Food Poisoning, Food Allergy, or Stomach Flu?

by Sarah Henry on February 8, 2010 · 23 comments

in comfort food

Will depart from regularly scheduled programming today to bemoan the fact that for the third time in two and a half years I have some intestinal trouble that has had me completely off food since Friday.

I’ve said it before but it’s worth repeating: It’s almost impossible to write about food when you can’t keep any in your stomach. So I won’t. But I will ask you all a question: Does that seem like a lot of tummy upsets in a short amount of time?

I ask because my friend Karen, whose hubbie Jay has pinch hit for me on two of these occasions by taking my son for the day, wondered if maybe I’m allergic to something and don’t know it.

Could there be a food that’s literally making me sick?

Karen has first-hand experience: She discovered she’s allergic to lentils. Lentils! Who would have thought they’d pose a gastrointestinal hazard?  But Karen ended up in the E.R after eating lentils so they’re off her list of safe legumes she can consume.

I’ve had food poisoning before;  oysters one New Year’s in Pt. Reyes and prawns one anniversary celebration in Milan spring immediately to mind.

Food poisoning is the pits. Acute, violent, it’s like you morph into Linda Blair in The Exorcist.

The Italian incident was the worst. The then-hubbie and I had exactly the same dish but only I succumbed at 2 a.m. in the most intense way. Maybe it was The Gods getting back at me for picking a fight on what was supposed to be a special, joyous occasion. Or maybe they were just equaling the score since he got hepatitis after our honeymoon in Mexico. Who knows.

Thank goodness we’d sprung for a modern Milan hotel room with a bathroom the size of my current cottage. I spent a lot of time in there and refused to let anyone in. It was a wild scene and I didn’t want any witnesses. Then we had to make a decision whether or not I was well enough to fly home that day.

I wasn’t. But I was also terrified of being left in a land where I didn’t speak the language and feared dying of dehydration with no one the wiser, so I forced myself to get on that 12-hour flight. It was not pretty. At one point I lay on the floor in the airport terminal. Ewww.

On the plane I found myself sandwiched between a group of happy clapping Baptists — Lord help me — who were, it must be said, very sweet. When I explained my predicament, that I would not eat anything in flight and might have to dash out of my seat without any notice, they were kind and understanding. By the end of the trip one practically snarled at the flight attendant: “Don’t you get it? She’s too sick to eat. Stop offering her food.” Bless that woman.

I don’t think I’ve ever been so happy to crawl into my own bed than I was at the end of that journey. I did not change my clothes or brush my teeth. But I did lie there moaning in relief that I had made it home with my insides still intact.

What I have right now doesn’t have the drama of food poisoning. Maybe it’s a gut bug I picked up on an overnight field trip with a group of 5th graders. I started to feel bad the evening we returned from the three-day trip, though nobody else in our group seems to have gotten sick.

Or maybe it’s something I ate at a Thai restaurant Friday night — I can’t rattle off the menu or visualize it right now because it makes me feel icky. No one else in our large party got ill, but immediately after the meal I started to endure major discomfort during a dance performance we all went to and I had to head home in a hurry.

And that proved to be me last supper, for now.

While I’m on this sorry subject, my colleague Molly Watson over at the Dinner Files recently compiled a handy list for caregivers looking after someone with a short-term, yet incapacitating, illness. Check it out.

I’d add to her list: Feeding young ones so the sick don’t have to spend any time in the kitchen. Nothing worse than having to make dinner for kids when you’re too ill to face food. My son’s dad made dinner for our boy last night and for that I’m extremely grateful.

I’ll save the $15 co-pay at my doctor’s office and solicit online opinions. What do you think I’ve got — food poisoning, a virus, or food allergy — and what do you recommend I do to find my way back to food?

Molly suggests salty crackers, which I’d forgotten about. I think I might try and make it to the corner store for a box so I have something to nibble on, if the urge strikes.

Then it’s back to bed for me. Stay well.

