04 April 2009

Disclaimer: Ungenteel content enclosed. Proceed at your own risk.

(Bacteria was a hardcore Punk band in Britain.)

One night while we were here looking for apartments, we went out to dinner in the 17th with a couple of Karen's colleagues. On the drive into town from the office, one of them pointed out The American Hospital and suggested that's where we'd want to go for healthcare while we're here.

It took us a month to get there.

This week started out promisingly enough, with 2 days last weekend at a wine festival for 500 small French producers and a tart red wine risotto at home Sunday night in honor of the sampling we'd done. Then Monday morning I had my first real bike ride in France, out of the urban density through the town of Versailles, unexpectedly getting a taste of a few miles of real live pavé past Marie Antoinette's Chateau en route to open countryside, where I was treated to vibrant green fields and rolling hills on the way out and forest on the way back. With a weather forecast of mid-60s and sunny for the rest of the week, it seemed destined to be a week to explore the countryside and finally start building some fitness.

But by Monday night, we were both suffering the effects of food poisoning. And not just your garden variety wish-you-could-pull-out-your-GI-tract food poisoning, but an especially evil variety that brought, in addition to all the usual fun, uncontrollable shivering, crawling between bed to bath due to vertigo, and complete energy depletion. When it was obvious on Thursday that things were only continuing to get worse, we went to the hospital. See doctor, give samples, get prescriptions: pretty standard stuff. The antibiotics seem to be slowly doing the trick for me, as I could actually walk today. Karen hasn't yet experienced that hope; it'd be a cruel coincidence if it turned out we had 2 different problems. Hopefully tomorrow for her.

Being this sick bites, but a particularly frustrating aspect has been not knowing where we got it. It's not like we ate barely cooked unemptied pig intestine. Last time I had confirmed food poisoning, it was from a deli in Chicago, and I heard on the radio on the way back from my doctor that there had been X number of cases linked to some bad turkey there. Easy. Here, though, it's harder to pinpoint. Was it the food we ate at the festival Sat (kinda long incubation to get sick Mon evening) or Sun (we didn't eat the same thing, even if from the same stand)? Was it something we drank there? Either way, given the number of people at this festival, there would be lots of people affected, and I haven't figured out how to search the french web space effectively for such stories. Did we get something on our hands through transit and not clean well enough before eating there? If any of the above, as long as we're more cognizant of hand washing while out, it's unlikely to repeat. My biggest worry is whether we could have gotten it here at home.

Not only have I spent over 25 years working in or around labs (including cell culture without antibiotics), I spent several years working in professional kitchens, so I've seen my share of food safety manuals and videos and real-life examples of what good and not-good food prep, storage, clean-up, and work practices are. Neither the biologist nor the kitchen worker in me is enjoying the number of possibilities for sources at home. This apartment, while tidy, was not clean when we moved in. Could I have missed something when I cleaned the kitchen? Is the inside of the refrigerator truly clean? We know it has clumsy self-defrost, leaving the refrigerator too cold then too warm, but we haven't bought a thermometer yet to see by how much. Is that the problem? Was it a specific food? The raw milk cheeses we're fond of? Unlikely, and I'd hate to give up either the cheese or my vendor, who's pretty cool. Have we somehow cross-contaminated since the laundry machine is in the kitchen? The French and I may share a fondness for cheese that smells like old socks, but I draw the line at bringing loads of soiled clothing into the place I cook and prep my food-- yuck, that's just retarded. Yet nearly all of the 17 apartments we saw had kitchen washing machines.

Unless the bug culture at the hospital comes back as something unusual enough to define its origin, we'll probably never know. 

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