Judith -v- The Norovirus.
David -v- Goliath.
Spoiler alert… Judith won, but only just. It was touch and go there for a few days and if you were betting on this match? Put your money on Nora, no question.
I’ll confess. This time last week I didn’t know what the norovirus was and if you have had no first-hand experience of it (lucky you), I pray you’ll never find out. I’d heard of it, of course I had. The God’s honest truth is that I don’t really understand what any sort of virus is at all and when I ask pals to explain, their responses just muddy the waters.
“You catch them from other people.” “But I never see any people; I work on Skype!”
“Ah, then it’s airborne.” “But I don’t open the windows in January so how’s that air getting in?”
Truth is, the norovirus doesn’t come from either of those routes. It comes from produce, or “pro-dooce”, as Kevin Spacey called it memorably in that wonderful film K-PAX where he pretends to come from outer space and nearly convinces a psychologist, Jeff Bridges, of that! It comes from produce which has been sprayed with infected water containing faecal matter. Yum. So that’s my favourite foods, then… fruit, salads, vegetables. Or it comes by foods handled by someone who has been contaminated in that way. That might include takeaways, for instance, and thanks to the long incubation period the food handler may not even know they have it.
Once we do have it, we are contagious for quite a long time and the incubation period is much longer than food poisoning, typically 2-6 hours. With Nora, you could easily have it for up to 40 hours before you know. And there’s only one thing that kills it. Sorry Planet Lovers, its BLEACH. It’s impervious to everything else. Forget it with your itsy ditsy little eco cleaning products, simply not going to cut it.
The reason I don’t know what a virus is is because I don’t (generally) DO sick, or hospitals, doctors, medicines, vaccines, illness, the NHS or anything. I wasn’t born in a hospital, I’ve never been in one except to visit other people and watch my parents die in the same one in Isleworth in Middlesex. I don’t like them, and I have no plans to return to one anytime soon, since all my rellies are dead.
Or the whole biz of being sick; I know nothing about that either. So why would I bother with what a virus is? Knowing is believing and I don’t want to believe. I live in the world of health, so much so that I don’t even have a GP. Last consultation in 1987, ear infection and these days I wouldn’t even go to the doc for that. I have never taken anti-biotics. Perhaps I could go on that radio show with that one… you know, I’ve Never Seen Star Wars, isn’t that what it’s called?
So, here’s what happened, here’s the timeline, the symptoms, what I learned, the upsides, the casualties, what to eat and drink and when. And the learning about how I shall be living my healthy life in future now that I know about Nora, now that she’s had me in her deadly grip for six days. And it ain’t over yet between her and me, not by a long chalk.
This story is told in shock and awe and incredulity. Nora came in like a wrecking ball with precisely zero notice. Last Friday, 9th January, I got up strangely early. Fridays are my “day off” where mostly I don’t work because I do offer myself to my clients for Saturday mornings instead. That helps those trying to get out of the day job. I diarise my weekly newsletter for Fridays but often write it earlier in the week so that I can have some R&R, some personal time. Every other Friday I do run a client group for 90 minutes at 4 p.m.
This Friday I got up early, as I said, and made some finishing touches to my weekly email newsletter, scheduled it to go out later that morning, and returned to bed by 8 a.m. intent upon a lie-in, a long slow shower and three hours reading my book before Ocado were due at 11 a.m. My flat was nice and clean and tidy because Beverley, my cleaning lady, had been the day before, thank goodness. Thursday is her day and she hadn’t been for a month because all the bank holidays had fallen on a Thursday. The place needed attention. Bev and the Ocado lads, God help them, were the only living souls I had seen since Christmas Day.
I didn’t feel particularly hungry and I’d already lost 4 lbs on my New Year Healthy New Diet so I had a handful of grapes before lunch, delivered by Ocado that morning. And then a friend popped in for coffee and a chat and left in time for me to do my group at 4. The group was lively and busy, six callers, 95 minutes, they put me through my paces and they kept me busy for a couple of hours afterwards too with Facebook activity and me following up with ideas and resources we’d discussed.
At some point in the evening I went into the kitchen to make myself some supper, one of my old store cupboard favourites, brown rice pasta with a chili tomato sauce with tuna and beans and a smidgen of Parmesan on top, all on the table in less than 10 minutes with the bonus that Mitsy gets some of the tuna. While I was making it and long before I eventually ate it, I felt very strange indeed. Suddenly I came over all hot, with sweats too, and had to sit down, convinced that if I didn’t I would fall down.
