Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The throw up lowdown

It's not fun. In fact, that's an understatement. It's gross, disgusting, sickening and traumatic. However distasteful it may be, though, we're all united through our common experiences with it; everyone's got a story about how it happened to them in the worst possible situation or in front of the worst possible person.

I'm talking about...vomiting.

We've got more names for it than almost any other bodily function: hurling, yakking, gargling groceries, throwing food, spitting yams, chumming, barfing, ralphing, backfeeding—I'll stop there. It's not that we don't like to talk about it; we sort of do, but only under the correct circumstances. We don't bring it up at Grandma's dinner table. We don't mention it to our brand new girlfriend—"Wow, when I threw up last week, that gift just kept on giving. I blew my nose the next day and found a piece of carrot." Nope, not a good time to go there.

But when we're with friends or others with whom we feel comfortable, the stories line up like the barf bus just arrived for story time. Today at work, for instance, three of my colleagues each had a couple of yam yarns to spin, with a few to spare. The common denominator for each story was that moment of realization we all experience when we know it's going to happen...the dizziness, the nausea, the cold, clammy skin and increased salivary build-up. That singular moment in time when we think, "I need to find the porcelain."

Of course, witnessing our kids throw up is no laughing matter. No parent enjoys watching his or her child in such discomfort. And, as every parent knows, the first strike from a small child is never into the proper receptacle. It's on the bed, in the car, on the carpet; I actually was thrown up upon by my younger daughter as my older daughter pulled out one of her teeth and simultaneously bled on me. As a general rule, it's never a terrible idea to wear rubber clothing around children under five.

My own parents frequently made the colossal error of plying me with Pepto Bismol in an effort to fend off an attack of technicolor yawning, but the opposite result usually occurred, where a frothy, pink bouquet merely supplemented the toxic cocktail. Or, they would bring out the "just in case" barf bowl, which only surfaced in this situation and primed your pump like a Pavlovian experiment.


The actual act of cookie tossing is quite a marvel of the human body. According to James Hallenback, MD, vomiting protects us from ingesting toxic substances, an evolutionary advantage. "The brain has a variety of receptors that test for potential toxins. Stimulation of these receptors triggers nausea and vomiting, preferably in time to limit further ingestion of poison." He goes on to state that many animal species do not have the ability to vomit, such as rodents.

Well, rodents seem to be getting by just fine.

I'm sure we'd all like to think that our throwing up days are behind us. In a Seinfeld episode, Jerry became distraught when his twenty-year, no-throw-up streak ended after eating a black and white cookie. But let's be realistic, here. It's going to happen again. And we're going to tell our friends.

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