"It's the only true common denominator for people with ME/CFS/FM. No one medication works for all of us, but all of us just cannot drink... not and LIKE the result. We for some reason cannot metabolize the stuff."
- Penny McCracken
The only hangover I ever had was after the occasion of a party in our Navy housing, near Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. My husband was then assigned to the diesel-electric submarine U.S.S. “Tang.” I was all of 24 years old.
I had not, in previous times, understood the absolute depth of a hangover. Since I did not drink very much, if at all, I just had never experienced how awful they could be. In retrospect, it is a wonder I was not murdered before that! When my husband had occasionally imbibed too much, I was not always sympathetic. I tended to bang doors, slam cupboards, and let the kids play, while the poor man was nearly incapacitated.
So, we had friends over to dinner, and all except the hostess were playing cards. I continued to languish on the couch, having suffered a mishap which left me with my right leg in a toe-to-hip cast.
My husband was bringing drinks to one and all, and over the course of an evening, he had brought me three tall drinks of “Seven and Seven.” I didn’t realize that the ratio of whiskey to 7-Up had been seriously altered! I wondered, briefly, at the glint of mischief in his eyes. Understand, this evening also included a full meal. So in any case, it should not have bothered me all that much. After all, I am rather tall, and, er – zaftig!
The last thing I remembered was going up the stairs in a fireman’s carry, while at each of the three turns it took to ascend said stairs, my cast banged the wall, while I giggled a lot, and reached down to pat my husband’s rather wonderful buttocks!
He helped me change to nightwear, smiled solicitously, kissed me goodnight, and left. I corked off to sleep almost immediately.
When I awoke in the morning, I looked sleepily about. My husband was standing there, grinning in a way I had not quite seen before. I felt OK – sort of – until he leaned over my shell-pink ear, and bellowed GOOD MORNING, HONEY!” I lurched up – and the entire world caved in on my head! Oh, God, what was THIS? I am sure that only my frantic grasp of my head kept it from immediately toppling from its place above my shoulders!
My head felt as though it was packed with wet sand. And every grain was being aggressive to its neighbor. I had to balance it carefully, lest all that sand shift to one side, leaving me with head parked helplessly on my shoulder. My teeth itched. A camel seemed to have been French-kissing me all night. My eyes were boiled rubies, underlined, not with bags, but whole steamer trunks! Even my HAIR hurt!
Now came the delicate matter of my morning’s ablutions. I put my cast on the floor, as lightly (I thought) as eiderdown. The resulting crash sounded like nuclear war, many megatons of it. Getting up on crutches was a process not to be believed, and please God, never to be repeated! I was gently assisted to the necessary room for those ablutions, by a man who seemed to have turned pro wrestler – overnight. He SAID he was being gentle. I called him unprintable names, while he laughed, evilly. I stopped, just to get rid of that laughter. Any sound but that.
After I took care of the call of Nature, I attempted to brush several layers of, well – ICHOR off of my teeth. The electric toothbrush screamed like a chainsaw, the toothpaste was an affront to my delicate stomach, and flushing the commode nearly did me in. Niagara falls – from directly beneath!
After returning to bed, about two miles away, I caved in with a grateful sigh. Husband, having revenged himself (but only slightly!) left, while still chortling. I hurled a pillow at him – followed by more unprintable words. Oh! Even that hurt! Better not move head, there was still all that sand to consider. I cradled my poor head on the soft pillow, wincing as the feathers inside engaged in a fencing match.
Gentle husband left me alone for awhile. Still no silence – a gecko stomped across the ceiling – with combat boots on. A small bird chirruped innocently from a tree nearby. I thought it was a condor, in full cry! Then there was the mosquito – oh, hell, let it bite. Maybe it will get drunk and kill the others.
Later, husband returned, with what he said was something called “hair of the dog that bit you.” I turned green, and needed that bathroom again! We nearly didn’t make it.
All that day, husband remained gleefully, evilly in “get even” mode. By now, I didn’t blame him. I had time to contemplate, with regret, the times I had not understood when he was overtaken by the same condition. I regretted every banged cupboard, every slammed-down pot, and every act of unkindness to his poor state. I contemplated them, in fact, at some leisure – while still praying that sand would at least dry up! He offered me the occasional comestible – which caused renewed nausea and outright refusal from my beleaguered stomach. And so the day passed. I spent it in bed, except for the occasional repeat of visits to that far away bathroom.
The next morning, I still refused food. By now there was nothing left in my stomach to indulge in riot. Second day passed, much as the first.
By day three, husband was actually showing signs of sympathy. He had NEVER seen anyone take this long to recover from too much of the “uisgebeatha” – in Scotland and Ireland, called “The water of life”. Those Scots and Irishmen were made of sterner stuff than yours truly - including their women – and just possibly, their children!
Day four and now he is actually worried. Still cannot look at food, and can barely tolerate water – which I sniffed suspiciously before drinking, in case he was trying to slip me a Mickey. He actually called the doctor at the Submarine base. He said it was hard to talk to him, over the bellows of laughter coming from the phone. I could hear them – and even that hurt.
Day five and the sand is beginning to be more like a beach, with occasional waves of pain surfing in on the crashing waves. Must have been 30-footers. I still cannot eat. But I’m beginning to think I just might live – and finally cared whether or not I did!
Now-chastened husband is asking me if I want to go to the doctor. Remembering the bellows emitting from the phone, I declined. Figured I would gut it out, given that there was so much space in there. Feeling dizzy when arising from my bed of pain. Plaster still thumps harshly against the floor, crutches being clumsily wielded by a marionette, with the strings cut. But I am, more or less, able to make it to that distant bathroom under my own, well,” steam” is the wrong word.
Day six. I just languish in bed. Still can’t, you could excuse the word, “stomach” food. Husband now bringing viands I once found tempting. Yecchh!
Day seven – and I finally rise. Even manage to go downstairs. Sans crutches. It is safer to sit on stairs, bump down on behind, one at a time. Carefully check out head. It seems to be again, firmly attached. Only a few grains of sand left. But occasionally, one of them kicks another, starting small war. I may live. Finally figure out: “You know, that stuff is probably not good for me!” Make soulful promise to self never to overindulge again!
From then on, I never drank more than one drink of an evening, and only on about four or five occasions per annum. Husband makes monumental discovery: One drink, I get amiable – and amorous! Two, I smile beatifically, and find a corner where I can nod off. No action that night! Husband now gives me one drink – and then, lots of coffee! Smart guy.
Final discovery – figure all that time, no food, I should have lost a few pounds. Nothing. Some rule or other: If you don’t burn any energy, you don’t lose any weight. Lying in bed and moaning apparently does not constitute “burning energy.” Damn.
Later, more attentive when husband suffers repeat of same condition. Only one question: Why, in the name of all that’s holy, does anyone volunteer to suffer that same condition, again?
Note: Looking back, Penny recognizes she had symptoms of ME/CFS/FM and associated medical problems for years before becoming too ill to continue her career, at age “40-something.” We have reproduced this cautionary tale with kind permission of the author.