I sat down. I felt immediately better. Later I proceeded to finish making – and eat – my supper, delicious. I finished off looking after my clients too and stayed up quite late watching Meryl and James and Mark on Graham Norton and enjoying it. Friday night seemed normal. When I awoke I felt a tad under par, but nothing especially weird. I went to my desk at 10 and did my two clients, two men unusually. Two unusual men, just how I like them.
When I stood up at 12 noon I thought I’d put some clothes on and walk the 20 paces outdoors and a couple of steps to where my post is delivered. I suddenly realised I didn’t feel well enough to do that and that I was struggling to keep myself warm. I went back to bed, under the duvet, central heating cranked up, fully clothed, and shivered for three hours. I still had no idea what was going on and at this point in the story I lost track of time to fever, delirium and pain. During Saturday night, more than 24 hours after my last meal, the vomiting began and Friday’s supper came up, the pasta digested, the sauce not which was rather alarming since it was a red sauce and one could be forgiven for thinking I was bleeding internally, which fortunately I knew I was not.
Vomiting and diarrhoea ensued on and off until Tuesday night, though definitely the weekend was considerably worse. I dropped 11 pounds in weight over the weekend. I knew I was seriously dehydrated and by then I’d consulted my two favourite resources in such situations, Dr Google and the Louise Hay App based on her book You Can Heal Your Life. On this occasion? Dr Google 1: Louise Hay 0. Whilst I didn’t feel well enough to consult Dr Google for the first 48 hours, when I finally had the strength to lift my iPad and find a precise match for my symptoms, I was able to make a diagnosis.
Symptoms of the norovirus include (but are not limited to) headaches, dizziness, hot sweats, cold sweats, fever, vomiting, diarrhoea, terrible stomach pain, sleeplessness, stomach cramps, bloating, gas and indigestion. Reading those words gives you one sense of this Nora b**ch, living them quite another.
On Sunday I became aware that the dehydration was a problem but anything I ingested usually came up again, a grape, paracetamol, even water. I tried to keep taking the fluids. I’m not a muppet. I knew about survival stuff and I’d parked what little I knew somewhere in the deep recesses of my brain in files marked Lone Survivor After a Plane Crash, or Guest/Conscript on One of Bear Grylls TV Wilderness Weekends, or For When the Car Breaks Down in the Australian Outback and I Am Alone. I never expected to have to use this info in my own cosy suburban safe South London pad.
So I pumped the fluids into me as much as was possible, sipping gently throughout Sunday, only to have the entire contents of about a litre of water come up on Monday morning when cleaning my teeth, which I wanted to do ENDLESSLY. That was it. Water. But you see what that means, don’t you? And here’s where Nora is a clever little critter. Even water had not ingested. As you sit reading this, drinking something nice, you know what’s going to happen, don’t you? It’s going to go into your system and at some point in the next few hours you are going to express whatever your body doesn’t want or need after it’s finished with your own hydration.
But Nora doesn’t do that, no. Everything you consume just sits in your stomach until you bring it up again, so everything you are drinking isn’t hydrating you at all! This explains a further 2lbs drop in weight on the next couple of days, even overnight last night when yesterday I consumed about 1250 calories and most of it in liquid form. I received an email from a friend threatening that I would need to take fluids intravenously if I didn’t buck up my ideas! I’d already read that, yup, don’t worry, I’m on the case.
By Day 3 I thought I was hungry but it was all in my head, I had no appetite. I tried an orange on Monday night, mistake. And a little scrambled egg on Tuesday night, terrible error, no vomiting but Operation Cleanup had to be re-done on Wednesday. My emailing friend said not to get over-excited about the weight loss now totalling 1 stone and 2 lbs (including the January diet 4lbs) because we both knew it would go back on immediately I started to eat and drink again. Frankly, I don’t believe that. Yesterday proves it. The needle on the scales isn’t wavering. It’s just too big a gap. I like to eat, me. But even I won’t put back on that stone.
