The Rilkoff Files
With two days to go I had become complacent. I'll admit that. But who wouldn't be?
Somehow I had got through the century's unluckiest year with barely a scratch. In fact, 2013 had been the most spectacular year of the 37 I keep on memory and had filled me with so much confidence in life that on December 30, at approximately 2.15pm, I walked into a shop in Stratford and bought a chicken sandwich.
For those unaware of the delights of a store-bought chicken sandwich let me tell you this; it is a heavenly combination of roast chicken, mayonnaise, cheese, tomato, lettuce and often carrot, all pressed together between two pieces of delightfully soft bread and conveniently wrapped in plastic to facilitate its consumption while driving.
Perhaps even better, they cost approximately $3.50, which is about how much spare change any pocket-owning man has jingling around at any one time.
Unfortunately, there is another side to the chicken sandwich and until you have eaten it you can't be sure what side yours was on. This side is the exact opposite to the other, naturally, and one of the reasons the chicken sandwich is on the United Nations list of banned biological weapons. Because this is the side that causes the condition known as "dicky tummy", or more correctly "extremely painful and humiliating gastrointestinal evacuation".
The first inkling I was about to have an extended abdominal workout came to me a few hours after the devil sandwich. My stomach started to gurgle and tighten, a thin sweat broke out on my forehead and I inexplicably stopped myself eating a chunk of chocolate brownie that had been teasing me from my fridge for the past two days.
It was then, and despite my largely godless ways, that I crossed myself and uttered a small prayer.
You see, from my travels through China some years back, I had developed a keen awareness of the symptoms of food poisoning and knew when they appeared you had just a few hours to ready yourself for three days of hell.
In China, this is best done by purchasing a calling card and checking into an expensive hotel. The calling card is so you can call your parents when you are near-dead and the expensive hotel is necessary not so much to avoid a bed of unwashed sheets or a floor bouncing with fleas but for the private personal facilities it provides.
I learnt this food-poisoning rehabilitation requirement in a desert village in that country's far west Xinjiang region, where I once spent an entire morning lying on a dirt road vomiting into a ditch. The elders of the village were good enough to pretend I wasn't there. However, the children were not so accommodating to my dignity and squatted around me laughing and poking the former contents of my stomach with a stick. There is no doubting it scarred me.
It was in bed that night of the 30th that the poison really took hold of my life. I couldn't sleep but neither could I stay awake. Every time I closed my eyes all I could see was the chicken sandwich spinning an increasingly delirious and dizzying orbit inside my head. When I opened my eyes I was incapable of anything but groaning in pain and muttering the word "inauspicious" over and over and over again.
This, combined with the usual bodily humiliations, went on for two further days. One being the last of the year, the other being the first.
It was so bad that I broke my first rule of personal health - I sought help. This was actually fairly simple as all it involved was a trip to a pharmacy for a quick and unexpectedly intriguing discussion on stool consistency and stomach cramping.
I came out of there just a few minutes after I went in with a packet of peppermint-flavoured pills assured to relieve me of bloating, gas and stomach wind, whatever that was.
Despite knowing from my vast food- poisoning experience they would probably be powerless against the chicken sandwich, I swallowed two pills immediately.
Within minutes I was feeling better. Within half an hour I was eating a piece of bread and an hour after that I thinking about the viability of thawing a pork chop and cooking it.
It really was an amazing recovery. So amazing that I developed a deep inner resentment for not seeking help sooner and thereby avoiding two days of hallucinatory-level pain.
It's not going too far to say I began to dislike myself immensely and was starting to imagine I might have to admit my long-held opinion that food poisoning was untreatable and simply had to be endured was perhaps not entirely valid.
Perhaps I would have to admit I was wrong.
Luckily it was a bridge I didn't have to cross. When I closed my eyes to sleep that night my head began to spin. The chicken sandwich was back.
- © Fairfax NZ News