Four times a week, I make my way around the local BP gas station in Palatka as part of my 3.4-mile walk.
Three things remind me of why I don't like the place. One, it's where the most expensive price for a gallon of gas is located. That gets my blood boiling. Two, it's BP. Does anyone have any memory of what happened April 2010 in the Gulf of Mexico? Those boys at British Petroleum have such a way of passing blame around to everyone but on themselves.
And three, it's where I had my most uncomfortable moment in my time in Palatka.
It was Thursday, March 18, 2004. All that week, I was getting excited with running the paper's March Madness pool. I wasn't having a lot of luck getting people involved, but I was getting my share. I had not been at the place more than just six months, yet I was still able to persuade others to join in.
It was a good week up until Thursday. On that Sunday, my girlfriend of a month and I had gone to the Jacksonville Zoo and had a wonderful time. On Monday evening, I was hungry and really didn't feel like cooking, so I decided to make a stop at the Long John Silvers fish restaurant at the aforementioned BP. I had eaten a couple of times before there, so I was OK with getting food there.
And this was nothing different on that Monday. I ordered a fish sandwich, went home with it, ate it, and then went back to work. All was fine.
On Tuesday, I started to feel discomfort, but nothing that sounded bells and whistles. By Wednesday, the pain began to increase. I wasn't able to go the bathroom, and suspected something wasn't right, but I was willing to gut out the night at work, while trying to get people involved in the March Madness pool that I had to get an OK to run from my publisher.
When I woke up Thursday morning, the main thing I was looking to do was get into work by about 10 o'clock and start working on the pool, work my way to get people involved. But at 9:30 that morning, the pain inside me was relentless. It had gone from just mere discomfort to the feeling of wanting to die.
In seven months in Palatka, I had not once gone to a doctor. I had no need to. Now I was trying to find one that would take me. Before I did, I called up Joyce in our finance department. She was also in charge of getting people on the health plan. When I called her, I got the impression all was all right. I found a doctor to go to near me on Crill Avenue. But halfway to the doctor's office, I get a call.
It was Joyce.
"You're not on the healthcare plan," she said.
"Wait a minute. I thought I was on it after the 90-day probation period," I answered back.
Apparently not. Simple, stupid miscommunication. Nonetheless I had to figure something out while doubled up in pain and not up to having to go all over Palatka to fill out papers and do this, that and the other thing.
At St. Johns Urgent Care, I met Dr. Jerry Jacobson for the first time, a very witty man who made me fill out all these papers. Like I really wanted to do this, having to answer one question after another while feeling like death warmed over and having to be stoic about it.
He gave me a number of tests, and yes, I got prodded and poked in that area where the sun don't shine. He would run some tests and get back to me.
It was off to work I went from there. Even though I wasn't feeling up to getting people to play in a pool, it was still my personal responsibility to get more people invovled, which I did. The last person I got involved was my best friend Ted in Baltimore, who ended up faxing me his bracket at about the time the games began.
All the while, I had to fill out medical forms for Joyce, the same medical forms I thought were being taken care of the previous November. I guess better late than never.
I had no idea what was ailing me. I mean, I don't miss work with colds, but yet, here I was feeling a pain I had never quite felt in my 37 years on this planet. Our daytime press plant boss said he felt the same pain years earlier and found he had a bursting appendix. Thanks guy ... the last thing I needed to hear was my appendix without said insurance.
Well, my new doctor calls me up about a half hour later and wants me to come in. He has me do more tests and then wants me to go over to Putnam Community Medical Center around the corner for X-rays. Now I'm thinking anything.
One thing I have never been good at in my life is calling someone when I needed help. I figured to be a man, you don't need anyone's help, you'll do it by yourself and you'll be fine in the end.
Now I had a girlfriend and she demanded that if something ever happened, I should call her as soon as I could. I really don't tell my own family anything, but she wanted me to call her. Here I am, a degree holder in communications, yet my biggest weakness with everyday people outside my job ... is communicating with others. Go figure.
So as I head to the hospital, I call her at her place of work in Jacksonville.
"Hi," I said.
"Hey, what's going on?" she answers.