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{ 23 comments… read them below or add one }

Greta Lint February 8, 2010 at 10:20 am

I completely understand food poisoning. My parents were hospitalized for days and nearly died. I was sick too – from eating a tainted salad at a very high-end restaurant in Hickory, N.C. Along the way, I learned a couple of valuable things that I share with everyone who gets sick: 1) Insist that your doctor give you fecal and blood tests; the medical community often touts that you have a flu and won’t check for food-borne illnesses unless you request it and 2) log into http://www.safefoods.org, the premier resource for persons who have gotten food poisoning or have any questions about it. S.T.O.P. (Save Our Tables Now) is working with Congress to help make our food safer – and to help reduce the number of us who have worshipped the throne. Feel better-Greta

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Sarah Henry February 9, 2010 at 8:11 am

Hi Greta,

Thanks for writing and for the good tips. I managed to keep in white rice with miso soup last night, so I think I’m on the mend!

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Tracy February 8, 2010 at 10:13 pm

Toast and vegemite should be your first foray into food. Pair that with a cuppa tea and she’ll be right mate (or at least I hope). Feel better

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Sarah Henry February 9, 2010 at 8:14 am

Ah, yes, Tracy, if there was one comfort food I wanted it was the old white bread & Veg toast with an Aussie-style lemonade (think 7-UP, if you’re not familiar with this Down Under soda, only without the chemical taste.)

Alas, I’m jar-less! How did that happen? My half-Aussie boy doesn’t like it. Does Kate?

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Nani Steele February 8, 2010 at 10:41 pm

Wondering if there is a link to “shellfish” from the 2 incidents you described; as for what you were/are feeling over the weekend, it’s hard to know, since you say you weren’t feeling well when you came home from the trip, then again after dinner. Is there a flu bug going round?

Saltines are always good to have around; cold, ginger ale or bitters in soda water. Hope it’s clearing up, whatever it is.

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Sarah Henry February 9, 2010 at 8:18 am

Hi Nani,

You might be on to something there…prawns and calamari in the Thai meal too. I’m feeling so much better today. Sticking to the broth & white rice diet for now.

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Anna, The Lemon Lady February 8, 2010 at 11:09 pm

Campylobacter jejuni. I remember all too vividly from years ago. Thought I was going to die, literally.

Rest up. Stay hydrated. By tomorrow, I’d say better safe than sorry and check with the doc.

Well-written story under such discomfort. Appropriate cartoon.

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Sarah Henry February 9, 2010 at 8:20 am

Thanks for the kind words, Anna.

Even though it was awful, I wasn’t in pain and I felt in reasonable spirits despite the lack of food and discomfort. Hence the ability to write, which also temporarily took my mind off my ailments, even as I wrote about them. Onward…

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Almost Slowfood February 9, 2010 at 12:00 pm

3 times in 2 and a half years? It sounds pretty normal to me. But then my stomach is very sensitive:)

I always find my way back with clear chicken broth. Hope you feel better soon!!

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michelle February 9, 2010 at 12:07 pm

A couple of comments:

Lots of people develop allergies to specific shellfish in their thirties and beyond. The reaction is often not consistent and no way to tell when it will strike although often related to some kind of emotional stress or over-doing it physically.

When Jacko was small I read ‘somewhere’ that Saltines are actually not a good idea with an upset stomach. The high amounts of baking soda are really caustic to the already stripped down lining of the stomach (remember when people used to recommend Coca Cola for stomach upset?).

Hope you improve rapidly Sarah!

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Sarah Henry February 9, 2010 at 6:35 pm

Thanks Michelle,

I was all over that seafood theory when what do you know?

Guess who came down with the same symptoms today?

So I suppose it’s a flu doing the rounds.

I’m on the mend…just in time to look after my boy, who has a head cold as well.

Poor love…at least the germ fest, I mean field trip, was fun!

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Molly February 9, 2010 at 5:18 pm

Hope you’re feeling better Sarah – thanks for the shout out above! Vegemite on a Saltine dipped in Coke with a dose of bitters it is! (Hope your stomach is better before you read that combo.)

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Sarah Henry February 9, 2010 at 6:37 pm

That would have been cruel yesterday, Molly. Today I can laugh!

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JCN February 9, 2010 at 10:06 pm

Very glad to read that you’re on the mend!
For years I thought I had a sensitive stomach and would often throw up after eating pork or duck. I never cook these meats at home, so they were always restaurant foods. It wasn’t until last year that I had my first gall bladder attack (have subsequently had my gall bladder removed) and realised in retrospect that the pork and duck illnesses were probably related to eating high-fat foods. I have maintained a low-fat diet for many years now so in fact these two culprits have been off the menu for ages … but I share this story as an early warning about my (in)ability to deal with high-fat foods YEARS in advance of the actual body part playing up!

