The Time I Had Botulism, Sort Of … Okay, Not Really

So botulism is this super scary disease caused by Clostridium botulinum spores that create a toxin when exposed to a low oxygen environment. When eaten, the toxin can cause blurred vision, weakness and paralysis, which can affect the respiratory muscles and result in death. It also has been known, in at least one case (mine), to cause an unprecedented level of paranoia. Here are the facts of my case:

A 37 y.o. female was exposed to a puffy pouch of Friskies Gravy Sensations on 11/13/14 at approximately 8:25 a.m.

Cat food

I think the food was tainted when MoJo got into the cupboard and bit through some of the pouches. I thought I threw them all away, but obviously not.


She reports that the pouch seemed a little puffier than normal, but proceeded to open it anyway because she likes to live with one toe on the wild side. Upon opening it, she noted the meaty chunks of chicken (read: all the less desirable parts of the chicken, and maybe a few bits of mouse too) appeared to be a little off, meaning the chunks were a paler version of the chunks poured from the non-puffy pouch, and they exuded a malodorous, well, odor.

Being the slightly paranoid individual that she is, she was already aware of the dangers of eating food from puffy and leaking cans. Sadly, before opening this pouch, she had not applied what she knew about cans to pouches. Now, the pouch was open, with undeniable evidence that it had been tainted.

Half of the pouch’s contents had already been poured into one of the cat’s bowls, mixing with the normal, untainted chunks of food (read: still filled with the sketchy parts of the chicken and probably peppered with bits of mouse, but slightly less malodorous and the chunks were still dyed to appear like real pieces of meat).

Being the very caring cat owner that she is, she immediately dumped the contents in the trash and gave the bowl a quick wipe down. A new, non-puffy, pouch was pulled from the cupboard and the cats were fed their breakfast.

That’s when things went terribly wrong. The woman proceeded to situate herself in front of the computer, with the internet browser open and ready to locate any and all articles that would evoke the level of fear and paranoia, that only sites like WebMD can evoke.

Today’s culprit turned out not to be WebMD, but the CDC. Now we all have been quite aware of the recent Ebola outbreak and the corresponding push by the CDC and other government agencies to quell any fear or panic that might erupt in the general population. Interestingly, the CDC has chosen a different route when it comes to the handling of food potentially contaminated with Botulism.

As example:

On the Consumer Information and Resources page, the CDC says Foodborne botulism is a rare, but serious illness.

Okay, rare was good. The woman could handle rare. But then the CDC took it to the next level.

“Even taking a small taste of food containing this toxin can be deadly.”

Hmmm. That sounded worse. Even a small taste can cause infection. Well, the woman knew she hadn’t eaten any of the cat food. She just dumped it in the trash, ran the bowl under the faucet and dried it with a paper towel. That couldn’t be a big deal, right?

To dispose of potentially contaminated foods, the CDC recommends the following:

“Put on rubber or latex gloves before handling open containers of food that you think might be contaminated.”

What???? Gloves? The woman was now in a state of panic. She didn’t wear gloves!

“Avoid splashing the contaminated food on your skin.”

Her mind flashed back to her sloppiness when doling out the food. The “gravy” dripping down the spoon, onto her fingers and landing on the counter. Then a quick wipe with a paper towel to clean it up. She was certain she hadn’t even washed her hands. Impending doom consumed her soul.

The CDC then says to “place the food or can in a sealable bag. Wrap another plastic bag around the sealable bag. Tape the bags shut tightly … Wash your hands with soap and running water for at least 2 minutes after handling food or containers that may be contaminated.”

Um, does it sound like touching contaminated food is like coming in contact with nuclear waste?

The CDC also includes a very detailed process for cleaning potentially contaminated counter tops, which involves bleach, 5-10 paper towels, soap and water, and at least 15 minutes of processing time for the decontamination to be complete.

Holy cow, the woman thought. Gloves, bleach, double bagging, a full two minutes of hand washing! All for slightly off cat food chunks. Of course, the woman had done none of these things prior to opening, handling and discarding the pouch of certain death.

A cleansing spree ensued, and the woman bleached everything including her cat’s tongues (not really, but it was considered), the trash was removed from the house, and she scrubbed her hands and face for four minutes each just to be safe.

And then the countdown began: 18 – 36 hours for the symptoms to appear. 18 – 36 hours of utter paranoia. Every itch, twitch, weird swallow meant the beginning of the end, or at least a trip to the ICU for a little time on the ventilator. A vigil was held for the cats as well. Were they walking normally? Scratching the couch with full gusto? Did one of them puke on the floor and not directly in her shoe? A little more research on the internet showed that for the most part cats were pretty much immune to botulism.

Black cat in box

Celebrating her immunity by sitting in a box.

At midnight that night, the woman woke herself to ensure she was still alive. When morning came she tested her cranial nerves.

