The Post-Plague Diet

On New Year’s Day, at around 4 a.m., I was bushwhacked by an illness that bore an intriguing similarity to one that knocked me on my ass and changed my life about four years earlier.

I considered this latest excruciating episode might be a vengeful god punishing me for spending a portion of Christmas Day provoking my granddaughters to command their new Google Thought Servant to make progressively more disgusting fart noises. 

But my ruminations also took a page from my personal silver-linings playbook – and a passage in my book on the aftermath of the last bout of plague, in late November 2014:

I was sick in bed for about a week. Not sure what was wrong. Linda checked my symptoms on the internet. I either had an intestinal flu, kidney failure, or cholera. Didn’t go to a doctor. Didn’t get a diagnosis.  

When I came out of it, I felt okay. That evening, as was my habit, I poured a glass of red wine. Tasted awful. That was it. Not a drop since.

So, after my fifth consecutive sober New Year’s Eve, I took to bed, crashed into that familiar state of misery, and periodically contemplated the possibility I would ultimately discover an upside at the apex of the abyss. In one more – or less – semi-coherent moment, I was convinced I would find the taste of cigarettes as repellent as alcohol.

Other nocturnal visions included a full head of hair, a flat stomach and the sex drive of a Tijuana teenager.

My recovery, however, was not seamless. On the third day, cocky enough to venture a drive to the store – for cigarettes – and a full dinner of Linda’s spicy meatballs and spaghetti, I received another 4 a.m. attack of wretchedness.

I will not detail the symptoms, but this time they included one more that the internet suggested might be attributed to the venomous sting of the blue-ringed octopus.

Still anticipating another post-affliction surprise – and there was one – I wondered whether it would be payback for all the times I raised a glass of Pellegrino and toasted the wisdom of the great Dean Martin:

I feel sorry for people who don’t drink. When they wake up in the morning, that’s as good as they’re going to feel all day.

Would I snap out this this malaise with a shot of Dewar’s? Pick up where I left off after decades of dedicated drinking?

A week after New Year’s I was back on my feet, though a bit wobbly. Besides the short-term loan of a plate of meatballs and spaghetti, my sickbed sustenance had consisted of iced tea, the aforementioned Pellegrino – both with lemon – toast, scrambled eggs, and Lipton chicken noodle soup, .

I have always been a red meat and potatoes guy. But the New Year’s Eve rack of lamb with rosti had become a recurring nightmare. As had the spicy meatballs. And, as far as I was concerned, garlic, oregano and onions were now banned substances.

“Would you make me some boiled chicken?” I asked Linda the first night I could face a full dinner.

“Boiled chicken?” she replied with a disapproving look, as if I’d asked for blue-ringed octopus a la mode.

“Yeah, you know, like Woody Allen ate when he was sick in Annie Hall– just plain chicken.”

“How about if I steam a chicken breast?”

“Sure,” I said, still cashing pathetic-patient chips. “But no spices – nothing.”

I baked a small potato and sliced a cucumber, slathered it in Hidden Valley Ranch dressing – the original. 

It was all edible, if not enjoyable.

Since then, none of my dinners has featured red meat. All have included salads with Hidden Valley Ranch dressing.

White. Bland. Born in the heart of Reagan country.

I grew up on pastrami, veal parmesan and grilled steaks. In adulthood, added Mexican, Szechuan and other spicy favorites. Always drenched eggs with the hottest salsa I could find in Canada.

“Is it real hot, or Canadian hot?” I’d sneer at restaurant servers.

Has that guy gone the way of the Dewar’s-drinking dodo? Would my greatest eating adventures now be boiled-chicken tacos topped with ranch dressing?

So many questions. So little of appeal in the fridge and the pantry.

In the meantime, I’ve diagnosed my illness as Quadrennial Early Winter Plague (QEWP), a name I’ve registered with the North American Society of Geriatric Neologists.

The Expat Files: My Life in Journalismis available in paperback and Kindle editions from and Amazon Canada.