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On vomiting

I am recently recovered from 24 hours of hideousness: food poisoning courtesy of an oyster that I was foolish to leave in the fridge for three days prior to consumption. Like I wanted to kill myself?

I vomited 17 times. The gaps varied between 10 minutes and an hour. And then it started to come out of the other end too.

Having a delicate stomach I know the score and grabbed a pillow to kneel on over the toilet bowl. Knowing the score I had a hand towel ready to absorb the copious sweat.

I got over the worst of it eventually with help from medication. This time it was pills. I’ve needed an injection before.

Where did my voice go though? And my ribs hurt. I daren’t cough.

In the middle of this I made my GP laugh, female, has a young family. I was sitting there hoping not to be sick with one of those papier-mache sick bowls. She asked if I had a fever. I said that after a few minutes of retching I built up a sweat and collapsed in exhaustion … ‘I guess it’s the way a woman feels during childbirth.’

As I’m writing all my waking hours, when not being sick, I have been writing up how it feels to vomit like that. So something good came from it. I can now have a character die from poisoning, or maybe I can have a shot at describing a difficult labour? Or transmogrification from man to half-beast?

Robbie and Juliet share digs in second floor flat in Willesden. He’s in his fourth year doing an MA in Fine art at St.Martins. She’s five years behind him hoping to get onto a foundation year. They met through Robbie’s kid sister. They call themselves a couple. They’re both in bed, but not for long.

Robbie knows what’s up, as he gets out of bed, snatches at a pillow and heads for the bathroom. He drops the pillow in front of the toilet, drops to his knees and drops his hands either side of the seat. A series of uncontrollable gut wrenching tugs at his insides follow. He is sick in short spasms as if a shark hook is caught in his stomach, each tug he hopes will turn him inside out and open gates to the poison that swills inside him. Each tug might pull him through the brick outer wall, through the trees around the side of the garden and deposit him like a freshly caught lumpsucker fish on the neighbour’s tiled roof. His determined body, when it fails to rid itself of anything at all, tries with even greater and greater force producing little more than Copydex sputum and flat-beer froth. Exhausted, one more blast and like a bucket of slops thrown from a 15th century window into the street below he empties slurry into the U-bend. Feeling relieved, though washed out Robbie flails about for something to clear his nose and wipe his mouth. Juliet appears with a hand towel, and as he remembers his mother doing, she mops the sweat from his brow. It’s the nicest thing she’s done for him. They’ve only been seeing each other for a week.

He doesn’t need to say it: it is written on Robbie’s face. Maybe the oysters and champagne Juliet had brought round to seduce him hadn’t been such a good idea.

‘I hope you’re getting this. I would.’

Juliet looks at her idol aghast as back in his bedroom he points at her art materials.

‘From life, as it is. Bloke vomiting. Has to be a first. It’ll be something to talk about at your interview. If you get one.’

Robbie returns to bed where, in a dressing gown and under a duvet with an extra blanket he shivers from exhaustion and cold. He lies legs crossed and arms over his chest as if in a coffin, the only way he feels able to hold himself together, concentrating on one thing – if he can clear his head, he may fall asleep, and may not be sick again for half an hour.

‘Draw this. Man dying. You’re always criticising me because I won’t keep still.’

Robbie sick 17 times in all over a 12 hour period, the hideousness of these extractions feel as if a gnarled hand has gone done his throat and is pulling him inside out which is just about what Juliet draws.’

Collapsed after every one of these sessions I felt like a three-year old in a playpen.

Helpless. Entering the GP surgery I shook with tears for just a few moments with a sudden sense of my mortality. Death doesn’t bother me so much as how I go. Not in a fit of vomiting, or drowning, or burning. Sleep, even if drug induced will do.

Time to move to Belgium?



  1. Jonathan, I hope you’re feeling better! Just had a rough week with vomiting baby, toddler, husband and my mother, one each night, not easy… Well applied knowledge on poor Robbie. Maybe you can use it for the other thing you were writing too, I’m sure that in the war trenches they had their share of sickness. You can have a go with the transmogrification theme too, all my family members turned into ogrific versions of themselves (I fell in the viral caldron – also known as hospital – a long time ago so I took care of them all and had nothing). I’ve had two difficult labours and all I can say is: never mind that, it is infinitly worst. This was just like a normal early pregnancy day 🙂

  2. I have written fantasy for a children’s audience where stranger things happen. For the First World War I have gone as far as taking a degree on it, though I have buried myself in mud.

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