Tuesday, February 19, 2013


Reading Your Way Through the Stomach Flu

Oh, what an eventful week for New Year's Resolution keeping. A hearty thank you to the severe bout of gastroenteritis that laid waste to my plans and my will to live; 'tis an ill wind that blows nobody any good, for I instead did a glorious amound of reading. Let's go ahead and lay it out in chronological order, the better to chart the course of said illness and recovery.

Day One, 9:15pm – You have just finished some Chinese takeout, after feeling uncharacteristically apathetic towards it. You recall feeling weird and extra-sweaty at the gym earlier. As you watch The Thick of It, you wonder why the dulcet tones of Peter Capaldi and his Scottish epithets grate more on the ear than usual. Sudden dash to bathroom. Thow up every 40-45 minutes until 6am, in addition to The Other Thing happening on the same timescale. Realize, again, that nausea/vomiting is like The Silence in Doctor Who: until it is actually physically happening in real time, you do not realize how bad it is. It is the worst. (Even now, these words have no meaning to me; I recall the revelation, but not the cry of the occasion.) No reading is done this day. You sleep in the basement in order to use a different bathroom and keep the mystery of yourself as a sexual being alive for another day.

Day Two, 7:00am – Your partner brings the packages containing the seven or eight books you acquired following the epic literary scavenger hunt post of the preceding week. They open them for you, as you are wrapped in a heating pad, wanly sipping Pedialyte. It's strawberry Pedialyte, and you wanted orange. It doesn't matter. Human desires are a thing of this mortal life, and you will soon depart it. Let them bring you prune-flavored Pedialyte, who cares? Your hands clutch out at Gordan Korman's "This Can't Be Happening at MacDonald Hall" (Indiebound | Amazon). This. This will do. He wrote it when he was fourteen. When you were eight, that seemed impossible. At thirty, you realize the book is formulaic, gaspy, and does nothing to elevate the plucky-prep-school-boys-hijinks-ultimately-enlisting-help-of-local-girls-school-headmaster-seems-tough-but-is-on-your-side schtick. Bless you. Bless you Mr. Korman. Bless you. Read the next three books in the series. All are the same ("The War With Mr. Wizzle"). All. Beautifully the same. ("Beware the Fish!") Perfect in their sameness. Fall into sleep, dream that you have to pass a swim test ("Go Jump in the Pool!").

Day Three, 11:00am – "How is your weekend going?" a friend inquires. "What is a week-end?" you spit back. They are not watching Downton Abbey, and you have kept down half a banana since the Chinese food and are in no rush to explain the witticism's provenance. Digging through a pile of books you've been meaning to get to, you see a tanned, bikini-clad woman on the deck of a yacht. It is a review copy of Jackie Collins' newest, "The Power Trip" (Indiebound | Amazon). Oh, you'll do nicely, you say, stroking the cover. You'll do nicely indeed. Several hours later, your partner brings you a little bag of Cheerios, like you are a toddler melting down at the zoo. You look up, startled. You have been in a world of a well-hung Russian oligarch vigorously humping his Naomi Campbell-esque supermodel girlfriend. An evil politican and his cowering, Xanax-addled wife. An aging movie star growing bored of his flavor-of-the-month consort. A fun-loving gay Latin icon and his evil English social-climbing lover, Jeromy. If it can be said to have a flaw, it would be the number of blow jobs. There is a blow job every four pages. You wonder if Jackie insisted, or if it is her contract, or if they were added by her editor after the fact. If you were not so sick, you would make a chart. Every possible permutation of blow job giving and receiving occurs, considering the available cast of characters and their respective sexual orientations. You give up, and just enjoy it.

Day Four, 9:00am – Your horse has a metabolic condition and cannot possibly get another day off without dire consequences. You saddle her and take her down into the gully. Don't you fuck around on me, you mutter sweetly, knowing you are ill-positioned to curb any poor behavior in your current state. As you head for home, a jogger blows past you on the left, your horse goes up in a light and you go down in a thunk. Once you get your wind back, you swiftly check your limbs. Nothing terrible has happened. Your horse considers dashing across a major intersection to her death, so you limp to your feet and snatch your reins back. Remounting, you use an extremely ableist slur under your breath, and somehow return to the barn in one piece. You realize that you had best get busy living, or get busy dying, as Morgan Freeman or one of the other characters in The Shawshank Redemption once said. Time to read a real book. You choose Justine Blau's new memoir of her tumultuous childhood and difficult mother, "Scattered" (Author's Site | Amazon). It's short, which you hope will balance out your inability to cope with difficult subject matter in your current state. You are transfixed. It is lovely. You burst into snotty tears. You decide your life is very easy, and you should get over it. You email the title to several people. You write Justine Blau to tell her how much you enjoyed it. She tells you her son loves The Hairpin. You decide not to read anything else that will make you cry, as the underside of your nose is quite raw. You are still not eating.

