Monday, August 15, 2011

Mitigating the Inevitable: Part 2

Warning: No pictures in this post...just a wall of text.

A while back, I wrote a post about some preventative measures to avoid getting ill while eating street food as well as how to deal with it when it happens (which is inevitable). When I wrote that post, I was in fine fettle and good spirits.  Shortly thereafter, however, my fettle turned very un-fine.  I'm not sure exactly what it was or how it found me, but I spent several days in July under siege by a particularly aggressive stomach bug. It's been a long time since I was sick like that. Years and years. It was terrible. I was laid out. Incapacitated. I had forgotten just how bad it can feel.

It's funny the way our brains work. Some senses can be replicated pretty smoothly in the memory. Sight and sound are particularly good at this. I can, for example, envision my wife's face in my mind's eye with a pretty good degree of accuracy. Same thing with sound--I think I could probably play back entire Beatles albums in...well, my mind's ear. The timeless beauty of my wife's face and the intricate harmonies of "Magical Mystery Tour" are not perfectly replicated in my brain, but they are decent simulacra. Just a few degrees off of reality. On the other hand, if I try to replicate smells, tastes, or feelings in my brain, they just don't come. If, for instance, I try to recreate the taste of a strawberry, I can't. It's equally difficult to make my brain smell formaldehyde if there is no formaldehyde in sight. It's not just a matter of remembering, but recreating. It's the same way with this illness. When I'm not sick (99.9% of the time), I can remember that it's not any fun, but I'll be darned if I can actually "feel" that feeling in my brain. I'm not a scientist, so I don't know much about this kind of thing, but I'd like to know more. Why do sight and sound come so easily to mind, but not the other senses? Any scientists out there want to enlighten me?

Anyway, the long and short of this post is that those few days when I was miles under the weather were the only time that I ever questioned my resolve on this street food project. In those moments of extreme discomfort (euphemism employed for your benefit), I thought: "Why in the world do I want to spend three months eating street food, when I know it will inevitably make me feel like this again?" It seemed like the worst idea in the world. Of course, now that I'm feeling better again, my resolve is right back where it should be. I guess that's a benefit to not being able to remember feelings. If I could lie here in my bed and recreate that feeling of my stomach being a bubbling cauldron of heavy gravy or my head feeling like somebody was blowing up a balloon inside, and that it was gradually expanding inside my skull, I am not sure I would be so cavalier about heading back to China. Maybe it's our brains' way of saying, "you're better off forgetting these things, champ." Just pulling the wool over our eyes.

So, in the end, I am just as committed as ever to go explore China through my stomach. The trip is drawing closer (the departure date has not officially been set yet, but I expect to figure that out soon), and I am getting more excited day by day. Here's hoping that whenever I get sick again, my brain continues to instantly forget what it was like as soon as I am recovered. That's the sort of willful forgetting I can stand behind.

PS: I know I said "no pictures" at the beginning of this post, but as a special thanks for those of you who read all the way through to the bottom, here's a picture of a whale giving a diver a high five:

There, aren't you glad you read through to the end?


Post a Comment