Spring, 2000. A bedsit in Dublin. Paola was out at her wine tasting course. I was sat at home alone, reading. I started to feel a little queasy. Thinking back over what I had eaten that day, I remembered the pineapple chutney I had used in my sandwich at lunchtime. We had bought a jar at the weekly food market in Temple Bar some time before, and it had passed its expiry date by a day or two. I’ve always been suspicious of expiry dates, convinced that they’re a cynical marketing technique (“Eat it up quickly so that you can buy some more!”).
The nausea continued, increasing in intensity. I curled up in bed, fully clothed under the thick duvet, shivering and moaning, and that’s where Paola found me, about an hour later, upon her return. Not long after, I stumbled to the bathroom (handily located, like everything else in the bedsit, three paces away) and vomited. Then it started to get weird. Normally throwing something up and getting it out of your system is the beginning of the end, and you’ll start to feel a little better. Instead, the trembling continued, followed by numbness and a kind of paralysis all down one side. The fingers of my right hand started to curl inwards, stiffening as they did so, and I was unable to move them. Then I felt one side of my mouth go numb. I was convinced I was having a stroke. I collapsed onto the floor of the bathroom, and barely managed to mumble “call an ambulance”, dribbling a little as I did so.
By the time the ambulance arrived, the scary paralysis had passed, and I was just back to feeling sick and weak. Nevertheless they insisted on taking me in, and they even put the sirens on for me, which was nice of them.
A Friday night in Dublin is not a good time to go to hospital. Drunken, blood-spattered locals fill the waiting rooms, and GBH victims understandably take priority over people who feel a bit woozy after eating dodgy chutney. As we sat in triage, waiting to be seen, Paola started to feel faint. No, she hadn’t eaten any chutney. Hospitals just make her feel faint. Watching hospital scenes in movies make her feel faint (but that’s another story). She can usually tell that it’s going to happen, and lets me know that she’s about to collapse and asks if I could kindly catch her now please…? So when a doctor finally became available to see us, there was much confusion and checking of paperwork when he came into the room to see Paola prostrate on a bed, and me seemingly feeling fine. Excuse me, who is the patient here, exactly?
Paola recovered fairly quickly, and I was feeling better by the minute, so after asking a few questions, he said that we could go back to the waiting room, and someone would be free to examine me in more detail in about 8 hours’ time. The choice between sitting for eight hours in a boozy, bloody waiting room, and getting some sleep in my own bed wasn’t a tough one, so we took a taxi home.
By the next morning I was pretty much back to normal, if a little delicate, so I called work and told them that I was suffering the after-effects of food poisoning and wouldn’t be in until Monday. The boss was unconvinced, as he already had two staff off “ill” (i.e. hungover) that morning, but there was nothing he could do to persuade me to come in and face a day of “How many megapixels do I need?” and “Can you take a passport photo of my writhing, screaming child?”.