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Better You

As soon as the sound of David’s retching began to subside, I rushed into the bathroom to get a quick peek into the bowl beneath his crumpled frame. Before he could sit back on his haunches and flush, I was already in my office and on my computer.

“Okay, now I’m really concerned,” I called to him from my desk. I typed “vomiting bile” into the search engine and hit enter. “You didn’t drink last night, so this is not a hangover. You’ve got nothing in your body, and that was a lot of bile. I’m going to call the nurse hotline.” I already had the phone in my hand.

“Wait,” David said. He stood in the doorway, eyeing the chair in which he intended to sit; he seemed unsure how to get to it. Eventually, he took a few steps, wincing with each one. Once seated, he let out a long, slow breath and said, “Give it time. Let’s see what happens.”

“Puking food is one thing — that could mean you had food poisoning. But you haven’t eaten since yesterday, and food poisoning would have happened a lot faster than this. There’s nothing in you, but your body is violently trying to get rid of something, and according to what I’m reading online, there are only two reasons for that — gastroenteritis or a tumor.”

David was slow to get his eyes rolling. Just before the lazy rotation began, I detected a flash of concern. “You know what,” I said, in an effort to dispel his fears, “I bet it’s some kind of toxin or virus. I mean, your body doesn’t just start trying to turn itself inside out unless something appeared suddenly. We need to keep you hydrated and see if we can get some food into you — food will latch onto the ickiness and take the bad stuff with it on the way back out.” David nodded and slowly made it to his chair.

I’m a much better caretaker than I am a care-receiver. Whether I have a headache, stomach cramps, or cold toes, any physical discomfort makes me miserable to be around. In my frustration at being hindered or discomfited, I become whiny and cranky. It makes me wonder if my manic attempts to bring David comfort when he’s ill are in any way prompted by my elation that I’m not the one who’s suffering.

While David vacillated between his chair and the bathroom, I alternated between doing chores (laundry, dishes, random straightening) and hovering over him to make sure his glass of water was refilled and that the pillow behind him was in the best possible position.

At my insistence, David agreed to eat something. He requested Bread & Cie, where he could get a “simple pastry.” I approved of bread — it was innocuous and filling, the perfect sponge for soaking up sickness. At 1 p.m., I sped a fragile David up Washington Street. It was almost 70 degrees out, but David, who had the chills, blasted the heat in the car and pulled the hood of his sweatshirt tight around his head.

It wasn’t until I watched his croissant go untouched — no French pastry has ever survived David’s plate — that I understood the extent to which my man was suffering. “It’s the butter, right? You need something milder,” I said. I noticed he’d eaten (if you call pushing tiny bits of food into your mouth “eating”) my cookie, the one that came with my coffee, the one I always save to eat after I finish my breakfast panini. It was a concerted effort on my part to maintain a passive facial expression as I watched the small cookie slowly disappear.

“Do they have the French ficelle?” David asked. I nodded and jumped up to head back to the counter, my eagerness to do so precipitated by two things — one, I knew the thin baguette would be easier on David’s stomach than that croissant; and two, I could pick myself up one of those raspberry almond cookies I noticed the first time around, which I liked even better than my little cookie that was no more.

By the time we left to head back home, David had managed one small bite of his baguette. Once home, he turned to me and, with a pained expression on his face, said, “Should I fight the nausea?”

“No, Beh-Beh, that’s your body telling you to get it out.” It made sense he’d check with me — not only had I spent the first half of the day researching all of his symptoms, I also had the most experience with nausea (only mine was the kind caused by partying, and not whatever terrible thing was tormenting David). “Trust me — every time you puke, you’ll feel that much better.”

We spent the rest of the afternoon playing House — trying to diagnose what David had and how he’d gotten it. It was Sunday, which meant if he had the norovirus (aka stomach flu), which fit all of his symptoms, then he’d most likely contracted it on Friday night. On Friday, we’d gone to a restaurant happy hour with friends and then hosted an impromptu party at our place.

“No one else was sick,” I said, wishing at that moment that I had one of those cool white boards on which Hugh Laurie is always scribbling possible clues to his patient’s illness. “Nor had they been sick before.” As he often does when he finds his kitchen filled with people, David had cooked for our guests that night. He wasn’t sober during the process, as evidenced by the small nicks and scratches on his knuckles. “Could you have collected some weird germ from the floor or counter while making that pasta sauce? I know you weren’t paying much attention, because you forgot to add the onions and honey, and there was way too much of that smoked Spanish paprika in the mix. Speaking of which, you should stick to drunk baking — you’re way better at that than drunk cooking.”

After a moment of reflection, I shot to my feet, and not only because I noticed David’s glass of water needed refilling. “I’ve got it! Our server, the one who handed you your food, left halfway through our meal because she wasn’t feeling well, remember? Norovirus is most often transmitted by food handlers.”

“If she was sick, chances are some of her coworkers were sick, too,” David said.

“We’ll never know for sure, but at least now we don’t have to freak out so much about whether or not you poisoned yourself while drunk cooking. Plus, no one else who was at our place Friday night got sick.” I caressed David’s unshaven cheek with the back of my hand. “I’m sorry it had to be you, my love,” I said. “Though you and I both know it was better you than me.”

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