During the weekend, I couldn’t get comfortable in bed, still can’t, which leads to an agonising combination of sleeplessness and frequent sitting up on the edge of the bed – all night long – burping (indigestion, remember?) and gripping your tummy and moaning at the pain, unable to keep down a paracetamol. Unable to lie down and too weak to stand up, desperate to sleep so the pain goes away and desperate for sleep due to the exhaustion.
Handily, the worst of it had been sandwiched between my client work on Friday late afternoon and again on Monday afternoon. I have been obliged to cut about an hour a day from clients and re-schedule a few till tomorrow or next week and I ruthlessly cut everything else. Although I found my clients, as always, very energising, I couldn’t wait to get back to bed. On Monday afternoon I did that at 3, fully clothed, with the winter duvet on top of the one I normally use and with the central heating cranked to max again, still completely unable to keep myself warm.
The symptoms rotate, on an on in an intriguing mix and match kaleidoscope. Meanwhile the kitchen and bathroom look like a war zone and I’m all too aware from my reading that I need to bleach the place and put all towels, nightwear, bed linen, face flannels, bathmats on for a boil wash, nothing cooler will kill the mother. Impossible. Too weak. The Weakest Link. Weak as a kitten. And speaking of kittens, Mitsy is well confused as I am up and down all night long and she can’t get any peace and for a couple of days I couldn’t even fill up her food bowl, poor sausage. Happily, she too has been spared.
Today is Day 6 and things are perking up. On Tuesday night I put the strangest order into Ocado who yesterday, first thing, delivered loo rolls, bleach, rubber gloves, Dioralyte, paracetamol, Lemsip and Berocca, dry bread, dull biscuits, rice pudding, ice cream, and litres and litres and litres of fluid which I thought would last me a week but which, in fact, I have decimated half of already, to little avail. I was advised to “nibble” at things, much of which contained ginger, to eat fresh coconut (a VERY helpful tip from client Karen in Oman, must remember this one, almost instant healing). Drink coconut water. Consume the BRAT diet (bananas, rice, apple sauce and toast), none of which I had in the house at outbreak.
I was starving when the Ocado man arrived and I was very tempted to break open everything and scoff it but too frightened to do any of that. Rehydration was still my main goal and in 24 hours I couldn’t stop drinking and drinking and drinking, always thirsty, always dry-mouthed.
This morning I’ve had a bagel. Yee ha! I’d kill for a cup of coffee but one is to go nowhere near dairy products for the foreseeable. And I have a fridge full of juicing ingredients from last week (all pro-dooce) which I shan’t be touching either – Nora’s lurking in there… somewhere. This is one thing I appreciate about the body, it always knows its enemy. When I look at carrots, celery, spinach and their cousins, there’s no way any of that’s going inside me until I feel much, much better. My friends are peppermint tea, gingery things, lemon, apple cider vinegar, manuka honey, raw coconut and a nibble now and again on something dull or dry.
Flat Coke, as you will know, is recommended. I have lots of bubbly things open in the kitchen, waiting for them to go flat. I knew that tip actually. I am a veteran of food poisoning because I love shellfish, and I know what to do after a dodgy prawn. I am also the proud owner of a first aid kit which has long since lost its contents of the stretchy bandage, steri-strips, scissors, plastic gloves et al and been replaced by two elderly Dioralyte (life savers last weekend) and half a strip of Strepsils. I keep this kit in my holiday drawer alongside stuff for mozzie bites and After Sun and I habitually take it on holiday with me every time, though God knows why, I never use the contents and have no recollection whatsoever of the occasion where we were obliged to use the stretch bandage. Such is life. My first aid kit held very little of promise which was equal to Nora. Told you; Goliath is her middle name.
But, as you can tell, I’ve recovered some of my sense of humour and lived – just – to tell the tale. I am chastened. I announced proudly to a client that I never wash my pro-dooce and that I pick up things off the floor and eat them, I’m not afraid of a little dirt. My Mother was a farmer’s daughter and brought me up to that. For a few weeks and months I know I shall proceed with more caution but the fact is, this blighter is invisible and because of that I may have to take my habits under advisement. It can strike anyone at any time and it is a killer in babies and older people. At 60 this year, I am nudging up there towards that second vulnerable group.
