Saturday, January 12, 2013


Nearly everyone has experienced the literally gut-wrenching horror of the norovirus, otherwise known as the "stomach flu." It doesn't last long—usually less than twenty-four hours—but while you are experiencing it, you feel like you are dying. Dying, in fact, seems like a preferable alternative.

The norovirus is highly infectious. You hear countless horror stories of it decimating schools, retirement homes, and—worst of all—cruise ships. (The plumbing in cruise ships is notoriously sensitive. Imagine the strain put on it when everyone on board suddenly begins spouting from both ends. Talk about horror stories.)

I have personally encountered the norovirus a number of times over the years, and, while my memory is not the best, I remember each encounter in vivid detail: fever, chills, aching joints, and miserable hours spent in the bathroom.

There was, for instance, that time when I was about thirteen. Our family was living in a big, old, two-story house in Goshen, Indiana. Behind the house was a detached, two-story garage that had once been a stable. My Aunt Vonna was visiting from Fort Wayne, and she had taken us kids to Olympia Candy Kitchen—an old-fashioned, family-owned diner/soda shop/candy store on Main Street—and allowed us each to pick out a bag of our favorite homemade candy. I chose chunks of white chocolate, which I immediately devoured. It tasted delicious going down. It was nowhere near as good when it came back up a couple of hours later.

We were just sitting down to dinner when it hit me. I asked to be excused and raced to the bathroom. I did not receive much sympathy at first—the general opinion was that I had simply eaten too much candy—but when it became apparent that I was really sick, my mother put me straight to bed. I spent a feverish, hallucinatory night filled with strange noises—loud voices, banging doors, the wail of sirens. When I arose from my sick bed in the morning, weak and shaky, I discovered that our garage had burned down during the night. The fire department had been called; everyone had gone outside to watch; the entire neighborhood had turned out. It was positively, hands-down, the single most exciting thing that had ever happened to our family.

And I missed the whole thing.

Not only that—to this day, I cannot stand the taste of white chocolate.

There is no cure for the norovirus, and there is no vaccine against it. You simply have to ride it out. However, there is some good news. Some extremely clever scientists have devised a robot to help them study the way the norovirus is spread. The video below shows the robot in action. They call it "Vomiting Larry."

Much as I admire scientists, I will never understand them. Here they have the genius and imagination to build something as marvelous as a vomiting robot, and the best name they can come up for it is "Larry."

Did none of them think to call it "Ralph?"

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