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Late last night, foraging for something that I would feel the urge to eat, I found a jar of honey/chesnut puree, opened it with some difficulty and tasted it, gingerly, not sure it was still good. Hmmm, tasted fine, maybe I'll try a bit more...But I only had about a half a teaspoon as it suddenly occurred to me that it could be infected with botulism and I didn't know it.
Why did my mind jump to that seemingly unlikely conclusion? Well, for one, I'd made the stuff and "canned" it back in January, thinking I'd eat it in a few days. In fact, I had not followed any of the proper canning techniques, like heating the puree to a certain temp for a certain amount of time, nor sterilizing the jar, though it was clean. But instead of eating it quickly, I forgot about it until just last night. Plus, and this is what truly scared me: I had mixed the puree half and half with honey, a preservative and probably why the stuff is still good now. But, but, but...
Did you know that the reason you should never, ever give an infant under 12 months honey is because it almost always contains botulinum spores, which can colonize the child's intestines (it hasn't the immunity the older person has) and produce the botulism toxin from within. So here I was, sealing up my chesnut puree, improperly cooked, made with honey (presumably infected with C. botulinum) in an air-tight jar -- the botulinum organism thrives in no-oxygen or anaerobic conditions -- and the only protectant against food poisoning was refrigeration, not an especially good method when used for botulism.
So, you see why I panicked? The illness -- it starts 18-36 hours after ingestion of just a few nanograms in most cases, so I'm not out of the woods yet -- can be fatal. Most often these days, however, it is caught in time and treated with respiratory support (ventilator) until the paralysis slowly abates over a period of some weeks. I no longer believe I am infected or will get ill, but last night I panicked. I was certain that the honey, rather than preserving the chesnut puree as intended, had inoculated it with a virulent neurotoxin that could incapacitate me for a long time.
Resigned to this, believe it or not I worried most not about my cat or my responsibilities to Joe or even about my life but about my plants, especially the African violets I grew from stubs of leaves and which are now flowering with lovely deep, deep purple blooms. I knew that Joe and Karen would take care of the cat; I figured that I would have time to tell them what was wrong before becoming paralyzed completely and that the docs and nurses would keep me alive. But experience had taught me long ago that plants left to others were goners, that NO ONE takes care of others' plants correctly and one is extraordinarily lucky if all of them are not dead or withered almost beyond saving after an extended absence.
I cursed my stupidity then, because so much work had gone into both the African violets and my several hand-propagated Crown of Thorns as well as the lush Ceropegia vine, which, despite my constantly cutting it back, won't stop flowing down to the floor. I can't even find a Ceropegia (aka Rosary Vine) at the nursery or get one ordered for me when I ask, that's how hard they are to come by. And when I did once come across two, they were in such sorry condition it was obvious they were beyond saving, and that disease or poor care had gotten them. My first one bit the dust too, so now that I grew this one from a cutting seedling, I'd be very upset to have to leave it behind, only to find it dead upon my return.
Oh, I know, Joe did a decent job last year when I was hospitalized for psychiatric reasons in July/August and I lost only most of the African violet. Everything else was salvageable. In fact, I found 2 viable leaves left on the violet and managed to coax several plants to grow from bits of those. So technically speaking I didn't lose anything entirely. But Joe wasn't ill then, or had only just been diagnosed during my hospital stay and was as capable as he had ever been...I knew now that things were different, and I didn't trust Karen to take over what he could no longer do.
Ah, a little dose of reality makes one careful not to be so stupid a second time! Even if it must be the plants that remind me, whatever it takes, if it works it's enough.
Now for the poem, which I call WART after a certain kind of (fill in the blanks) -----wart!
Tonight I’m up late worrying
about a badly canned chestnut puree
and botulism, which is useless
since I’ll know soon enough from
“difficulty speaking or swallowing,
drooping eyelids, double vision,
lassitude and weakness progressing
to paralysis” that I have it
or not. Not very likely with only
some 130 cases in the U.S. in a year,
but as I said, I worry, and worry attaches
to anything: leprosy, asteroids falling
from the sky, dirt on your hands.
Most people worry too much
about things that won’t matter
after six months. My friend doesn’t
have to worry about those. He is
losing his speech to Lou Gehrig’s. In six
months who knows what won’t work
any longer or which will matter
most. His assistive device can say
the words he types, but how I miss
the sound of the voice I’ve forgotten
except when I call and the old
machine picks up: Joe speaking.
I can’t answer the phone right now
but if you leave your name and number,
I’ll call you back as soon as I can.