By now, you’ve heard about the worsening outbreak of Ebola – the most lethal hemorrhagic fever known to man. It is spreading across western Africa. The big worry now is that it will spread much further by air travel.
This particularly scares me because I may have to fly twice in the next month. But there’s something else. One time, when I traveled on an airplane, I was once convinced that I had Ebola, or maybe that I was zombie patient zero.
Let me tell you that story.
Your Basic Zombie Morning
My day at the airport in Reno, Nevada, started rather ordinarily. I ordered a large iced tea and breakfast sandwich from Burger King. I know, I know, it's junk food. At 6 am, all airport food is junk.
I had finished the sandwich, and was halfway through the iced tea when my stomach started to feel weird. Now, maybe we shouldn’t blame Burger King. I’d had dinner at an Asian fusion place the night before, maybe that was the problem. In any case, I hobbled to the bathroom.
Oh, I should mention here that I needed a cane. This was a couple months after I had fractured my knee. I did that when I tripped over an uneven sidewalk while jogging. If you ever want to prove to someone you shouldn’t go jogging, folks, take it from me: Jogging can cause grievous bodily injury.
So I was hobbling around, using a cane. But the job still needs doing, and my job involves going to mines and potential projects. That’s what I was doing in Nevada. On the bright side, it was a really nice project.
But the point is, my knee was already strained. Then I had played mountain goat on a gold project. Now, the next day, I was quite wobbly as I hurried to the bathroom.
So, I went to the bathroom and had the runs. Then I went back again later for the same thing. Do you think that's gross? Gross hasn't started yet.
Easily Offended? Go No Further
Seriously, if you're easily offended, stop reading now.
Luckily, I'm a guy who believes in preparedness. So I popped two Imodium, a medication that reduces the symptoms of diarrhea by drying up your guts. I drank a lot more water, and got on my plane. Turns out I was stuck in the middle seat next to an old feller who was hobbling worse than I was.
This old dude looked like he was held together by baling wire, spit and stubbornness. He also had a custom cane that I was immediately and irrationally jealous of.
The flight attendants buzzed around the old dude even before the plane took off, trying to pump water and food into him to make him feel better. So they didn’t notice me, and how pale my face was getting.
As soon as the seatbelt light went off, I went back to the bathroom. To get out of my seat, I did a rub-along-creep over the old guy that a Vegas table dancer would be proud of. There was a line at the bathroom, but I didn't have to go, I was just making sure. Nothing happened. Hey, maybe I was all worried for nothing.
I got some TUMS antacid out of my backpack (I travel VERY prepared), friction-danced my way past the old guy, and tried to sleep. I actually slept on and off, but my dreams were strange. Dreams like …
There was a casino in first class that I wasn't allowed in … there was some byzantine plot at work worthy of Game of Thrones … someone was trying to infest me with a brain parasite. Holy heck, who has dreams like that?
I'd wake up from each of these fever dreams going "What the (expletive deleted)!"
Acidic and Serious
I now knew I was feverish. That probably wasn't good. The old guy wanted to talk, and I tried to keep up my end of the conversation, meanwhile I ate more TUMS, because my burps were getting more acidic and more serious.
Suddenly, it hit me like a bolt of lightning. I knew I was going to throw up. I turned and looked at the old dude. His eyes widened with alarm as he saw the look on my face. "I need to get out,” I told him. "Right now."
The urgency in my voice spurred him into action. He started to get up. VERY slowly. I could have been out past him in three seconds, this took at least 20, 25. Tick … tick … tick … as the contents of my stomach slowly bubbled their way up my esophagus.
Finally, the old dude stood up. Finally, I got out – hobbling the whole way, mind you – and looked back down toward the lavatories. The aisle was packed with passengers and food carts. Dammit!
Here’s the thing: I REALLY knew the puke was coming now. So I turned and hobbled into first class, straight to the bathroom we economy-class plebes had been told not to use. "I really gotta use this," I told the startled steward as I lurched past.
