WARNING: This post is gross.
The Mormon Mission experience is a significant rite of passage for many LDS young men and women. But there is another important rite of passage within this rite of passage — at least for a signficant subset of LDS missionaries — that is less widely recognized. I refer, of course, to the various intestinal adventures experienced by elders and sisters who serve in the Third World. Many of us have stories about our adventures; not all of them warrant a retelling, to be sure. But some do. And I flatter myself in believing mine does, so here goes:
My first and only brush with intestinal chaos happened while I was assigned to my first area, about a month after I arrived in Argentina. I served the first part of my mission in the Mision Trelew (now the Mision Neuquen), which covered all of Argentine Patagonia. Somehow, I must have caught a bug from something I ate or drank. The consequences for me were two-fold: I developed (1) a nasty bout of nausea, and (2) a severe need to empty my bowels out the other end. Now, I don’t need to tell you the timing of my intestinal seizures was a tad inconvenient. These things always are, aren’t they? But in my case, I wasn’t struck down while tracting, or visiting a churchmember, or soliciting a baptismal commitment from an investigator during Discussion #2. No, no, no, for you see, God hates me. So I’m the lucky soul that was struck ill between the 1st and 2nd hour of a 9-hour busride.
I was assigned to the town of Carmen de Patagones, and my whole Viedma district was travelling overnight to Trelew for a Zone Conference. I had taken this bus route once before — in the opposite direction — when I was first shipped off to my area. It was memorable the first time because of the busdriver’s decision to blast Arnold Schwarzennegger’s Total Recall — one of my favorite movies — on the T.V. in English during the trip. There I was, fresh out of the MTC, watching an R-Rated movie on the first real day of my mission, and not feeling guilty about it so much as feeling guilty for not feeling guilty about it. But my second overnight ride in reverse was to be much more memorable. Best to break it down, hour-by-hour:
“Wow, I can’t believe our whole district is going to be on this bus for 9 hours! And there’s only one stop the whole time, about 4 hours into the trip! Sure glad our bus is air-conditioned. Beats spending another night in our muggy apartment, I guess.”
“Hmmmm. Well, this is boring. I wish I spoke Spanish better so I could pursue an interesting conversation with my comp. I wonder if I’ll actually be able to sleep in these seats. 8 more hours is an awfully long time to sit in this chair! Oh well, at least there’s A/C.”
Hour 1.5 (roughly):
“Oh crap. I’m really starting to feel nauseous. I think I might have diarrhea coming on too. This sucks! Maybe it’ll it pass. These things sometimes do. Please God, let this pass quickly!”
“Oh my gosh, THIS REALLY SUCKS!!! I really need to use the bathroom. For more than one reason. I think I’ll go back and check it out. [I get up, quickly move to the bathroom door at the back of the bus, open it, and peer inside. I am utterly horrified by what I see.] “Oh my heck, there is NO WAY I’m ever going to enter this ungodly hellhole of a room, much less plant myself down on that toilet seat. I don’t care if I die, I am not going in there!”
“Arrrrrrggggghhhhh. I can’t believe I’ve managed to sit here for an entire hour without completely losing it. AGONY! I can’t go on! Maybe I should get my comp to ask the bus-driver to stop the bus. Maybe they can just leave me by the side of the road to die. Whatever. I just need this to end.”
“Dear Heavenly Father, this is it. I simply can’t go on. I’m going to explode! I can’t last another 10 seconds. Please, please, PLEASE let us reach the town this instant! NOW, NOW, NOW! The difference between now and 10 more seconds is an eternity! I’m not gonna make it!!!
Shortly after Hour 4, our bus finally pulled into the lone stop on our route: the sleepy town of San Antonio Oeste. It was past 1:00 am, so there was nothing to buy and no place to go. But I understood there was a bathroom in the station, and I was determined to bolt toward it. As luck would have it, all the missionaries were sitting near the back of the bus. As everyone stood up to file out, I informed my fellow elders that I needed to disembark first. They obliged me. I slowly inched towards the door, as I fantasized about murdering the folks in front of me if they didn’t hurry up and get out of my way. I finally reached the front of the bus, turned toward the exit door, and began my descent out of the vehicle. Alas, too late:
I let loose the most voluminous, most violent vomit imaginable. It’s as if the Three Nephites had all three simultaneously kicked me in the stomach, and I released the contents of the entire Great Salt Lake from some deep, dark, unknown reservoir in the depths of my soul. Lucky for the bus driver and passengers, I aimed well, and so managed to miss the interior of the bus completely. But because I hadn’t yet taken that first descending step, the distance from my mouth to the ground outside the bus was immense. As a result, my massive projectile hit the ground with tremendous force. And so — as if to prove that God has a wicked sense of humor — it splattered all over the back of the two Catholic nuns who had exited right before me.
Alas, I didn’t have the luxury of savoring this historic moment in Catholic/Mormon relations. I bolted towards the men’s bathroom, barged through the door, sat down, and promptly relieved myself in a slightly more conventional fashion. I then exited the station, hoping and praying that both recent releases marked the end of my bodily travails. I boarded the bus with a tinge of optimism that the worst was over. But it wouldn’t last. For I was only half right. After my initial bout of vomitory bliss, the need to repeat it would not return. But my lower half was just getting started.
“Oh boy. I don’t feel nauseous anymore, thank goodness, but here comes Round 2 in the other department. CRAP. What the heck am I gonna do? I’ve got 4 more freaking hours on this bus!!!”
“CRAP CRAP CRAP CRAP CRAP CRAP CRAP!!!!!!”
“%!#@$^@#^ @#$^@# (@*$#%(!!!”
Words cannot express what happened during Hour 7. I experienced what can only be described as the low point of my mission, possibly my life. One can only sit in a chair, holding it all in, for so long. Eventually, you’re bound to lose it, and I did. Enough said.
The horrible event of Hour 7 was not the end. And so I finally did the unthinkable: I decided to swallow my pride, my dignity, my sense of hygiene, and I raced to the bathroom at the back of the bus. I entered and sat down. I’m not one to normally speak in euphemisms, but perhaps I’ll break my rule here: There’s Montezuma’s Revenge, and then there’s Montezuma’s Slow, Sociopathic Sadism with a Blowtorch and a Pair of Plyers. Have you ever had fluid drain from your body so quickly that you could literally feel your insides dehydrating, moment by moment? Well, I have. Trust me, it’s not an experience you want. (Remember in War of the Worlds — the Tom Cruise version — when the alien tripod impaled the man lying on the ground and sucked all the life out of him? Yeah, it was just like that.) Fortunately, the other elders in my district passed me bottled water after bottled water through the cracked door, to keep me hydrated. Had they not done so, I seriously think I would have died.
Arrival! Alas, I don’t remember a thing.
I have no recollection of entering the mission van, being driven to the apartment of some local elders, or collapsing onto a mattress on the floor. I missed the entire Zone Conference, and spent two days bedridden in the apartment, with sporadic trips to the bathroom. Not much fun, but it was Paradise compared to my overnight ride from Hell, so I wasn’t complaining. By the time my district was ready to return to our areas, I was much improved, and the return trip was uneventful. I never again experienced this sort of sickness on my mission.
Once we’d returned home, I reflected back on my experience. What was the source of my affliction? What in the world might have caused such horrible suffering? What might I have ingested that could have infected me so? My trainer — ever helpful — was quick to answer: The cause of my sickness was “sin”. Plain and simple. (He didn’t clarify if it was the Total Recall, or something else). And to speculate about any other cause did nothing but obscure this fact. Gee, thanks so much, Elder!
Feel free to share your own stories of mission sickness and mayhem.