Fishing, Drinking & Stinking May Be Hazardous to Your Health
Our 8th annual fishing trip to Ocracoke ended last week and the good news is that we still haven’t killed anyone.
The bad news is that we came closer than ever to killing someone.
The other good news is that it was only Curt. And he did at least half the poisoning himself.
This story actually begins years ago. Brother Bigwig, in his quest for health in a pill, began taking small doses of vitamin B-3, better known to most as “niacin”. One of the positive effects of niacin is that it supposedly lowers cholesterol. Bigwig probably needs help with his cholesterol as he spreads mayonnaise on absolutely anything and everything that passes his lips that isn’t called “beer”. He’s the only person I have ever known to receive mayonnaise as a Christmas gift.
I’m not kidding. The man once got a five-gallon jar of bacon-mayonnaise for Christmas. What’s bacon-mayonnaise, you ask? It’s mayonnaise mixed with crumbled slices of bacon to make it even more alarmingly bad for your heart. You can only get it on the black market in certain parts of the deep South. (After attending a family reunion in Mississippi, I came to the conclusion that bacon-mayonnaise must’ve originated there. Mississippians are experts when it comes to heart-stopping, artery-clogging cuisine. Everything – and I do mean everything – they eat is deep-fried. Fish, meat, vegetables, bread, desserts and even some liquids are fried. And the only portion size is “all you can eat”. Surprisingly enough, I don’t have a single relative in Mississippi that tips the scales at under 300 pounds.)
Anyway, because of his love for and addiction to the creamy good stuff and spiraling cholesterol levels, Bigwig started taking small, 50 milligram doses of niacin. Over the years, has gradually increased his dosage to 500 milligrams per day.
Starting with small doses and working your way up to higher doses is the smart way to take niacin. This gives your body a chance to adjust to the sometimes unpleasant side-effects of the drug. These side effects may include what some websites refer to as “flushing” and “a feeling of warmth”. They also include what I refer to as “The All-Consuming Fire of God’s Holy Vengeance.”
Some years ago, Bigwig’s family were away at grandma’s house for the weekend so he invited me to spend the weekend with him drinking beer, playing video games and watching kung-fu movies. I thought it touching that he wanted to spend his free weekend bonding with me so I took him up on the offer. I also found it touching when he expressed concern about my health and, specifically, my cholesterol. We were sitting around playing Diablo II and he related how he’d recently been taking niacin to lower his cholesterol and how I should try it out.
Now, my cholesterol is perfect. I eat pretty well, exercise regularly and don’t slather everything I eat with bacon-mayonnaise. I don’t really need a pill to lower my cholesterol. But I took the 500 milligram niacin pill that he proferred anyway. I figured that it might not do me any good but at least it couldn’t hurt.
Wrong. 15 minutes after taking this pill, I felt the not-unpleasant warmth of some inner hearth. 20 minutes after taking the pill, I felt a faint tingling in my extremeties, as if tiny invisible fairies were dancing in delicate, twirling steps over my skin.
25 minutes after taking the pill, the inner warmth had become a burning scourge. It felt like I had syphillis and my entire body was peeing. The invisible fairies had become angry devils intent on flaying me alive with their tiny pitchforks. I was beet-red and dripping sweat from every pore. I felt like I had a sunburn that started somewhere around my small intestine and radiated out to every part of my body. I don’t recall exactly what I said to my brother but it must’ve been something like “You bastard! What have you done to me!?”
I’ll never forget the gleeful, self-satisified smile he gave me, mainly because it’s the same gleeful, self-satisfied smile he gave me as he asked Curt if he’d like to “lower his cholesterol”. It’s the same gleeful, self-satisfied smile we shared when Curt popped the pill into his mouth and washed it down with a glassful of bourbon, the same bourbon he’d been drinking all day.
Like I said, Curt did half the poisoning himself.