Secondly: don’t forget gastroenteritis. Is that what the Americans call stomach flu?? I got a violent and sudden case of it courtesy of my 6-y-old nephew while mid-flight between Melbourne and Singapore. Not to trump your story … but let me just say, I did NOT make it to a toilet in time (all were occupied); I threw up the entire 5 hour flight; I was on an oxygen mask and they had to page for a doctor. And it was probably an even worse experience for all the other people on the flight than me!!!

I do think your experience sounds more like food poisoning.

Kepe getting better!

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Sarah Henry February 9, 2010 at 10:44 pm

Happy to be trumped on this one, JCN, but your (recent?) flight sounds truly horrible. So sorry to hear that.

And, yes, stomach flu is American-speak for gastro or what my doctor brother graphically refers to as “the squirts.” Gotta love those Aussies for calling a spade a spade (that would be calling a shovel a shovel, to some).

Thanks for the info on the link between gall bladder disease and high-fat food, which isn’t at all appealing to me (pork and duck have never been on my go-to list, though millions love the stuff). Word to the wise, indeed.

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Jennifer Margulis February 9, 2010 at 10:32 pm

Ugh. Sounds awful. Glad you are laughing today. I had food poisoning in West Africa and really thought I was going to die. It’s the worst.

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Sheryl February 10, 2010 at 6:53 am

From reading all the comments, I’m glad to learn you’re on the mend. Sounds like you must have had the flu or a virus, since your son is now the lucky one. I’ve never had food poisoning (well, might have, but not to the degree that you described – poor thing!) and hope not to ever experience anything that awful.

By the way, if you can write like this when you’re feeling ill, I can’t wait to read what you write when you’re feeling well!

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Sarah Henry February 10, 2010 at 8:40 am

Hi Sheryl,

You’re too kind. And I totally agree: A bout of food poisoning is something best avoided if at all possible.

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MyKidsEatSquid February 10, 2010 at 11:24 am

I’m so sorry you’re not feeling well–but it sounds like you’re doing better. We’ve had more than our fare share of food poisoning incidents–including one that landed my husband in the ER and me in Labor & Delivery with my second child. (Don’t worry, I didn’t have food problems, but when my hubby woke me up at 2am to go to the ER my water broke!). Top that off with a family reunion on the Disney cruise awhile back when the rotavirus was rampant–ah, nothing brings a family together like shared sickness. That said, I think it will take a little detective work to figure out if you have food poisoning or stomach flu. If it’s stomach flu, it seems like someone else would get it. Food allergies it seems, wouldn’t cause the violent, well tummy upsets without other symptoms too, is my understanding. And food poisoning? Well, I think you’re right that some people have more sensitive tummies than others. For now if you can keep down bland foods, I’d say skip the doc and the co-pay. You remember the BRAT diet right? Bananas (which are supposed to be excellent for tummy ills), rice, apples, tea…Good luck.

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Sarah Henry February 10, 2010 at 2:00 pm

Yes, MKES, we’re all about the BRAT diet over at my house these days (son has it too so I guess there’s my answer to what ails me).

Must say I’m loving all these dramatic food poisoning stories. And you’ve got some doozies. They’re quite funny, after the fact, of course.

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Meredith February 10, 2010 at 4:41 pm

I have recently heard of several people who had food poisoning. It seems that I went for years and years (maybe most of my life!) without ever hearing that someone got really terribly sick from what they ate. The same with food allergies. Fascinating to wonder why–though certainly no fun for the sufferer to endure.

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Katherine February 11, 2010 at 7:28 pm

Oh, I am always convinced I have food poisoning whenever my stomach gets upset. I think there is some rule of thumb about how quickly you feel the effects – allergies are the fastest; food poisoning next…

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Lisa March 8, 2011 at 3:49 am

Food allergy is an outcome of the misdirection of the reactions to certain foods by the immune system. These food allergy reactions are most commonly seen for protein rich foods, consumed in excess. Just about 2 % of adults and 8 % of children, a total of 10 % of diseased people suffer from food allergies alone.
http://www.aboutallergy.net/food-allergy-reactions.html
Lisa´s last [type] ..Gluten Free Bread Recipes – Shred The Bread

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