Please Romaine Calm

Last week, on the afternoon of April 20th, I ingested a meal at the Flicks Theatre. It was a large chicken Caesar salad. As I crunched through bite after bite of tasty romaine lettuce, I hardly paid attention to my phone which was vibrating continuously in my pocket. “I’m far too addicted to my devices,” I reasoned. “No need to check whatever news is causing this ruckus.”

I cleaned my plate, even using a piece of baguette to mop up the last shards of parmesan, and walked back to my place of work.

Back at my desk, I finally glanced at my phone. Text messages flashed up at me. My eyes darted back and forth like Nicholas Cage finding the secret code on the back of the Declaration of Independence. The CDC. Yuma, Arizona. My grandma shouting about avoiding all salads. And what was this about lettuce?

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You always wonder how you will react in moments of total crisis. Will you scream? Will you shout? Will you simply faint?

It turns out that when faced with horror, I assume an upright fetal position. I gripped the far side of my desk and shoved my face into my laptop keyboard and tucked my knees into my chest and let out a pitiful warble-moan.

It appeared my time had come. E. coli was calling.

It is one thing to come down with a cold or flu. Viruses are so small, and their location so impossible to ascertain, that we conceive of them mostly in abstract. It is quite another thing to eat a giant bowl of potential E. coli. Because you know it’s right there – right in the physical space between your belly button and your spine. And every moment that you are not inducing vomiting is a moment that one trillion vengeful mercenaries might be unloading themselves into your unsuspecting colon.

I had entered stage one of possible-disease-grief: my hypochondria flew into overdrive. Adrenaline coursed through my quickly collapsing body. I was on WebMD before you could say “Dr. Oz”. I scrolled like a maniac until my eyes came upon that most terrifying harbinger of medical doom: mortality rate.

It said that 1-2% of people who get E. coli die. Mostly very young children and the very elderly.

My mind scuttled out of the vice grip of fear. I started to feel emotions unrelated to survival.

I might not die, but I still might be the sickest I’ve ever been.

I might not die; I’m just going to lose half of my already unimpressive bodyweight. 

I was THIS close to ordering a cheeseburger!

I was then able to enter stage two of possible-disease-grief: whining incessantly to co-workers.

The true devilry of E. coli, beyond the fact that it sometimes makes you poop until you die, is that the symptoms don’t show up for three to four days. For those three to four days, your very innards become a mystery box worthy of Schrödinger. Is the disease inside you or not? Your only answer is tears.


This story has a good ending. The Flicks Theatre, in its infinite wisdom, does not source its romaine from Yuma, Arizona. I sit behind my keyboard happily untouched by our leafy pandemic, eating nothing but Hawaiian rolls spritzed in a gentle ethyl alcohol solution.

They are delicious. I do not miss the taste of vegetables.

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