Nora caused 11,000 reported (just the reported) incidences in the Superdome in New Orleans (God, I LOVE that city) after Hurricane Katrina. It regularly takes down whole cruise ships, and infects 250 nurses and doctors in a hospital and these are people who are wise to superbugs. Frequent and proper hand washing is a must – a lengthy procedure involving the singing of either Twinkle Twinkle Little Star or Happy Birthday so you know you are doing it long enough. And it must be proper old-fashioned soap and water with agitation to get the microbes off you. It’s vigorous and thorough and anti-bacterial soaps or hand washes or gels are, again, useless in the face of Nora.
If you’ve got it, stay away from other people. End of. Do not go into work. Do not be a trouper. No-one will thank you for that and you WILL infect everyone with whom you come into contact via every surface you touch. Which reminds me to include this keyboard in my bleachfest in due course.
Casualties of Nora chez moi include but are not limited to Mitsy having a hungry weekend and my new Christmas cashmere socks from the White Company. Not sure they will recover and I was only wearing them because I was so bloody cold. Operation Cleanup is ongoing and will be for some days and possibly weeks to come. You are constantly infecting and reinfecting everything with each bathroom emergency, including such items as your toothbrush.
And you think it’s all over, so you begin bleaching everything you know you’ve touched and those things you haven’t which is absolutely draining to the weak post-Nora kitten, and then you have to do it again with each bout. Changing my sheets took four goes, bottom sheet, sit down. Rest. Do 4 pillowcases while sitting down. Do the duvet cover? No, can’t even contemplate that now, will have to wait for a little knackering energy burst later.
This isn’t for the faint-hearted. Client Alice told me about her friend who, like me, isn’t a wuss and was normally also very much an ACV (apple cider vinegar) kinda girl. But that she had been AMAZED at how quickly it comes in and fells you, so much so that she had called NHS Direct. I don’t blame her. If Dr Google hadn’t put me right, I may possibly have considered that. But it was good to know that even if you think you are made of stern stuff, you are nothing when it comes to Nora. Reassuring, strangely. And it me feel less alone, like one of those apocalypse movies where we are all wiped out by something like this in one fell swoop.
When flat on my back I found some wonderful resources online, the sort I like, the sort I could implement because I did have those items in stock – lemon, fresh ginger, ACV and manuka. I am so grateful for those.
Upsides? There were some, amazingly.
1. Weightloss – wouldn’t do it that way again, of course, but I am loving the efficiency of Nora ripping through me. She’s taken everything. She nearly took me.
2. Get this… I can put my lace-up shoes on without undoing the laces! I am now like Cinderella. Sylphlike and without an ounce of fluid in me I could fit on a size 5 glass slipper where normally I have great galumphing size 8 feet. (Oi! Prince Charming? Over here, I’m the one with vomit on her nightie, the one too weak to clean so bring a couple of those Ugly Sisters with you too please.)
3. The night before last in a clean nightie and clean sheets I had the first night’s uninterrupted sleep for as long as I remember. I woke feeling like a relatively new woman in the morning, yesterday. There’s nothing so refreshing as a great night’s sleep, I love to sleep. Then I remembered that normally I wake up in the night to pee once or twice and that I hadn’t had to do that the night before… thanks to the dehydration!
4. I can nibble dry bread and dull biscuits and ice-cream and guzzle Lucozade ALL DAY LONG – and lose weight. Again, I wouldn’t have it that way but until my “safe” appetite for produce returns, c’est la vie.
5. My tolerance for **** TV has plummeted to zero. Yesterday I was watching episode 12 in season 4 of Revenge which is just utter bilge. I have no idea why I’ve stuck with it. And half way through that 80th episode I just realised I wasn’t well enough to give a flying **** what happened in the end, I couldn’t care who lived or died or got their Revenge or didn’t. All I wanted was my bed, where I lay awake, tossing, turning, groaning, moaning and sweating, until 4.30 this morning and then had to re-schedule most of my clients until tomorrow. Life. (This one, No 5, might be my best upside actually.)
What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.
I am not stronger yet, but I know my opponent now and if it ever happens again I shall be prepared. No need to panic. Millions of people have experienced this before me and made much lighter work of it, I’m quite sure. But forewarned is forearmed. I’m in the game now. I’m not going to say “bring it on” because I hope Nora and I never shake hands ever again, I wouldn’t wish that on my worst enemy. But if perchance we do, I’ve got her number.