There was a period of my life — the first 16 years — when I vomited with the frequency of a normal person. Maybe once every 17 months I’d feel sick, yack up my recently consumed proteins and resume a normal life. Over the most recent 28 years, however, my puking résumé is made up of just a pair of mega barfs.
Most people would be challenged to produce a list of the times they have vomited since the Reagan administration, but because my experience involves only two stories, I recall them keenly. So, for the sake of human digestive science … or whatever … I now share my hurling history.
It was Aug. 18, 1988, when I completed my final pre-adult barf. I was a high school sophomore, and preseason football practice was in full swing. I awoke in the wee hours of the morning with a groaning stomach, and soon I was staggering from my bedroom to the toilet, where I dropped to my knees for the first of seven sessions of violent retching. At some point in the middle of it, I called Coach Mooers to tell him I wouldn’t be practicing, but hoped I’d be back to normal for the scrimmages the next day.
Whatever hit me that morning was gone in a few hours, and indeed I traveled with the team to the Twin Cities metro-area scrimmages. After playing in the two abbreviated games, I accompanied my teammates on a trip to Valley Fair, where I rode all of the stomach-churningest rides. Indeed, I had recovered.
What I didn’t know at the time was how well I recovered. I would not vomit again for more than 26 years.
It was only maybe a half-decade after the 1988 incident when I started becoming aware of how odd it was that I hadn’t blown chunks in such a long period of time. I was in college in the mid-1990s, and when someone would mention getting drunk and throwing up a rainbow of schnapps I would interject that “I haven’t puked in six years,” like that was significant.
As time went on, I started hearing references in popular culture about vomit-free streaks. In 1993, during the fifth season of Seinfeld, Jerry made the claim he had not vomited since June 29, 1980. Four episodes later, after eating a black-and-white cookie and noting the mix of vanilla and chocolate ought to lead society to racial harmony, he rushed to a restroom and expelled the treat, ending his streak.
Seinfeld’s fictitious 13-year upchucking lapse seemed impressive at the time, because it more than doubled my streak. Little did I realize I would go on to double the Seinfeld feat.
I wasn’t as impressed in 2005 when the character Ted Mosby bragged on How I Met Your Mother that he had been “vomit-free since ’93.” I already had him beat by five years, and in a later episode it was revealed he was lying about the streak anyway.
As my heaving hiatus passed the 20-year mark, I started to feel invincible — like I might never vomit again. I didn’t necessarily think it was a healthy reality, but I figured after that much time it wasn’t likely I would resume the practice of puking at middle age.
I should note that throughout my vomit-free years I had a normal share of fairly brutal bouts with stomach flu and/or food poisoning. Perhaps the most genteel way of explaining how I managed those situations is to note that all of my purging was done in the seated position.
I can’t explain why throughout my entire life alcohol consumption has never once led me to vomit. Perhaps I just never subjected myself to an extreme of not drinking alcohol for a long period of time and then suddenly chugging bloody Marys through a beer bong.
Whatever the medical explanation, the streak was good while it lasted. I do prefer not vomiting to vomiting. But sadly my regurgitation control finally lapsed at around 3 a.m. on Feb. 19, 2015. And it was perhaps one of the most powerful single spews of all time.
The previous afternoon I met some friends at a fast food chain restaurant that was new to Duluth. I won’t mention the restaurant by name, because I can’t say for sure it is responsible for what happened to me hours later, and if it was it was probably an isolated incident traceable to one employee screwing something up.
I will say the experience at the restaurant was a little weird, though. The manager was walking around smiling and working his charm on the customers, and all the employees were behaving like they had just had a big team meeting about customer service. As my food was prepared, one of the employees actually said to me, “It must be obvious that I love my job.”
That seemed slightly troubling at the time, and in retrospect terrifies me when I consider what might have happened before my meal reached my mouth.
The rest of my day was normal, and when dinner time came around it did not concern me at all that my wife prepared a pot of chili. I ate it with no trepidation and enjoyed it. A few hours later I went to sleep like any other night.
Then things got weird. After midnight I awakened to a noisy and uncomfortable stomach. I began to experience chills, and it became increasing difficult to get into a comfortable position for sleep. Roughly two hours passed as I slowly tossed and turned, wondering what had happened to me, and what the future held.
