Hello again from the Big Blue!
Several hours have passed and I am still awake – this is a good sign. My story concerns
a fish but I believe it begins with a rooster. However, I will start with the
fish and explain my theory about the rooster later on. My story begins on a
pleasant and productive Sunday…
Sundays are the only day Air Rarotonga has no flights here, so Prez and I have decided
to make Sundays our “day off”. In the resort business, there really is no such
thing as a day off, as anyone reading this that’s ever worked as an
owner/manager will attest, but at least on Sundays there are no check outs, or
check ins, so we can plan on some time to relax. So, on this past Sunday, I
spent the morning and early afternoon finishing laundry, cleaning the Garden
Hut for the next day, cleaning our house, and tidying loose ends in the office.
After that I had several free hours to write while Prez worked on the website. It
was, overall, a lovely day.
Sometime around midday, Felipe & Jenny paid us a visit. They’re from Chile and were
staying at the resort next door for their honeymoon. Fred had taken them out
fishing twice and they were thrilled beyond belief. On this visit, they just
wanted to thank us again, and they brought over a filet for us from the fish they
said was their favorite of all the fish they’d caught. (*We thought it was a cabrilla,
or something similar. It looked identical to a cabrilla but we found out
later it was a Brown Cod.) We thanked them and decided to have it for dinner.
Around 7pm, Prez said it was high time we ate something and he was going to cook up
the fish. I pried myself away from the computer…I wasn’t terribly hungry but
that doesn’t mean anything, I often forget to eat while I write. We ate the
fish and were surprised the Chileans had found this one their favorite – it was
good but a little chewy, and there were others that were much better. Near the
end of the dinner we heard a voice calling us. It was Felipe, we told him to
Felipe did not look well. “I came to tell you not to eat the fish,” he said.
Prez and I looked down at our empty plates. Uh oh. Too late. Then he explained
that shortly after lunch, he and his new wife had begun too feel ill. Within a
few hours, they were rushing to the toilet, and soon they were en route to the
hospital. The doctors told them they definitely had fish poisoning – Ciguatera.
There is no cure or treatment for Ciguatera, and so they were advised to take
their anti-diarrhea meds and return to the hospital if things got any worse.
Felipe said he’d come over to warn us as soon as he was well enough.
Still, we held out hope. They had eaten three types of fish for lunch: Emperor, Red
Snapper, and the Brown Cod. The most likely culprit was the snapper, even the
doctor said so. We had only eaten the cod, maybe we’d be OK. Maybe. Felipe said
the sickness came on fast and that we’d know in a few hours if we had it. Talk
about a stressful night. Whether we had it or not, we felt terrible for giving
clients a bad fish.
For those who’ve never heard of it, let me tell you about Ciguatera. There
are tiny organisms called “dinoflagellates” that live in certain algae blooms.
Fish that eat this algae take the toxic organisms into their body, these fish
aren’t good for us to eat but the fish that eat the fish that eat the algae are
even worse, as they now have a much higher percentage of ciguarotxin in
their body. There is no way to tell if a fish has it or not, cooking or
freezing the fish will not get rid of it. Your only defense against getting
Ciguatera is to avoid eating fish that might have it. (Prez and I both know
this; we never eat any kind of Jacks, Barracuda, or large Grouper for just this
What are the effects of Ciguatera? Well, the first symptoms are much like your standard
food poisoning – nausea, diarrhea, vomiting – but then the neurological stuff
kicks in. More about that later.
So, there we were, watching the clock, waiting for any sign of the illness. Around
11pm we fell asleep, confident we’d had a very narrow escape. Around 2am I woke
up and ran to the toilet. Nope, no escape for us. The rest of the night was
spent running between bed and bathroom.
By morning, the other symptoms began in earnest. Cold was now hot. If I put my
hands under cool water, it felt as if they were being burned. (That feeling has
not subsided – I use a dish towel to take things out of the fridge, now.) My
head was not just aching, I had the sensation that it was clamped in a vice and
someone was slowly squeezing it. My skin hurt, as if I had a minor sun burn on
every inch of me. My hands and feet were numb, then they would tingle, then
they’d itch. Drinking water was awful; it tasted funny and burned my mouth and
throat. Everything smelled and tasted weird. Perhaps the worst was the
“Squeezy-Squeezy” – my name for the waves of muscle pain that came over me,
like my body was wrapped in tensor bandages that someone kept pulling tighter
and tighter. In other ways, it felt like the flu: extreme fatigue, body aches,
Prez felt bad but bounced back pretty quickly. His biggest symptom was a feeling
like he had to “piss like a racehorse” but when he tried nothing would come
Monday morning was hell. We had three huts to turn over, two airport drop offs and one pick up. A zombie freshly woken from the dead would have had more energy than
us. I honestly don’t know how we did it, especially Prez; he did most of the
work. About 9am I sat down for a break and passed out.