Did you know that mixing alcohol and niacin only serves to increase the severity of the drug’s unpleasant side effects, which can also include weakness or tiredness, shortness of breath, nausea and vomiting, irregular heart-beat, fainting and delirium? We didn’t.
Let me just tell you that you should never give a 500 milligram niacin pill to a man who’s been drinking bourbon all day long. At first, it was pretty humorous. Curt got up from his chair, complained about the heat and went outside to have a smoke.
Did you know that smoking is also something you shouldn’t do when taking niacin? It’s true.
After smoking his cigarette, Curt came back in and we didn’t think anything of it. Five minutes later, Curt was up and out the door again. His parting words to us as he left the room were “I don’t see how you guys can stand it! I’m burning up in here!”
That’s when it hit me that he’d actually taken the pill Bigwig had given him and I burst out laughing. Big Dumb Cousin, who recently obtained his Physician’s Assistant degree, puts two and two together rapidly and asks Bigwig point blank: “What did you give him?” If my fit of laughter didn’t give it away, the Chesire Cat smile on Bigwig’s face probably did. Bigwig confessed his sin and a good time was had by all.
Now let me paint you a picture. It’s probably about 70 degrees in the house. Outside it’s a crisp 36 degrees without considering wind chill. We’ve all been bitching about how cold it is but Curt is enjoying the al fresco scenery in nothing but a pair of khaki shorts. He’s also bright red and sweating like the proverbial whore in church. If you know Curt and his history as a practical joker, It doesn’t get any better than this.
Literally. It doesn’t get any better than that. As a matter of fact, it goes downhill rapidly from there. After five or six minutes, Bigwig, presumably to increase the level of his amusement, goes outside to check on Curt. 30 seconds after that, Bigwig is guiding Curt through the doors and down the hall towards the bathroom. Curt pauses just inside the door and I get a good look at his face. I’ve often heard people referred to as “green” when they’ve taken ill but this is the first time I’ve ever witnessed it for myself. I took one look and said to myself “there’s a man who’s got a date with the porcelain goddess.” Curt’s face was the same shade of green one might associate with the recently deceased. Or, more ominously, the soon-to-be-deceased.
It contrasted nicely with the rest of his body, which was practically incandescent at this point. I don’t know for sure but I’m guessing you could’ve fried an egg on Curt’s chest. I almost regret that we didn’t try it.
Curt didn’t even make it across the room before crumpling to the floor. I think when I saw him drop may’ve been the first time I thought “Oh my God. We’ve killed Curt.” It still be about ten minutes before that thought really took hold.
I don’t know if he lost consciousness or not but he later claimed that he doesn’t remember anything from the time he opened the door to the time he woke up on the floor of the bathroom, the place where he was unceremoniously deposited by Bigwig and Mangum. Some of the gentler souls out there might’ve put him on a sofa or bed or someplace more comfortable. I don’t think that even crossed our minds. I assume we all thought he was going to blow at any time and thought it’d be easiest to clean up the mess if he were in the bathroom when it happened.
Now the annual Fishing, Drinking & Stinking get-together is on Ocracoke Island, a locale chosen for its remoteness as much as its fishing. You can only get there by ferry or airplane and the shortest ferry ride is about 45 minutes. If you experience a life-threatening emergency, it’s best you call 911 right away because it might be a while before help arrives. Bastion of modern amenities it ain’t. But I had managed that very morning to wrangle a tenuous wireless internet connection thanks to some trusting neighbors. It was about five minutes after the fainting episode that Bigwig’s voice rang out from his place at Curt’s side with this command: “Look up ‘allergic reaction to niacin’!”
Dutifully, I fire up the laptop and do as requested. This is how we discover that niacin and alcohol do not mix.
I read out my findings to Curt’s tenders in the bathroom.
Three or four minutes pass and another command comes from the voice in the bathroom. “Look up ‘niacin overdose’!”
Ouch. This doesn’t sound good. Helping in the only way I am able, I comply. This is how we find the number for the poison control center which you can dial in time of need at 1-800-222-1222.
