Ever have food poisoning? Let me tell you about food poisoning.

Food poisoning is having what you think is a good meal and going to sleep as though your life will be normal the next day, even though you are about to forget the definition of the word “comfortable” for the next two days. Then it’s waking up and thinking something is wonky in your stomach, and maybe dinner didn’t sit right, but you didn’t eat the four-cheese appetizer, so what’s the big deal?

Next comes a few hours of internal wooOOooOOooOOoo, as though your stomach is working hard to keep things running properly, coupled with weird waves of “man I just don’t feel good” that don’t quite match a stomachache but they’re coming on stronger and stronger and ew is that nausea? because nausea is just the last thing you want to deal with and maybe if you had some flat Coke you could calm down a bit, or maybe a nap is a good idea.

Ah, and then you’ll get the idea that you should power through your queasiness and just eat something, because maybe you just need a fresh base in your system. This is usually the fatal error. It doesn’t take long before your insides figure it out: “that’s it, we need a full evacuation, stat.”

A few minutes later you find yourself crouched in front of a porcelain bowl, food coming out of the wrong end of your body, ignoring the normal exit routes and infiltrating your nostrils, with none of the “thank goodness that’s over I feel better now” that often accompanies such a session, and that’s when the realization sets in: this is food poisoning.

From there it mercilessly goes downhill. You spend the next 24 hours drifting in and out of sleep, lying virtually immobile in your bed because shifting sides only encourages the sickness to emerge. Every hour or two you return to your knees, your body forcing you to push all remnants of external substance out of your system, your body straining and convulsing relentlessly, your face dripping with sweat, your body teaching you where the phrase “violently ill” originated.

Every episode, every moment is painful: not just the vomiting but the coughs and and the tiredness and the muscle strains in your neck and your chest that will linger for days. Your head hurts, your mouth goes dry, your nose bleeds. You get hot, you get chills, you perspire continuously. You burst capillaries around your temples, or maybe on your eyelids or, if you’re really hard-core, directly in your eyeballs, causing weird red welts in your eyes or even filling the whites of your eyes with blood that lingers for weeks after the sick leaves your body.

And then there’s the comedown, once you’ve gone nine or 12 hours without retching and 30 or more hours without food, when you force yourself to eat that first saltine and a few sips of flat cola, which aren’t the least bit appetizing and serve only to strike fear deep within you, that maybe you’re still under the poison spell and are tempting your stomach to strike back; and those blissful moments a few hours later when you finally, finally rediscover hunger.

This, dear reader, is food poisoning. I should know: I’ve endured it twice, most recently this week, conveniently timed to obliterate the bulk of a vacation in Florida.