A Tale of My Wedding

A year ago, I got married. Something that until a couple of years ago, I never thought I’d do. I’d been bitten hard, and I couldn’t do it. Couldn’t even imagine it. It takes the right person, and the right situation, to make something like marriage seem feasible, even exciting. And until a couple of years ago, I don’t think I was even mentally ready for it. It’s a big commitment, one that many people don’t really appreciate. It’s just a “thing to do”. Witness the divorce rate…

Today is the first anniversary. We’ll be going to Mozart in the Mountain, the first concert of the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra’s season. (Obviously, I’m writing this entry in advance.) I’m also arranging a night at the Banff Springs Hotel as a sort of celebration. Hopefully it all goes well. But this entry isn’t about this year’s anniversary. I want to tell you a story about my wedding, and how things don’t always go as planned. To set the stage, I give you two words:

Food poisoning.

This all started on the Tuesday before, 23 August 2005. Exactly how, I can’t tell you. Not because I don’t want to, but because I don’t know. We’ve talked about this endlessly trying to figure out exactly what happened. All I do know is that I ingested Campylobacter jejuni, a rather nasty gut bug that takes a few days to incubate and do its thing. There are a couple of possibilities, but nothing that I would consider conclusive. When when you’re “best friend” happens to be Murphy, you know that it doesn’t matter — you were going to get it anyway.

Skip ahead to Friday, the 26th. My friends Stuart and Therese were in town for the wedding with their daughter, and we’d all gone out to Chilliwack to have dinner with my family at a cabin they’d rented. Clams, mussels, and steak. At the time, we were waiting for news of Teak picking Chris up from the airport (having flown in from Japan) and we would all meet at the Mission Best Western, where Therese and Stuart were staying.

It took a while for Chris and Teak to get back. Teak took a few wrong turns in Vancouver (which is very easy if you don’t know where you’re going) and they ended up having to stop for dinner along the way. Stuart and I ended up waiting in the hotel’s restaurant/bar (Therese baby-sat, under the intention of swapping with Stuart once Chris arrived).

Around 23:15, I decided it might be necessary to go to the bathroom. I’d only had 1/2 of a bottle of beer, though plenty other liquids (I had a bit of a headache, but nothing I’d consider bad). When I stood up, I knew something was wrong. There was that twinge of nausea that suggested something was amiss, and I really needed to go to the bathroom.

When Chris and Teak finally arrived just after midnight, my head was swimming. I couldn’t see straight without a lot of effort. There was no way I was going back to Chilliwack that evening (I was supposed to stay with my family). I begged Teak and Chris to crash in their hotel room. I managed to (somehow) drive back to their place in Maple Ridge (about 20 minutes) without causing an accident. I pulled out my sleeping back, curled up on the floor, and proceeded to suffer a tired, awkward, sweaty, and painful half-sleep until my alarm went off at 7:00 the next morning.

By that point, I’d made a few trips to the bathroom. None of them were to vomit, thankfully, but every trip just reinforced that something was wrong. Teak’s Advil didn’t bring much relief. The pressure of the things that needed to be done before 13:00 however, allowed me to concentrate on other things. That, and a stop to the 7-11 along the way to pick up Gatorade seemed to help a bit.

While Alex was getting her hair done (I hadn’t seen her since early-afternoon the day before), I ran around setting up tables, arranging placements, getting chairs into their locations. Teak and Chris had graciously loaned me their time to help decorating, though we didn’t really need a lot of it. Mostly just to hide the rather unattractive corners of the tent.

An early-morning call to the bakery had discovered that our order for cupcakes would be ready for 15:00 … two hours after when we actually needed them. My head still swimming, I wasn’t in the mood to hear that, and strongly suggested that they recheck their schedule, as I was to pick them up around 11:00, and I could only afford the trip into Abbotsford once. After a few minutes of discussion, they assured me it would be ready on time.

My gut started to feel a little like a saltwater taffy puller. Things were moving, and it wasn’t comfortable. I hadn’t eaten much to speak of, but hunger was the last thing on my mind. All I wanted was to have the day go off without a hitch. While Chris and Teak toiled away with their decorating, I headed to the bakery to get our cupcakes.

By the time I’d arrived back, guests were already in attendance. I was in grubby clothes, unwashed hair and unshaven. Not to mention feeling wholly gross from the exploding infection in my bowels. And to top it all off, the two wait staff that we’d hired promptly asked where they could find the ice.

I’d forgotten the ice.

After the fastest trip yet seen from the house to the corner store and back, I retreated to the basement to try and get ready. I figured a hot shower would help. All it did was call out to the dull ache in my lower back. The shave was like scraping nerve endings. I looked like I hadn’t slept in a week. I suited up nonetheless, determined not to let some lousy, stupid illness put an end to something that we’d been planning for months. Ache or no ache, the show had to go on.