I spent most of Monday either asleep or writhing and moaning on the bed. During my
waking moments, I tried to find ways to make myself feel better by playing a
little game called, “This would be worse if…” I would think things like, This
would be worse if…I was in a refugee camp in Africa, or This would be
worse if…I had young children to care for. I’m not sure why I play that
game, it never works. Usually, my mind starts wandering to “This would be better
if…” and then I start remembering the big fluffy bed I slept in at Miz Liz’s
place while I recovered from the flu last year, and BJ’s nice Chai tea that
would taste so good, and other impossibilities.
Tuesday was not much better, though I did stay conscious long enough to do some office work.
Today, Wednesday, I have been fully awake since 8am (it is 1pm). And, as long as I am
lying down, I’m feeling OK. Walking to the bathroom and back is the equivalent
of doing the Ironman and I must close my eyes and rest after I do so. The
Squeezy-Squeezy has calmed down a bit, though the whole hot-cold thing has not.
I had a sort of sponge bath, with water heated by the kettle as our hot water
is solar powered and the sun has been absent for two days.
Now here comes the really bummer part…
Since Felipe’s announcement on Sunday night, I have done extensive research on
Ciguatera. Across the board, doctors advise not to eat seafood for 4 to 12
months after you have been poisoned. No seafood, of any kind. Apparently, it
can trigger a relapse. Prez says he will only wait a couple of weeks but I know
how useless my immune system is, so I’ll be seafood-free for the next 6 months
at the very least, and after that I will be very careful about what type of
seafood I eat. Also, alcohol should be avoided for 3 to 6 months, as it can sometimes
trigger a relapse. No martinis???!! For 6 months??!! Good god, they’re the only
thing that keeps me sane here some days. Waaaaaaa!!
So, I’m in a tropical paradise and I can’t eat fish or have a cocktail. How stupid is
My research also uncovered a few more facts. First, ciguatera is found in many
more fish than what I believed. Along with Jacks, Barracuda, and grouper, you
can also get it from parrot fish, wrasse, snapper, emperors, Dorado (mahi
mahi), and basically any warm water fish. Tuna seem to be OK, (whew). Also,
ciguatera is on the rise thanks to world climate change. (Oh come on all you
doubters, give it up!). A warmer global climate means more toxic algae blooms,
which means more ciguatera. Yikes.
The symptoms of Ciguatera usually last one to two weeks, sometimes for months, and
there have been a few, rare cases where they lasted up to twenty years. It all
depends on the amount of toxin in the fish, the amount consumed, and the
individual. Let me just say, I am so glad we only ate a small amount of
a small fish! There is no cure or treatment for this poison; you can only treat
the symptoms as best as possible. And it’s cumulative so, if you get it again,
it will be worse the second time.
And what does this have to do with a rooster? Good question.
I don’t think I need to explain my dislike of roosters here. Prez frequently gets up in
the middle of the night to pelt the more boisterous ones with coconuts and
dreams of elaborate rooster traps to catch and kill them. So, when we were
driving to the video store on Friday night and a rooster was walking out on the
road we kind of pretended to swerve at it. The roosters here always turn and
run, (they are not well liked). They always turn and run. I’m not sure
why this one didn’t. Instead, he ran right towards us and…WHACK! WHUMP! SQUAWK!
I have never intentionally, (or, in this case, semi-intentionally), run over an animal
in my life. What a horrible feeling. And when we went back to have a look at
him, and while it was obvious this rooster was never going to crow again he was
still alive and we couldn’t let him suffer. Without a weapon at hand, we used
the next best thing – the car. Prez aimed for the head, I kept my hands firmly
over my eyes, and then there was a bump. “Is it over?” I asked, still
covering my eyes. “Yeah, he’s…what the…?!” Prez couldn’t believe it; the
rooster was still alive and had managed to drag himself off into the
Oh man, this was some BAD karma. I told Prez at dinner that evening, “We just lost
about a thousand karma points with that rooster!”
And then, two days later, we were poisoned. You can tell me it was the fish but I
know the truth.
The rooster did it.
Have you ever known you were headed for a “karmic payback”?
Until next week, and hopefully under cheerier circumstances, I hope this finds you healthy,
happy & lovin life!
Princess (who has reformed her evil, rooster-killing ways)
p.s. – HAPPY BIRTHDAY MARTHA!!!
p.p.s. – Thanks so much for all the sympathy emails, they really helped!