrogen Peroxide, those in the know should always have access to a small phial of arrowroot powder.