Last week, I had what the Queen has – no, not millions in the bank – but, gastroenteritis, or norovirus. I had gone away to a conference with two of the students from the college where I teach. On the second day, I began to feel a little queasy.
Then, after dinner, my stomach bloated out, and I decided to go to bed, and miss the evening sessions.
Around midnight, I began to vomit. I threw up perhaps four times. Then, I again went to the bathroom to empty my guts out.
The next thing I knew, I was lying on the ground, with my head on the floor of the shower, and someone was calling my name, asking if I was alright.
I must have fainted. I mumbled something in reply. But found I could not get up. I felt completely dizzy, unable to pull myself vertical.
The student, and another conference guest [it was a residential], stayed outside the bathroom door inquiring after my health.
They wondered, did I need an ambulance? No, I assured them, I was OK, and would be up in a moment.
Then came the moment of humiliation and shame. I felt my bowels move. But I still couldn’t get up off the floor.
And so, slowly, surely, and smoothly, I voided my bowels in my pyjamas. In my mind, I thought, this is what it feels like to be old. To be incontinent. To be vulnerable.
It was then that I allowed them to call an ambulance. My need got the better of my pride.
Very quickly, a paramedic arrived. He helped me stagger back to my room; and I managed to crawl along the floor and collapse by my bed.
Somehow the vomiting had affected my inner ear, causing a severe attack of vertigo, which was why I couldn’t move from my horizontal position.
Eventually, he decided that an actual ambulance should come to take me to hospital. But because this occurred in the middle of the Derbyshire countryside, it entailed transporting me to Derby.
The two students volunteered to accompany me to the hospital. They were stalwarts. Gamely, they sat with me through the night.
The medical staff measured my blood pressure, and took blood samples; finally declaring that I indeed had gastroenteritis.
After putting me on a drip, to reverse my dehydration, they pronounced me fit to go home. Another attendee at the conference drove me south towards London.
In a scene like a Cold war spy exchange, he handed me over to my wife, at the Thurrock service station on the M25.
After a few days rest, I recovered. But, the embarrassing incident had opened a window into my future. Old-age.
It awaits us all. We just don’t want to think about it, facing our own weakness, our powerlessness. Our dependence on others.
It is also about mortality. We think we will go on forever. But with the future certain, we had better start considering the options – socially, medically, and spiritually.