"Oh, nothing. I'm at the hospital," I say.
"What?! Why are you there?" she says back.
"Remember the pain I've been going through? My new doctor thinks it's serious enough to go get X-rays."
"I'll be there! Just stay there. Bye."
Again, this is partly why I don't like communicating with others, even if I love them dearly. It's that over-reaction that maybe I'm closing in on my deathbed and that I need to be seen before the eyes shut for the last time and the coroner toe-tags me.
In other words, I don't like being fussed over. I'll probably take that to my grave with me. I'm sorry. That's just me. But with a girlfriend, I had to begrudgingly compromise that. It's nice to have that attention, but I swear to you, I'll be fine.
Now I'm at the hospital having to wait for the lab technician to come in, take information and then scan me. It's 3 p.m. and one round of March Madness games was well under way. And I'm missing them. Less than an hour later, I walk out of the hospital and who's trying to go in as I walk out a different entrance/exit? My girlfriend.
My doctor was going to get the results. For all I knew, I might have had cancer or maybe my appendix was in the middle of bursting, though I tend to believe if that was happening, I probably would have died there and then. By 4:45 p.m. and back at my apartment with my girlfriend, the phone rings. Doctor wants to see me.
She and I went over to meet the doctor. I told him for a first day, this was way too much time with the guy. Good thing he had a sense of humor. He first tells me my white blood cell count is enormously high. That means nothing to me other than "that is bad." Then he tells me what the real problem was.
Food poisoning. Whatever I ate was causing my digestive system to shut down and not allow me to, umm, how do I put this gently -- do No. 2. I had not eaten a whole lot since Tuesday and I knew what I had eaten was OK.
Then I figured out what it was -- yup, the fish sandwich from the quasi-Long John Silvers in the BP. The doctor gave me a couple of prescriptions and a shot. She and I got the prescriptions and came back to the apartment.
I called my boss up to let him know I wasn't coming in that night. He understood since he knew what kind of a day I was going through. And it was the second official day in my almost 20 years in the business that I took off for being sick -- the first being in the summer of 1986 after I nearly passed out in a phone booth dictating a summer-league basketball game story to the assistant sports editor at the time.
Needless to say, I went to sleep thanks to the shot. I know of one person who was happy to see me go to sleep ... that's because SHE had control of the television. By 8:15, I woke up, taking the first of my prescription hydrocodeine.
On Friday, I had to go into work because my boss had taken that day off. Though he worried about my own health, I told him I would honor his taking the day off. Let's just say it was one of the most uncomfortable days I've ever had to deal with professionally. The drugs I was taking were not working just yet, but I made it through the night nonetheless.
Saturday was still filled with pain, though I was taking the pills I had to take. Then at about 9:45 p.m. that Saturday, it happened. No. 2. And when it did ... wow! I still had to take the pills into Sunday, but I finally had my first piece of solid food in days that night when I ordered a chicken sandwich at the Ocala Hooter's after I had to pick up my Billboard magazine at the bookstore there.
By Tuesday, I was in the clear of the food poisoning. Needless to say I never ate at the quasi-Long John Silvers again and a year later, the restaurant portion of the BP went out of business. I had a number of people tell me I should've sued the restaurant for poisoning me, but I could never truly pinpoint the sandwich as the cause, and worse, I paid for the sandwich with cash. If it were on debit card, I could prove I paid for it when I did, but since I ate the sandwich that Monday night and threw the paper bag and receipt out, it was worthless.
As a matter of fact, I think I ate at a regular Long John Silvers only two more times. Other than the occasional trip to Red Lobster, I don't eat any fish at any restaurants anymore. I'm a lot more aware of what I put in me. If it's fish, I get it fresh at the supermarket and make it myself now.
As for the basketball pool, I was en route to winning it. Then John Lucas Jr. ripped my guts out by nailing the jump shot that sent Oklahoma State to the Final Four and kept St. Joseph's out. That was a different type of sick I felt, but not like I had felt a week and a half earlier.
I never want to feel the way I felt that March 18, 2004 ever again ... even if I have that reminder when I walk around it on my 3.4-mile walk.
I know, I know. Maybe I should choose another route.