The short answer is, the Jimmy John’s No. 6 vegetarian sub may very well have saved my life.
On the evening of Sept. 23, 1997, I put myself in the hospital with alcohol poisoning. That is to say, an ambulance and some paramedics put me in the hospital, but I’m the one who started it.It was my 21st birthday. My job laying out the student newspaper held me up, and I was late meeting my friends at the bar to celebrate. Time before last call was short, so I drank something like four beers and nine shots in less than an hour.
I remember this much before waking up on a gurney as I was wheeled into Sparrow Hospital in Lansing, Mich.
- Thinking: Should I do those last two shots?
- Thinking: Hell yes.
- Stumbling home on the shoulders of two of my roommates. I didn’t so much walk as allow myself to be propelled forward by gravity and their patience.
- Rolling off the living room couch into pure darkness to hit the floor, clutch my gut, and commence vomiting.
Hamm. Hamma baa baa blll. Oblaa mmm. Maaaa…
So there I was, waking suddenly, strangers on all sides, the world wheeling quickly past, bright lights stabbing at my eyes, a door closing at my feet.
Bammm bammmba laaaaa. Hummmm. Hummmm. Hummmm maa maa laaa…
I knew I was babbling. I had some awareness that I could talk if I wanted to, but I didn’t have much else to say, and a string of nonsense was easier to get out. My chief goal was to prove I was alive. I’m OK. I don’t need any help.
My surroundings in a hospital corridor slowly made themselves apparent.
Mahm mahm baah. Baa laaah.
A nurse pulling me down the hall turned to my roommate, who was keeping pace with the procession, and said, “Let me guess. This one is majoring in languages.”
Hummbaa hum—Hey! I said. “That’s nnnot fffunny.”
I was back from outer space.
My body may have been shutting down involuntary yet essential body functions, desperate to survive dehydration, but my brain could tell when there was a joke being made at my expense. Though I gave him credit for trying.
And then it hit me: How ridiculous and embarrassing! What a bother I must be to everyone! And most unforgivable: What a cliché.
“I’m so sorry,” I said, my eyes closed, addressing everyone but facing no one.
“Sorry about what?” the nurse said. Apart from his sarcasm and his unwillingness to take my shit, all I can remember of him now is his closely cropped brown beard.
“I’m so sorry,” I repeated. “For this. For all of this. I shouldn’t put you through this. You shouldn’t … have … to deal … with this.”
“What do you mean?” he said. “We love this stuff.”
It took two bags of IV solution before I was hydrated enough to pee. I wished I knew more biology to understand the miraculous yet completely ordinary path that liquid took. And how can I ever forget the peculiar sense of freedom that came from positioning that bed pan under my paper gown so I could let loose the rank, foul sluice of my bladder. To expunge just a hint of that poison was such a relief that I hardly considered the sensibilities of my poor roommate, sitting not four feet away from me.
If she was bothered, she did a good job of hiding it. I bet she had become well-enough acquainted with my bodily functions in the last hour. This was nothing.
The details she filled in, waiting in that room for me to recover, seem almost comical now—except for coming so close to catastrophe.
About an hour after putting me down on the couch—I guess I refused to attempt the stairs—my roommates all woke to the sound of me rolling around retching in the living room.
Upon seeing the state of me, one began pacing the floor and talking to herself. Another locked himself in the bathroom. A third just stood in his bedroom doorway staring with wide eyes.
Thank goodness this one, the one patiently watching me rehydrate, who had seen my pants come off, who had seen me regurgitate blood, had the mental wherewithal to call the hospital. She rode with me in the ambulance and dug through my pockets to find my ID and insurance card and help with admitting me.
“I hope I got all the insurance stuff right,” she said.
“I’m sure you did,” I said, grateful the bill would come to my address and not my parents’. Oh god. If I survived the night, I did not think I could survive explaining this to them. The good son—the first-born—in the hospital on his birthday! Better to pay the bill myself and hide the night’s adventure from mom and dad.
Another nurse came to check on me with a cup of ice chips for me to chew. I thought of all the times my mom stopped me from chewing ice when I was a kid.
We went home after the sun came up.
Jeff had left for his own place a little before my roommates ventured home from the bar with my dead weight. Someone must have called him in the morning to let him know what happened.
His first reaction was, “Oh god. I killed my boyfriend.”
So after giving me a few hours to sleep, he stopped by to visit. I was silent, nearly catatonic, choking down sips of water and staring at the television, which was not on. He seemed relieved to see me still breathing, weakly smiling.
I could see he felt terribly guilty. The last two shots had come from him. But they were only the capper. I was well on my way to nowhere good before they were poured. We had been together only about one week, and he was just trying to help me celebrate my birthday. I certainly did not blame him.
He had a sandwich for me: Provolone cheese, avocado, cucumber slices, lettuce, tomato and mayonnaise on a long French roll — the Jimmy John’s No. 6. After only one week, he knew my favorite.
A moment prior, I could hardly have borne the thought of eating, but this was special. He was trying to help me, so I took a bite to be a good sport.
The effect was instantaneous. I swear I could feel each of those 673.75 calories re-inflating my cells, enriching my blood, invigorating my heart.
I had gone into the fire, and Jimmy John’s and my boyfriend were on the other side. Jeff might have slid into my house on a rainbow and given me a sip from the Holy Grail, and he still wouldn’t have seemed more angelic to me than he did just then.
It was the best thing I had ever tasted, and I have ever since associated that sandwich with that blissful moment. Nothing else on the menu holds any interest for me. The Big John? A cheap gimmick, not worth my time. The Turkey Tom? Blasphemy. The Totally Tuna? Get thee behind me.
Not long after that, I got a call from my mom.
“Hey, Eric,” she said. “What’s this $800 medical bill from Sparrow Hospital?”