Day Four, 10pm – A very long time ago, a reader recommended Dan Simmons' "The Terror" (Indiebound | Amazon) to you, as a great lover of horror literature. You started it, and set it aside for some reason you've forgotten. The reason occurs to you as you lie in bed, inching slowly over the course of two hours until you are directly on top of your bemused partner.

"What?" they say.
"The canned goods are turning putrid and the Thing walks the ice," you say. "Hold me."
"Are you still catching?"
"Shhhhhhhhh, hold me."

Day Five, 7am – You wake up and realize you cannot turn your head to the right or place pressure on your lower back following the unscheduled dismount of the previous day. You are back on baby duty. She climbs into your lap and hits you across the face with Mo Willems' "Don't Let the Pigeon Stay Up Late" (Indiebound | Amazon), which you mentally add to your upcoming master list: "Beyond Goodnight Moon: The Best Books for Babies and Toddlers." For dinner, you eat a wedge of the chocolate cake your partner fruitlessly bought you for Valentine's Day. Life goes on.

53 Comments / Post A Comment


Oh, Nicole, norovirus is the worst. Hope you are feeling better soon and have no more unscheduled dismounts!


I breathlessly await "Beyond Goodnight Moon" alongside my daughter, who is so bored with Pat the Bunny that I feel like she is just playing peek-a-book with Paul so I'll turn the damn page already.

(glad you're feeling better.)


@MmeLibrarian Blue Train Green Train! http://www.amazon.com/Thomas-Friends-Train-Green-Bright/dp/037583463X/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1361377454&sr=1-1&keywords=blue+train+green+train

(I am also looking forward to this list and I plan on making several enthusiastic comments on it)


One part bleach to 10 parts water, per the CDC.




The Terror was awesome! Team Francis Moira Rawden Crozier FOREVAH!!

Also I am glad you survived!


@Ialdagorth The Terror is really great. But oh lord, no one should ever go anywhere near Drood, the author's next book. Ohhhhh the awfulness.


I love The Terror!


You leave my perfect childhood memories of Gordan Korman's books as the funniest things ever written alone.



MacDonald Hall! Bruno! Boots!

I have purchased a whole bunch for my (now infant) son, and truly remember unending hilarity.
I haven't reread them yet, but even if I'm disappointed, I know he won't be.

Miss Maszkerádi

@HoliandIvy I remember being about ten, and at this age my mom and I still worked our way through books read aloud at bedtime (I mean, we had blasted past Madeleine L'Engle and I think I was starting to clamor for Dickens and Chekhov, but anyway), but one weekend she was away visiting her relatives, and my dad and I.....well, we just chucked the Serious Literature out the window and went through allllll the Bruno and Boots. I had every last volume memorized already, but savored every word. I also savored the sight of my normally rather reserved and soft-spoken dad busting a gut laughing and nearly falling off the bed. The scene where they prank the math classroom with water balloons on the ceiling? My PhD, professorial, highly overeducated father was WHEEZING with laughter. I'm cracking up now just remembering it.

So yes. Gordon Korman 4 Lyfe.


"until it is actually physically happening in real time, you do not realize how bad it is." This goes for a lot of pain and is absolutely true. I was once told that intestines pain is different to "normal" (more external) pain, with the result that no amount of painkillers will touch it. Not sure how true this is (I was told by a dr, but it turns out they say a lot of things to make people shut up & do as they're told, like any other tired stressed human), but it is definitely an exquisitely horrible type of pain. Many sympathies. Try flat coca-cola or water biscuits?


@Apocalypstick Yes, last week I got some kind of insane mini-flu (it was all of the extreme fatigue, achiness, nausea, and unexplained sweats/chills of the flu, but it started at around lunchtime one day, got worse and worse until I crawled into bed, and was gone the next day), and I've just been rejoicing in having a normal level of energy ever since.

Pseudo Pseudonym

@Apocalypstick As someone with Crohn's disease, I have the experience to tell you that strong narcotic pain medicine is effective for gut pain but your doctor isn't likely to prescribe those for norovirus. If you are in that much pain, doctors want you to go to the ER to be screened for more serious things while you get your shot morphine.


