A pasta dinner! I love pasta.
Through a relatively close connection - the sister of my university housemate's mother's friend- the PACT crew was invited to a pasta dinner reception and a flat piece of grass to sleep on when we reached Sault Ste. Marie. Squirrel Island, just outside the Soo, in the middle of St.Mary's River to be exact.
A real pasta dinner! With a last name like Stortini, and the hint of secret recipes, we could only expect the finest of Italian dining.
We were not disappointed. The Stortini's put on a feast of Caesar (salad) proportions. Not only did they cook for us, but invited the entire Squirrel Island cottager community. Bottles of white, bottles of red were passed around. Piles of pasta were plopped onto plates topped with a thick sauce from a family recipe. Homemade meatballs the size of softballs were delicately placed on top of spaghetti all covered with cheese, threatening to bring the song lyrics to life.
And lo in the corner, amongst the grandeur, I was not feeling up to eating my usual three plates of pasta.
Water purification is a big deal on canoe trip. Whether you boil, filter, or purify through chemical science means, you've got to be able to drink clean water. We chose to use Aquatabs, a popular and effective chlorine pill that is dropped in a vessel of water. It has a proven track record when used properly.
Perhaps I happened to drink the water too soon after tabbing, not allowing the chemical disinfectant to fully take place. Perhaps I tabbed and drank brown water from a small creek. Perhaps I drank water straight from Lake Superior without tabbing. Who knows? It doesn't really matter what mouthful of water carried the parasite. The fact is, by the time I had reached the Stortini's, I had been travelling 14 days with active Giardiasis. It's also called Beaver Fever.
Giardiasis is a parasitic disease that blocks nutrient absorption by coating the inside of the hosts' small intestine. Beaver Fever is not as funny as the name suggests. Nor is it anywhere close to having Bieber Fever.
I first noticed feeling sick the night we stayed on St. Ignace Island on the north shore of Lake Superior. My appetite was down and I felt gassy. Only the first symptom was truly odd. Over the next two weeks during our Superior push I experienced a continuing wave of symptoms whose presence would ebb and flow, but whose intensity always increased upon their return. Nausea, bloating, lethargy, decreased appetite, weakness, exhaustion, diarrhea, vomiting, and particularly potent flatulence kept an unhealthy rotation through my body. Some mornings I was too weak to load the boat, some days too weak to keep pace with the rest of the crew. I spent Day 88 alternating between sleeping in the canoe and puking over the gunwales.
The night we paddled to the Janveau cottage (see "Night at the Museum 2") my sickness and I put aside our differences long enough for me to consume a celebratory burger only to spend the remaining night and next day before departure in and out of the toilet. It was at the Janveau's that I realized how skinny I had become. By the time we reached Sault Ste. Marie and I had the sense to walk into a walk-in clinic, I had lost at least 15 pounds since leaving Thunder Bay.
That night we met the Stortini's and the rest of Squirrel Island.
The next morning after our glorious pasta reception I sadly stayed behind from PACT to rest, having a restless sleep complete with morning vomits and toilet trips. When the crew and canoe, my cross-country family and home, left the shore without me, I was too weak to protest.
(For an excellent description of the crew's adventures while Peter recovered, see the blog post "The Adventures of Bert and Tommy ")
That day I spent alternating between the bed and the bathroom. By 5pm, it was clear that I was in no shape to catch up with my friends down the river, but instead made the call to attend the hospital for severe dehydration and exhaustion. Five hours and one intravenous bolus of saline solution later, I was feeling... stable.
Over the next two days I recovered at Sylvia and Jon Stortini's cottage. Sylvia happens to be a retired nurse, and made sure I had plenty of bed rest, monitored my diet, and asked to be kept up to date with all pertinent health related information.
Gratefully, yet embarrassingly, my parents rushed to join me at the Stortini's. By plane and automobile they travelled north as soon as the word got out that I was headed for the hospital. They were coming next week anyway, so what's a few days earlier?
Through a strict regimen of anti-biotics, sleep, bland diet and two mothers, I was soon able to walk across the room without a pause to regain my stamina. I recovered enough to rejoin the crew. Three days sitting and watching tracking device was enough for me. I was anxious to get back to the crew who would be camped near Blind River that night (a mere two hours drive down the highway). My parents dropped me off at the crew’s campsite beach and brought with them a feast of PACT proportions.
Back in the canoe I took it easy for the next couple of days, finishing off the round of medicine and choosing the lighter loads. My appetite slowly returned so I was able to resume my role of scraping everything that looked like food from the bottom of the cooking pot. Though I was able to return to paddling speed, for the remainder of the trip, I never fully regained my pre-Giardiasis strength and form.
I can’t thank the Stortini's enough for their kindness and care. They opened their doors to my family, and took me in as their own. The Squirrel Island community continued their overwhelming support of our trip by closely monitoring our progress, and checking up on a certain recently released patient.
I will return to Squirrel Island, healthy, to say hello to the gang. I hope to be so lucky as to be invited to sit again at the Stortini's table, proper appetite in tow, and enjoy the secret family recipe that thick sauce is made from, and the pasta cooked to perfection and the huge meatballs teetering on top. I will be bringing a bottle of white and a bottle of red.