Friday, December 6, 2013

The Juanita Strain, Part I

Arriving in Houston last week for Thanksgiving, JB's sister Dottie was already waiting at the airport for us. She drove us directly to lunch at a Mexican restaurant. Not a real Mexican restaurant, we went to Pappasito's. Being conscious of my calorie intake, I ordered a small salad. Their small salad was still ridiculously large, but I suppose I was in Texas now. Instead of croutons, it came topped with cheese tacos.

Dot informed us that her husband, JB's brother-in-law, Juan, would have liked to join us but he wasn't feeling well. It seems he caught some sort of bug from their daughter who caught it from her sister's daughter who brought it home from school. But Dottie assured us Juan was on the mend and already in the kitchen, cooking up a storm for the next day's feast.

I felt strange imposing on them when half of the family wasn't feeling well. But Dottie was so excited to see her brother, she probably wouldn't have told us if they were all in the intensive care ward if it would have caused us to reconsider our trip.

Later that Wednesday evening all of Dottie and Juan's children and grandchildren came over for dinner. We ordered pizza because Dottie suddenly wasn't feeling well. I maybe had half a slice of the pepperoni and mushroom. I've been saving pizza as a reward meal which I wasn't even close to deserving yet. Plus I could hear Dottie vomiting through two closed doors. I didn't like the direction this holiday was heading.

The few glimpses I caught of Dot on Thanksgiving Day told me she was miserable. I recalled how only 24 hours earlier she'd given me a big wet smack square on the mouth. Rather than succumb to blind panic, I decided a scientific approach was in order. That afternoon as the various Houston-based members of JB's large extended family gathered to celebrate Thanksgiving, I surreptitiously began collecting information by asking subtle questions. Questions like:

  • "So poor little Juanita came home from school sick? What day was that, exactly?" 
  • "Sorry to hear you weren't feeling well earlier this week. When did you first start feeling ill and what were your first symptoms? Please be specific."
  • "Approximately how long between vomiting episodes? Are we talking hours? Minutes? And how many times would you say you barfed?"
  • "These bouts of vomiting and diarrhea you experienced... were they alternating or concurrent?"
  • "So you say you're still sharting? Fascinating."

Once I had enough data I began running the epidemiological calculations in my head. The results were alarming. Far from being a super-spreader, little Juanita was merely patient zero of a highly contagious, rapidly propagating outbreak, likely viral. Probably the new GII.4 Sydney strain of Norovirus I'd been hearing about. (I really need to stop spending so much time with my CDC friends.)

I then projected the results of my calculations forward into a range of likely personal impact scenarios. Of course, the best case scenario would be not getting sick at all. But I knew the probability of that was about equal to the other extreme of the bell curve: dying in a puddle of vomit and poo.

My projections weren't encouraging. The best realistic outcome I could hope for was making it all the way to early Saturday, perhaps even Saturday afternoon. That would make our scheduled flight back to Atlanta that afternoon an iffy prospect. But there was an equal chance of not even making it to Thanksgiving dinner that evening.

I decided not to share my findings with JB and hope for the best.

To be continued...

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