Sunday, November 18, 2007

The Alien in My Intestines

After a delay due to family obligations, here's the first installment of our Ireland story. It starts on the Thursday night before we left.

I was feeling a bit out of sorts around dinner time, and unwisely consumed a buffalo burger, thinking it would help clean me out. Unfortunately, if anything, it made the situation worse. I began to feel a sharp ache in my lower right abdomen. The rest of my evening was spent more in the bathroom than out of it.

As the night wore on, I found myself heading to the bathroom again and again with nothing to show for it. The pain in my abdomen became excruciating. I began to wonder if I had appendicitis. The next day I had planned to work from home, and by the morning, the abdominal pain wouldn't even allow me to stand up straight. I started visualizing the scene from Alien in which the alien bursts from the guy's stomach.
My mom always told us the story of her cousin who died of appendicitis as a teenager. She wasn't feeling well on the day of her prom, but said nothing because she didn't want to miss the dance. The cousin died of a burst appendix that afternoon.

And here I was debating whether I should go to the hospital. If I went to the hospital, I might not be able to board the plane at 7pm. If I waited out the illness and skipped the medical care ... what if my appendix burst somewhere over Iceland?

I spoke with Steve about my plight. He noted that he'd suffered through a very similar problem about two weeks earlier. Thinking back, I remembered Steve walking hunched over with his hand on his stomach. At the time, I thought he was being melodramatic. (Example #457 of karma kicking me in the ass.)

Ultimately, I popped four Advil and we headed to the airport. That night on Aer Lingus was a long, painful one, and once we landed in Dublin on Saturday morning, I found I could barely stand up. It took me a moment to straighten out. I barely remember going through Customs. We picked up our luggage, some weird bagels to go for breakfast, and went to the rental car lot. After a few shaky trips around the parking lot, Steve seemed to have the right side stick shift fairly under control.

A couple of hours later, we arrived at our Belfast hotel and attempted to check in. It was 11 a.m. local time; check-in was 2 p.m., and the Radisson SAS Belfast refused to allow us to check in three hours early. (This is the first time a hotel has denied such a request in all my recent trans-Atlantic travels.) We left our car in the hotel lot, grabbed a tourist map and trudged wearily into the center of town, unfortunately forgetting our camera. Four more Advil later, I found that, if I didn't twist any muscles in my torso, the pain would stay bearable. If I tried to twist my body at all, it felt like that alien was trying to punch its way out of the right side of my large intestine.

Near City Hall, we hit the excellent Tourist Information Centre and bought a couple of driving maps that would serve us well throughout the trip. Then, we boarded a double-decker tourist bus for a tour of the city. Normally, we would prefer to check out a town on foot, but I was in no shape to hoof it all over Belfast. Not to mention it was about 45 degrees F and it had started to rain.

I'd like to say the tour was exciting and really made the stop in Belfast worthwhile. But truly, although we enjoyed seeing the murals and peace walls on Shankill Road and Falls Road, the epicenters of the Troubles, the best thing that happened on the tour bus was that we got some much-needed sleep. I wasn't even that embarrassed about it. When the tour ended, it was 1:45, and we hailed a taxi for the mile-or-so trip back to the hotel. The cab driver was shocked that we'd need a taxi for such a short trip, but again, I was in no shape to walk, and I was not even a little embarrassed.

Blissfully, we checked in back at the hotel. I collapsed into the bed in a fetal position and slept for a couple of hours. Around 5 p.m. we ordered some room service. I ate a very small portion and fell asleep again until the next morning.

I improved slowly over the next few days, eating bland foods and having the occasional half-pint of Guinness or Smithwick's, which Steve suggested had medicinal properties.

By Wednesday I felt like I had finally been cured. The alien had been beaten into submission.

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