Black as the Ace of Spades
Luckily, the first-class bathroom was unoccupied. I got inside. I lifted the toilet lid just as an enormous wave of puke rushed up out of my throat like an alien trying to get out of my body. The hot bile swamped my teeth and the roof of my mouth and tongue like tsunami victims in Indonesia.
To be clear, I was positioned over the toilet. Clearly, it didn't matter. Either the splatter effect sent puke everywhere, or my mouth is so darned big that it is less of a funnel and more like a canal lock. Puke. Went. Everywhere!
And then I did it again! Worse, this time, puke splattered over my pants, down into my cuffs, onto my shoes. And now we get to the scary part. My vomit was BLACK. Black as the ace of spades, like I'd swallowed an octopus and it squirted ink in my stomach.
Now when is vomit black? I’d heard of that only one time: When someone has Ebola.
Ebola is a perfect killer in that it transforms virtually every part of the body into a digested slime of virus particles. Literally every part of your insides bleeds and liquefies. As that blood and viscera stews in your body heat, it turns black. When Ebola victims puke, it comes out the color of midnight, with such force that it’s been known to tear off the tongue’s skin.
To be sure, I’m one of those idiots who looks up medical symptoms on the Internet (my diagnosis is inevitably cancer). So my knowledge of Ebola was very limited. But the black puke was a dead give-away.
Unless … could it be … zombies puke black vomit too, don’t they? Darned tootin’ they do. Maybe I was a zombie!
The “Sharktopus” of Airborne Creature Features
Now, in my defense, I had a raging fever. I wasn’t thinking clearly. So forgive me if in those first terrible minutes, I convinced myself that I’d turned into an Ebola zombie hybrid. The “Sharktopus” of airbone creature features. I was “Zombola,” maybe.
But then, kneeling in a puddle of my own vomit, my head cleared a bit. I realized it had to be the Imodium that made my stomach contents black. What I was throwing up wasn’t my own liquefied guts. It was an ichory soup of this morning's breakfast and last night's tuna-steak burger and sweet potato fries.
Either way, it was awful!
However, I felt better. So, now that I was going to live through this, I decided to mitigate the humiliation, as well as the mess for the hard-working airline attendants. I cleaned the bathroom and my clothing frantically. The hardest part was the floor, which was now coated in black bile soup. The “soup” vibrated along with the thrum of the jet engines. Cleaning that up took a LOT of paper towels.
Still, if I do say so myself, I cleaned up pretty well, and the room looked okay, too. I did use up most of the paper towels, but what were the odds of two Ebola zombies on the same plane on the same day?
When I got back to my seat I felt better. Though I did keep a barf bag from the plane handy.
When we landed, I stumbled off. I was still sweating profusely. The flight attendants gave me cautious looks. I think they were glad to get me off the plane and out of their zone of liability.
I called my wife from the Atlanta airport and told her what happened. She was very sympathetic. Perhaps TOO sympathetic.
“You’ve had a terrible ordeal,” she said. “I wouldn’t blame you if you checked into a hotel and stayed the night in Atlanta.”
Yeah, thanks, Honey. I get the picture. If I did have Ebola – or was a zombie – she wanted me to find that out away from home.
But I went home anyway (I live in Florida -- the flight from Reno to Atlanta was just the first part of my journey). I paid up for first class, so I would potentially infect less people. I knew I didn't have Ebola. But something had twisted my guts. if I did infect someone, hopefully it would be one of those Wall Street bankers in the seat next to me.
And it turned out to be food poisoning. No Ebola. No zombie.
But what can we learn from this to apply to today’s Ebola scare?
Be Prepared. I travel with a regular emergency kit of supplies just in case. You know what? Sometimes, the bad stuff really happens.
Don’t Panic. I panicked myself into thinking I had Ebola. Now, the news media is doing it for you. Don’t make their jobs easier by buying into the panic.
Cheap Food Ain’t Worth It. Seriously, “cheap” junk food can carry much bigger costs than you realize.
All the best,