The thought I might vomit crossed my mind, but I didn’t think it was likely. It certainly wasn’t an impending threat. So mainly my thoughts were split between the questions “how long until this feeling subsides?” and/or “will I need to get up and relieve myself?”
Eventually, I decided it was in my best interest to visit the toilet … in the seated position … and find out if that might ease the discomfort. As I got out of bed, I decided I should walk across the room and grab a flannel shirt, since I had the chills and no sense of whether I would be in the bathroom briefly or at length. Holding the shirt in my hand, I exited the bedroom and entered the hallway to the bathroom. Reaching in the darkness for the door, I suddenly felt a sudden and massive projectile ejection from my unsuspecting throat.
Let me take a moment now to emphasize that when I got out of bed I took time to walk across the room to grab a shirt. Clearly I had no sense I was seconds away from painting the walls with lunch and dinner. I cannot express enough how the first inkling I had of the notion of vomiting was the moment partially digested nourishment exited my gaping maw. Not the slightest gag preceded the onslaught of raging slop blasting through my lips like a firehouse releasing a blended chili mess.
Since I hadn’t yet fully entered the bathroom, I did what seemed logical in the zero seconds I was given to think the situation over. The sink was right in front of me, so I lunged my retching face over it.
At this moment I must have lost my presence of mind, because seeing the sink begin to fill up with semi-solids led me to turn on the water in an attempt to wash it down.
As the clogged sink began to fill, the obvious reality set in that I should move to the toilet. I used my peripheral vision to get eyes on the porcelain target, and of course the seat was down, adding to the challenge of sliding my flowing barf hose from one drain to another. It must have been while I was in the process of negotiating that move when I lost consciousness.
The next thing I know, I hear my wife loudly ask a pointed question. “What the fuck is happening,” she said in bewilderment as she rounded the open bathroom door.
There I was, lying on the floor, head propped against the bathtub, vomit on my chest, flannel shirt abandoned in the entryway, vomit near and on (but not in) the toilet, sink filled with vomit and still-running water about to spill over the edge, vomit on the walls and shower curtain, vomit on the door, vomit everywhere except where it belonged.
Fortunately, my head was uninjured, so I must not have stone-cold passed out, but instead half-consciously dropped to the floor and lost roughly eight seconds of neurological awareness.
My wife, who had no warning I was the slightest bit sick, stood there for a moment as if she had walked in on the aftermath of a brutal stabbing.
“Are you OK?” she asked.
I was quiet for a moment, taking in the visual information to reconstruct what had happened and then trying to figure out if hours, minutes or seconds had passed while I was sleeping in a puke blanket.
“I’m much better than I was a few moments ago,” I finally muttered.
Then I stood up, chili chunks dripping off my nipples, and gathered my composure.
“Sorry, I need to clean myself immediately,” I said. “I think I can take care of this mess after I shower.”
The mess was not one my wife wanted to let soak into carpeting for even a few minutes, however, and she didn’t have a great deal of confidence I’d be up to the task after emerging from the shower anyway. So, like any average saint, she began cleaning. I’m ashamed to say it now, but at that moment I silently thanked the heavens the disaster area I had created was being handled by a first responder who managed the contaminated area without involving me.
When I emerged from the shower, the remediation of the environmental hazard zone was about half complete. My wife assured me the situation was under control, and encouraged me to sit down and rest in the hope of preventing another eruption from my chili-launching volcano.
Yes, there was plenty of criticism of my thought process with regard to turning on the sink, but all in all my saintly spouse understood I was in panic mode and accepted the notion that an act of physical violence had been inflicted on me. She shouldn’t blame the victim for mistakes made in the process of fighting for his life, right?
There was one more thing she wanted me to know before she returned to bed, though. “I’m sorry about what happened to you,” she said, “but I want you to understand that after what I have seen here tonight it will be a little while before I’m able to consider you a sexual object again.”
Of course, that was understood.
After a few moments on the couch, I began to feel better. I grabbed an iPad to notify my best friend of the important news. He had emailed me earlier in the day to tell me about a new job offer he was going to accept. I added to that thread. “In other news: the streak has ended. After more than 26 vomit-free years I succumbed to food poisoning this morning.”
The next day he responded by asking if I was up for celebrating our life-altering moments over cocktails. “Or are you feeling too raw?” he wondered.
“I’m about to go play pickup hockey,” I wrote back. “I still recover like it’s 1988. Cocktails will be fine. Maybe we’ll go to Valley Fair after.”
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