April 28, 2013

The Parasite

“Don’t get me started.”

Could David have a parasite, even though he’s never been anywhere?

“That bad?” Cara, hilariously pregnant, assumed an expression of professional concern.

“There’s me and there’s my stomach,” I said. “Two people. We’re at war.”

Cara had just gotten back from the little girl’s room. Her third trip. She blamed it on her pregnancy at first, but I knew better. Why else did she eat rice for lunch?

“Five years ago,” Cara began, “five years ago, I went to Thailand. I caught something, because then I got stomach problems, really bad. I was just never right after that trip.”

“Tests?” I’d recently completed my own round of disgusting tests for various bacteria and parasites, which naturally came back negative. Just as they had some years earlier. Call me thorough.

“Yeah, a million times, but nothing.”

This was a rare moment alone in the war room, a tiny box with an ill-fitting oblong table, and a 40-inch monitor affixed to the wall. Six of us had been stuck here for a week, from morning to night, working on a pitch, strategizing, scribbling pieces of user journeys on post-its. I think yellow is supposed to soothe, but in the form of square paper it’s an anxiety trigger.

“They think you’re crazy,” Cara said. “That you’re neurotic.”

This is what happens when people are thrown together with no recourse, like at boot camp, or during a zombie outbreak. It doesn’t take long for all your stories to come out. Alliances are swiftly built, discarded for another arrangement, and finally switched around again. Cara and I had been enemies turned friends and back in predictable cycles over the last five days. Standing, reputation, leadership aura — these change, too. One moment you’re the genius in the room, and in the next you’ve somehow become unaccountably dense and you wonder how it took so long for everyone to notice this about you.

Cara told me about some tropical disease specialist someone had turned her on to. And how, after so many years, it was him — “he’s like eighty years old in an ancient office with old equipment” — who had finally diagnosed her with the parasite and had prescribed the cure.

“But those meds,” she complained, pale and small, despite her belly, “they’re worse than the disease.”

“But I’ve never been to the tropics,” I wailed. And then I realized how sad that was. I should have visited the tropics ages ago, and made myself available to exotic diseases that would drive some rich narrative of my life I could proudly look back on.

Then Frank interrupted us. Frank, the business transformation visionary. He was the kind of team leader who could get away with murder: brilliant, handsome, unfiltered. He was also a new father by a year, and had already started to give advice to the pregnant lady. This proved far more entertaining than I had imagined, especially when he began about bathing boys. “And when you give them baths, they get these little boners. I couldn’t believe it. I wasn’t expecting the little boners.”

Cara emailed me the doctor’s information, but it sat in my inbox. 500 bucks was a lot to drop on a test that would come out negative. How many did I need? But I still thought about what might have been lurking on that head-on shrimp I’d consumed with the long-since-gone Amelia on our first date.

I researched this famous doctor, this pathologist, as they called him. He wrote textbooks. He had served, at various times, as the chair of many a prestigious organization. His peers respected him. But we’re in the age of the online reviews, even for doctors. One patient had written a pages-long rant, because the doctor hadn’t found a parasite. “It’s a scam,” the guy wrote. “I brought him photos of my stool. And you can clearly see it’s riddled with parasites. The idiot doctor said they were just food particles. Idiot scam artist. I know I have parasites.” Reviews like this had brought the doctor’s rating down to two out of five stars. The scam would be, of course, if everyone got diagnosed with parasites.

I finally called the pathologist’s office after exiting in a panic one too many meetings to assault the three-stall men’s room. These bouts had been going on long enough for me to stop caring about those terrific noises that my colon produced as it emptied. So there was that: I could poop anywhere now without embarrassment. I still didn’t think I had a parasite. But you know how it is. Once an idea takes root, the only way to get rid is to follow it all the way to the anus.

To be continued …