@Pseudo Pseudonym Aha -I have ulcerative colitis, so unpleasant-disease-five? I think the dr at the time was advising against cramming myself full of paracetamol to guard against the cramps, morphine is a whole new level. I guess if things are bad enough to need it, it won't matter that you can't brain the whole next day, there'll be other concerns. Possibly the thing about gut pain is that we have no idea when it will strike or end, so every moment that it's happening carries both the pain and the fear of the pain? Like normally, you can be reasonably confident that the pain started right after you encountered that bastard table, and will wear off in about ten mins. But your guts can randomly twist at any time (literally, last time I tried to make a list of triggers it ended up as "eating, not eating enough, sitting down, standing up, moving, staying still too long, thinking about it, getting distracted"), and there's no way of knowing whether it will last five minutes or half the afternoon. It reinforces our powerlessness over our own bodies.


@Apocalypstick I am not sure if this is related or not - I have IBS but it's really not very bad compared to what people with colitis or Crohn's disease or even more severe IBS had - but I have read that people with IBS are less sensitive to pain in general, but experience intestinal pain more severely.

Pseudo Pseudonym

@Apocalypstick I agree that the most difficult part is that you can't easily plan for gut pain -- and it's not like eating is truly optional. I've required surgery because of my Crohn's disease (the incredible pain associated with that severity of disease is not really manageable without morphine and getting anti-nausea drugs was a great relief too).
So, I have great sympathy with the pain and anxiety over the more functional aspects of GI illness. But, if anyone really has a lot of pain and GI distress, it may be worth going to a doctor or ER. I didn't know I had Crohn's until I showed up at an ER with severe abdominal pain because I was worried it might be appendicitis.


@Pseudo Pseudonym Oh my god, that sounds horrific. I'm so sorry you have to deal with such severity.


I was sick last week but didn't get nearly this much reading done. Mostly finished up The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher, which was amazing, and The Life and Death of Thelma Todd, which was okay but which really just made me antsy for AHP's book because I kept wanting it to be written in her style.


I re-read the McDonald Hall books (I think two of them) a couple years ago. Why? No idea. But yeah, I remember thinking these are NOT as funny as I remember them. On the other hand I still fully enjoy Don't Care High.

Feel better!


Victims of norovirus unite! Truly, I have never, ever been that ill. I have stocked our pantry with certain items that are absolutely necessary for that sort of illness should it strike again.


@WineRanger it was the one time in my life I literally thought I would die.


@churlishgreen My husband kept wanting to take me to the hospital and I was to weak to argue about whose car's upholstery we were going to ruin. I told him he should just kill me. After 11 hours, I was finally able to melt ice chips in my mouth and realized how close I was to danger-Will-Robinson time. Thank goodness for that 3 year old tub of Crystal Light in the pantry.,

I'm Right on Top of that, Rose

@WineRanger My salvation came in the form of melty ice chips mixed with Powerade in my mouth. I thought I had never tasted anything so divine. It was almost immediately expelled from my body, but still.


I have never in my life thrown up more than three times in a row (thanks, awesome mom who always gave us grape-flavored Dramamine when we puked!). Throwing up every forty-five minutes for several HOURS is absolutely my idea of hell.

A. Louise

I am recovering from this as we speak - I'm on day 3 and just managed to eat 5-6 cheerios, I feel really accomplished and also a little afraid.

I attempted to read but mostly just laid in my tub with the shower on and fell asleep to reruns of The Bachelor (damn you, continuous play Hulu) and then had dreams about getting married without the right wedding dress. Also, in a feverish delirium I think I asked my boyfriend to chew all of my food for me.


"...keep the mystery of yourself as a sexual being alive". A constant struggle.


I have not read Don't Let the Pigeon Stay Up Late!, but I have heard Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus multiple times and love it. A large part of the love is because it's my brother reading the book to his daughter and he does voices and it is the best thing ever.


@sunfastrose I highly prefer Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus. It has a sense of urgency. The whole time I was reading Don't Let the Pigeon Stay up Late, I couldn't help but think "why shouldn't I let the pigeon stay up late?" Then again, I'm willing to bet that the target audience (people who don't get to pick their own bedtimes) absolutely love it.

The Lady of Shalott

@sunfastrose I am in my mid-20s without children, and the Pigeon books are THE BOSS. There is also Pigeon Finds A Hot Dog which is adorable and endearing, Pigeon Wants A Puppy, and Pigeon Has Feelings, Too. They are all adorable and endearing and inexplicably hilarious to me.


As someone with chronic tummy trouble (coeliac FTW), I send my sincerest, electrolyte-filled condolences.