They’re very helpful. I know. I spent about 15 minutes on the phone with a very nice young lady, trying to explain to her all of what I’ve related above.
Poison Control: “Emergency Services, how can I help you.”
Me: “Um. I think one of my friends may have taken too much niacin.”
Me: (Embarassed. Couldn’t we have poisoned our friend with something a little more threatening than a vitamin? Jesus.) “Yes, ma’am.”
PC: “Okay. What happened?”
Me: (Debating whether to tell the truth or lie.) “Well, he took some of my brother’s…medicine…by accident. He took about 500 milligrams of niacin because (snickering) he thought it would lower his cholesterol.”
PC: “He took your brother’s medicine? Is it prescription or over the counter? How much did he take?”
Me: “Over the counter. About 500 milligrams. He thought it was just a vitamin.”
PC: ” And how old is he?”
Me: (Yelling.) “How old is Curt?!”
Voices: “He’s 40!”
Me: “He’s 40.”
PC: “Does he have any history of heart or liver disease?”
Me: “Does Curt have any history of heart or liver disease?!” Liver disease. Great. How about cirrhosis?
Voices: “Didn’t Curt’s father die of heart failure?” Oh, crap.
Me: “I don’t know. His father might’ve died of heart failure. (pause) He’s been drinking all day long.”
PC: “Is he taking any medications that you’re aware of?”
Me: “Is Curt taking any medications!? (without waiting for a response.) Um. He’s had almost a half-a-gallon of bourbon today. (pause) And he might’ve had a questionable clam.”
Curt had smoked some clams over the fire earlier that day. We’d been using them as bait. Only God knows if they were any good to eat and only Curt would eat one.
PC: “A questionable clam?”
Me: “Yeah. Um. Nevermind.”
Voices: “He’s taking Percosid for his knee and he takes something like Ritalin.”
Me: “He’s taking Percosid and something like Ritalin.”
PC: “Something like Ritalin?”
Me: (trying to steer the woman to the obvious conclusion. I just want to know if our friend is going to die or not.) “He’s been drinking literally all day long. He really drank a lot.”
PC: “Uh-huh. Where is he now? What are his symptoms?”
Me: (Debating whether I should’ve called 911 instead. Too late now, I guess.) “He’s in the bathroom. He, um, passed out briefly. He’s nauseous…and really red. He complained about being hot.” After an update from BDC, the PA, I add, “His pulse seems to be okay and his breathing is normal.”
Relatively assured Curt wasn’t going to die, humor started to assert itself once more.
Me: (snickering loudly now.) ” We think the niacin reacted with all the alcohol in his system.”
PC: “You say he’s been drinking?”
Where has this woman been?
Me: “Yes. All day. Literally.”
PC: “Oh, yeah. It’s probably just a reaction with the alcohol. It says here that alcohol may exaccerbate the side effects. He might flush and feel a little warm.”
Me: (*Snicker*.) “Yeah. (*chortle) A little. (*snort!*) So…is he gonna’ live? Is there anything we can do for him?”
PC: “He might feel uncomfortable for an hour or two but he should be fine. You might give him some water or Gatorade to rehydrate him, especially since he’s been drinking.”
Me: “Will do. Thanks!”
At this point, I am forced to give the woman both my own and Curt’s name. I hesistate because I am still not convinced we won’t need police and/or emergency responders at some point, but I do it anyway. We’ll see if I live to regret it. I know my story is recorded here for posterity sake but I hate to know it’s also recorded in some official database somewhere. People in officialdom probably just won’t understand the humor of the situation.
In the end, Curt made a full recovery. He did spend another half-an-hour on the floor of the bathroom sipping Gatorade and he did complain later of the fire ants that were crawling about in his underpants but he exited in good health and thoroughly sober to boot.
So in 8 years of Fishin’, Drinkin’ & Stinkin’, even though we’ve all wanted to at least once, we still haven’t killed Curt.
But we did lower his cholesterol.