Everyone seemed to notice immediately that I wasn’t feeling up to scratch. But most people — including my lovely wife-to-be — were convinced that it was only “nerves”. I humoured them and went along with it, but knowing full well the difference between nerves and illness. For the most part, it wasn’t too bad, I was able to work with what we had, mingling and wandering around, before we actually went into wedding mode. Tie and jacket added, we started the service.

Like most things in our wedding, it was largely unplanned. We had an approximate idea of what we needed, but we didn’t rehearse (no need to) and didn’t know how long it would take Paul to go through the speeches. In reality, I have no idea how long the service actually went. All I do know is that the shoes (new) combined with a lot of standing and the seemingly full-on assault to my inner abdomen was wreaking havoc with my back. Spasms periodically shook through my spine and it was everything to bite my tongue and tell Paul to move it along a bit quicker.

To this day, Alex still says I didn’t enjoy my day. It wasn’t that I hated it, far from it — weddings are meant to be wonderful days, and we’d planned ours in that way on purpose. But I couldn’t enjoy it as much as her. I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t drink. I couldn’t think clearly. I didn’t get to partake of all the mingling that I’d wanted to. Taking the photographs afterwards was almost torture. I looked for every opportunity to sit down. In fact, one of my favourite pictures of us was when we were seated, and I was resting my head on Alex’s shoulder from sheer exhaustion. It looks angelic in print, even if it belies the torture going on underneath.

The lack of clarity of thought really cut out a few things that I would have liked to do, namely get pictures of myself with those in attendance. As such, we have very little with those who came from afar. It’s my only regret of the day. The event wrapped up around 18:00 with people heading out into the evening. When most people had left, I headed back downstairs to get myself out of my suit and into something that felt less restrictive. The bed in the room I was changing in looked so inviting that I just couldn’t resist laying down for a moment.

Alex found me there, passed out. When I awoke, the room spun in wild circles, like a midway ride gone wrong. I had to shut them almost immediately to prevent nausea. Alex let me rest another 30 minutes before we left for our hotel room in Langley. The trip there was hell. Every bump in the road sent pains up my body. Even the cool breeze didn’t help to clear anything. A card that Chris gave me sent me bawling from emotional overload. Though only a 30-minute trip, even 30 seconds was too long to get there.

The running joke of the wedding night is this: hot and sweaty, without a lot of sleep. And that was just me.

Despite a hot bath and almost having to call the biohazard disposal team from what had escaped from me (again, no vomiting), I still fired up the furnace of illness, actually forcing Alex to sleep at the far edge of the bed from me. It was too hot, even for her. The opposing chills that came were equally intolerable.

The next morning I actually felt marginally better. I ate for the first time in almost a day and a half — a carrot muffin — before we headed out for our honeymoon. The idea had originally been to drive to Fairmont, a drive of about nine hours. But that had been scrapped even before my illness, when we realized that it was just unrealistic. Revelstoke seemed much better for our first leg. But even though I felt good enough to drive, we didn’t even make it as far as the Coquihalla Toll Booth. My system was going down again. Thirty minutes from Kamloops, my hips felt like they were imploding, my legs wouldn’t stop shaking.

They say married men live longer than single men. It’s not because they’re married, it’s because single men don’t have someone to force them to go to hospital when something’s wrong.

For the record, the Royal Inland Hospital is a very nice facility that offers some really decent healthcare. They triaged me right away, including a bracelet and a urine test. I had to wait only a few minutes to get a bed, my own heart monitor (and blood oxygen monitor), and a nurse that checked in on me to get more information about how I was feeling. Alex was more distracted by all the gadgets in the curtained area than about me at this point — the problems with marrying someone in the health care industry…

The trouble really came when the doctor came in. A decent fellow, he thought maybe the shellfish could be culprit, but he seemed doubtful. He carried out a conversation fairly nonchalantly, repeating most of the same topics the nurse had covered not long before. He was so smooth about it that he almost managed to get me to miss the blood test and IV he wanted to put me on.

If you haven’t already heard, I don’t like needles. I hate them. Loathe them. Despise them. And now he wanted to put something in me not for a few moments, but a few hours to … do something (I didn’t ask what). I immediately started reacting by suggesting that there must be some other way. The doctor, wisely, looked at my new wife for support. She just looked at me, smiled, and softly said: “Suck it up, buttercup!”

For the record, it was the best thing that could happen. Blood tests ain’t my thing, and while I didn’t dig the IV (having to take it down the hall to the toilet to deliver the ol’ poop-in-a-hat test was something I never thought I’d have to do one day), I felt immeasurably better for having taken the two litres of saline. The majority of my issues were due to dehydration, and this was the best way to get me back on track.

The doctor also informed us that the bacterial infection could potentially spread through body fluids, so we had to keep our respective distance for a few days. On our honeymoon, no less. The ultimate torture for newlyweds. But at least the cramping was gone and I didn’t have any relapses. It wasn’t until I got back to Calgary that I found out what I’d actually had (not the shellfish, that much was certain). Source unknown, but culprit found.

One day, down the road, we’ll probably get remarried. Something fun, simple, and easy. And hopefully free of nasty bacteria.