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!

It’s Not the Getting, It’s the Returning

I love to get things. I’ll happily go to the store and purchase a pair of fuzzy pajama bottoms or a new bathroom organizer that will do nothing but sit on the wall taunting me with its messy shelves and utter lack of organization.

The problem comes when something has to be returned. See. The getting is so easy, but the returning is soooo hard.

Overboard DVD

A DVD that was “borrowed” and never returned.

clothes

Clothes ordered online that didn’t quite fit right, but were never returned.

oil can

The oil can we borrowed from our landlord and have yet to return. She lives downstairs.

shower rod

The shower rod we bought for … I can’t remember why … and still haven’t returned.

Fault in Our Stars Book

The library book I’ve yet to return.

So what is it? Why am I so bad at returning things?

My best guess – The thrill of getting is way more powerful than my desire to sit on the couch. And there is no thrill in returning.

Cue the awkward segue: Is there anything else more powerful than my desire to sit on the couch?

Yes! NaNoWriMo.

Participant-2014-Square-Button

I’m joining the band of crazy people who have decided it’s a good idea to write a novel in a month. That’s 50,000 words in 30 days folks. At the end of November I’ll have 50,000 words added to my novel. It will be glorious. And you know what else is glorious? I can do it while sitting on the couch!

If anyone wants to be writing buddies, let me know 🙂

The Other Side of Potluck Paranoia: Potluck Performance Anxiety

According to Wikipedia, people who are uncertain of food preparation methods, sanitation, and unknown ingredients may experience a case of the “potluck willies” or “potluck paranoia.”

People with potluck paranoia are grossed out by the batch of deviled eggs you prepared using a cross-contaminated spoon, while petting your cat, and with your long hair dangling over the mixing bowl.

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Sort of like this. See how my hair isn’t really pulled back and my fingers are cootiefying the batter.

I am not one of these people. I eat with abandon at potlucks.

IMG_0192

Probably because my husband acts like this around food.

No, I have my own kind of potluck paranoia. One that involves self-doubt and worry, not as the eater, but as the dish preparer.

It begins with receipt of the potluck invitation

“Why, yes,” I say. “I’d love to attend the potluck for the birthday/office/holiday party.” A small twinge of fear runs up my spine, but I can ignore it. After all, I have three weeks before the potluck.

Then, about three days before the event, things go haywire inside my brain:

What should I bring? Dip, yes dip is always good. No, everyone brings dip. What about a cheese or fruit platter? Ugh. Those rarely get eaten. I know – my homemade bouillabaisse that takes three hours to make. Perfect. Everyone loves bouillabaisse. Or do they? What if people are allergic to shellfish? Or onion? Or flour? Or food?

How about beer bread? That’s yummy. And easy to make. Is that good enough? Will they know I used Earth Balance and not real butter? Is one pan enough? Too much? What if someone spits out a cat hair? Can people get drunk from beer bread?

Perhaps I should just buy some potato salad and be done with it. I’m sure that will be fine. But what if the other potluck-goers look down on me because it’s store bought. They’ll sneer as they wonder if it has high-fructose corn syrup. They’ll be judging me. I’ll be voted off the island, deemed the weakest link.

What if I bring the same thing as three other people? Maybe I should diversify and bring a few different things: an appetizer, bread and dessert. They do say that diversification is good.

What if I just hide under a blanket and never leave the house again?

At the potluck

Where should I place my delicacies? Yes, the right location for my store bought pasta is paramount. I notice that someone else brought the exact same pasta salad. I nonchalantly place mine next its twin and look around to see if anyone has noticed. I drop off my dip, next to the other similar dips.

Now I watch as others drop off their dishes. I try not to judge them based on their offerings. I wonder if people know I brought the same pathetic salad as someone else. My eye twitches.

I load up my plate, taking a little bit of everything.

I watch my dishes out of the corner of my eye. Are people eating them? Has anyone even tried them? I better go take some of each. You know, to get the ball rolling. I better take a lot. Then people will think they’re good, because a lot is gone.

Now I start to feel bad for all the foods that no one is eating. I make another round and load up on more items.

I notice that the dip is almost gone. The pasta salad, however, is a flop. I make a mental note for next time.

After the potluck

I ponder what to bring next time. The crab dip was a success. I could just stick with that. But soon, they’ll come to expect it. I’ll be pigeonholed as the crab dip girl and that’s all I’ll ever be. I’ll never be able to show the world my range.

I look to my husband for support. He looks back at me like I’m nuts. He obviously doesn’t understand the social significance of selecting the proper potluck dish.

A week later and it’s time for another potluck. I decide to make something this time. Should I do an appetizer or main dish? Maybe something spicy. No, some people can’t handle spicy foods…

And cue the cycle again…