For all of you internet-searchers, you hypochondriac, Web-Md searchers. You, who seem to have every symptom listed under all fatal diseases, you who self-diagnose and then avoid the doctor because 1. you don't need to give them the $15 copay if you already know what you have, or 2. you're scared to find out you might be right. This post is for you.
I was right. I turned to the internet in my despair last week, sicker than I've ever been, to desperately try to find SOMETHING that made sense for the symptoms I was having. What on earth could be ailing me? And why wasn't I getting better? Being logical, and somewhat of a closet doctor wanna-be, I eliminated the most obviously WRONG things and started delving deeper into the strange and uncommon. And I hit pay dirt! I found my symptoms, exactly my symptoms, listed under an evil name: campylobacter. This is an insidious bacteria that one can become infected with in handling raw poultry (Thanksgiving dinner prep? Check!). Some people who come in contact with it never become sick. But for those who do, let's just say it might be the sickest you've ever felt. You might say "I'm dying" and you could be right, although only about 124 people a year actually die from this bacteria. Most people with this illness will get better in about ten days, but the average person will not be able to tolerate ten days of absolute misery, and will see a doctor. In severe cases (mine) antibiotics are needed to kill the bacteria (side note - I requested a zpac for my illness, the antibiotic known best to kill this bacteria. However, since my test results were not in, the doctor prescribed Cipro, which also kills salmonella. Turns out I needed the zpac so after five days on Cipro, I will now be on azithromyacin for five additional days. Shoulda listened to me, doc!).
Most people recover completely but some will develop arthritis, or, even more baffling, a rare nerve disease called Guillain-Barre syndrome which results in paralysis that lasts several weeks and requires intensive care. It is estimated that one in 1000 cases of campylobacteriosis results in this disease. I REALLY hope that does not happen to me. Worse, it takes several weeks after the illness for this to occur. So, "out of the woods" is a relative term and the effects of this illness can last a long, long time.
One of the most common ways to contract this illness is through cross-contamination from uncooked poultry to other foods. It only takes one drop of poultry juice to contaminate other food or utensils. I believe I contracted this while preparing Thanksgiving dinner. The really disturbing part is that I am fastidious about cross-contamination and food safety. Just ask my husband! I wash the tops of cans before I open them. I throw out food that's three or more days old. If anything is even slightly "off" I throw it out. I am a stickler for washing hands after handling meat and NEVER using the same cutting board for different foods unless it's been washed in the dishwasher. I wash knives and utensils between uses if I'm going to use them on another food product. I wash my hands CONSTANTLY when preparing meat. I scrub the sink with Comet after it's come in contact with raw meat. I wipe up meat juice spills with antibacterial wipes and/or bleach. I'm a stickler.
And yet, I got sick. I don't know how it happened. I followed all the precautions. The only thing I didn't do was wear rubber gloves when handling the turkey (which I will do in the future - IF I ever prepare another turkey - ick!). It's possible a knife my son was using to cut apples and fruit for a salad could have come close to a utensil I was using on the turkey. I don't know. But what I do know is that I got sick two days after Thanksgiving and was sick in bed for the next five days. I had no energy for anything, I ran a fever, I had cramps that were as painful as labor (and I can say this with authority because I've given birth unmedicated more than once!). I had nonstop diarrhea, nausea, and ate almost nothing for five days. I drank a gallon of Gatorade and couldn't get enough ice. The only good news was I lost ten pounds, but I would NOT recommend this as a weight-loss plan. I'm still recovering - most food still sounds gross to me, and I have very little energy.
The lesson here: one, sometimes you CAN diagnose yourself from the internet. Two, no matter how careful you are, you can still pick up a nasty bacteria even with the best and most careful preparation of food. And three, if it can happen to me, it can happen to you. BE CAREFUL! After this illness I am seriously considering becoming vegetarian. I'm not sure if I can ever prepare a turkey again. We might have to start a new tradition of having tacos on Thanksgiving. Bon apetit!