As the day progressed, the paranoia lessened. The woman even forgot about her impending doom long enough to write a few thousand words. The next day she only thought about her botulism infection 20 or 30 times. And now a full week later it seems the botulism only infected her brain, causing great anxiety and mental paralysis, but never fully resulting in any muscular paralysis. And sadly, none of it made it to her face, where her crow’s feet and forehead wrinkles could use a little smoothing out.

By the way, I “won” NaNoWriMo. Over 52,000 words in 30 days!


24 thoughts on “The Time I Had Botulism, Sort Of … Okay, Not Really

  1. Carrie Rubin says:

    “At midnight that night, the woman woke herself to ensure she was still alive. When morning came she tested her cranial nerves.”—Ha! Loved that line. Love the kitty in the box photo, too.

    Great post. Wonderful for a Monday laugh. By the way, every medical board test I’ve ever taken, including the practice ones, has a question on it about botulism. Maybe they can use you as a case study. 😉

    • jennifer Windram says:

      Thanks! I tend to be a little paranoid. The saying, “ignorance is bliss” really can be true in some cases.

      It’s comforting to know all the doctors will be fully prepared to recognize a case of botulism if it comes rolling through the doors.

      I’m sure they can use me for a case study, the question is for what 🙂

    • jennifer Windram says:

      I’ve realized I should probably just stay off the internet. I’m way too paranoid of a person to be reading about the billions of illnesses out there.

      It’s too bad you can’t just rub the tainted food on your face and get the same results as the injections!

  2. Letizia says:

    Carrie’s tweet led me to your post and I’m so glad it did, I couldn’t stop laughing! (sorry, is that bad to laugh at someone potentially dying of a terrible disease brought on by bad cat food??). I’m glad you didn’t beach your cat’s tongue and that you all survived, just.

    • jennifer Windram says:

      That’s great! I’m so glad you came by and had a laugh. Don’t worry, I’m not offended. I’m laughing at myself too, now that I survived.

      Yes, I don’t think the cats would have been too pleased with the bleaching of their tongues. They’re already so temperamental 🙂

  3. Marcy says:

    I have eaten dodgy food, too, and then counted the hours until I knew I was free from food poisoning. Let’s say together, ‘when in doubt, throw it out’.

  4. Celine Jeanjean says:

    Haha that made me laugh. I have been in this kind of situation SO many times.

    I hate those WebMD type websites. I mean I love them, but having self diagnosed myself with everything from cancer to bronchitis I wish there was a box you could tick to keep would be hypochondriacs away.

    • jennifer Windram says:

      Yes, I have a love/hate relationship too. I was already on there this morning looking something else up. I either have cancer, some autoimmune disorder, toxic poisoning or hypochondria. I haven’t ruled anything out yet 🙂

    • jennifer Windram says:

      Thank you. It feels great to be botulism-free. I talked to my mom about this post yesterday and she asked why I didn’t also consider listeria or campylobacter. Now I know where I get it from…

    • jennifer Windram says:

      Yes, I’m in awe myself. Although, there is a lot of this: “And then they kiss XXXXX” and long spurts of dialog with no character movement, setting, etc. So, I have plenty of blanks to be filled in.

      • gpeynon says:

        I’ve got a blank that lasts for about 200 pages, so you’re doing much better than me… although I might just steal the line “And then they kiss XXXXX”. I presume the XXXXX signifies moving onto more adult activities? 😉

  5. lindsaycummingswrites says:

    Great post. I had a client that had a really bad case of seborrheic dermatitis and my paranoia was rampant for about a week! Ewww, I’m itching again just thinking about it!

    This would freak me out too! No more WebMD 🙂

    • jennifer Windram says:

      Oh, I can relate. I once took care of a guy with head lice and they were everywhere. We had to wear a gown and gloves when we went into his room. I stole a little bottle of the medicated shampoo and used it a couple of times at home just to make sure I didn’t take any of them home with me. I was itchy for days.

  6. meandcoffeefairy says:

    I am of the opinion that eating dirt and other things that were once ok but not so much now, due to folks no longer living with chickens in the back yard, and now being paranoid if you drop a fried piece of chicken in the dirt, close to where a chicken forgot an item or two, folks no longer have their system exposed to the nasty stuff, and cant take a little spoiled cat food touching their dainty fingers now.

  7. JM Stories says:

    Kudos on NaNoWriMo! I totally forgot to do it this year, which is a way of saying I was too tired to do it this year. “Tired” might really mean “lazy”, but I’m trying to refrain from negative self talk.

    • jennifer Windram says:

      Thanks! It went by so quickly and now I actually miss it. Sometimes I get “tired” too, especially when I get sucked into TV shows on Netflix, but then I tell myself it’s research for future stories and characters so it’s okay 🙂

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