Being laid up with stomach issues is, however, what led me to discover the Phryne Fisher series of books, which are deliciously trashy and numerous. Excellent for both holidays and toilet days.


@CaptainSplashy I don't know what country you're located in, but if it's not Australia it may interest you to know that this is totally a TV series now and I'm just waiting for the Phryne Fashion House, because Wardrobe for that series is STUNNING.
It's called "Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries" - I have no idea if it's downloadable to people outside Aus or not.


@TARDIStime I'm in Aus! I was so jazzed when they announced they were making a series... then I watched about 15 minutes of it. While I agree that the wardrobe is deeply amazeballs, I just found it agonising. The writing. The acting. Oy vey!


@CaptainSplashy LOL, it is basically a mix between Thoroughly Modern Millie and Midsomer Murders, isn't it?
But yeah, mum and I just watch it and spend all our time going "look at the tea set! So cute! WHERE do I get pants like that? Would you just look at her HOUSE?" repeat every single week. We're antique freaks.


I can confirm that your response to the Terror had nothing to do with being sick. I read it this winter and spent the full two weeks I was reading it nervous and paranoid and trying to explain to my friends why I would NOT be going skiing on the lake, or any other frozen surface, this weekend or ever.


oh god THIS! I got The Sickness on Valentine's Day. From my boyfriend. Worst. Gift. Ever. I do not wish this horrifying stomach-trying-to-leave-your-body-by-any-exit-available on anyone! Perversely, glad to know i wasn't alone. Also, glad we are both better and let us NEVER have this again. Amen.


Nichole, I love that you can work a Doctor Who reference into pretty much everything. (Incidentially, that show is my preferred palliative on sick days, particularly when I'm too weak to hold up a book.)


I had this too last weekend, and threw up in 6 different gas station bathrooms in between a concert venue and my house while being driven by a very attractive guy i could not believe i ended up on a date with. He also saw me run behind a bush to have diarrhea. can't really think of worse timing.


@Rubyinthedust ohmygod. It pains me just to to read that - can't. Imagine.
*internet hugs*


@Rubyinthedust This happened to me on a date many, many years ago too. My date later said that it was "the most real" anyone could really be on a date, and was thus endearing. He is still a friend, as you can imagine.


Oooh please tell me that "Beyond Goodnight Moon: The Best Books for Babies and Toddlers" will someday appear on this very website.

Vomiting really is the worst.


@TheBelleWitch Especially when it runs in concert with The Other Thing. Truly a smelly hell on earth.


Fellow sufferer here. For me last weekend was a marathon of Nashville - sparkles and country music y'all! - followed by Nora Roberts. Made a mental note to have more paperback books around for these horrible occasions. The kindle/iPad were too much to deal with when being frequently interrupted.

Daisy Razor

Oh, Nicole. Baby Razor had this two weeks ago. She's 3 and had no idea what was happening to her. I knew when she was about to throw up because she'd start screaming "No no no no no!"

I missed it this year, but spent 20 hours on my bathroom floor last March and "No no no no no!" really sums up the experience.


My mom gave me noro a few years ago when I went home for Christmas. You have all of my sympathies. It was worse than my 3 weeks of bronchitis, or the Christmas I got strep.

And I am never going home for Christmas again.


Bad horse, taking advantage of you! I have one who does that and one who takes care of me as if I am made of glass when I'm ill. Glad you're coming out the other side of it now.


Yesss, the pigeon books! I love it when my daughter picks those books at night, because they're short and fun to read. Not that I want to begrudge reading anything to her, but she has some long-ass, dumb Strawberry Shortcake and My Little Pony tie-in type books that I just groan inwardly when she picks because sometimes mama's just tired and wants to get back to her OWN room before dad starts watching The Americans without her. You know.

I'm Right on Top of that, Rose

I had wicked flu over Christmas, complete with not being able to fall asleep because I wasn't sure I'd be able to wake up in time to make it to the bathroom. I actually laid on my bed, crying, with a 101 degree fever, cuddling with my mom (I haven't cuddled since I was 7), and asked her, "Am I going to feel like this forever? Can you help me?"

Honoria Lucasta

Oh, man, I LOVED the McDonald Hall books so, so, so much.

This reminded me though that I wanted to thank you, Nicole. I had mono over the summer and while lying in a feverish lump on the couch came across your SERIOUSLY DELIGHTFUL Classic Trash review of Riders, which I had never read and which sent me off on a couchbound Jilly Cooper odyssey. By the time I'd gotten through the collected Rupert Campbell-Black novels I felt much better. So thank you for that! Norovirus is THE WORST. I hope you are feeling much better soon.


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