Recently, I’ve been more and more worried about suffering a heart attack. I’m at the tail end of 32, enjoy a sedentary lifestyle, and make my living by blasting my insides with candy, chocolate pasta, and, on one memorable occasion, more tacos than any one human should ever be able to handle without needing to be rushed to an emergency room where a breathless doctor screams “CLEAR!” over and over.
For some reason, though, none of that stopped me from pitching an article in which I would drink an entire gallon of eggnog as a means of flooding my body with a substance that so many people seem to like and that I have never been able to stomach; not since I tried it for the first time in fourth grade. On that occasion, I had to quietly spit out the contents of my mouth into the classroom’s only wastebasket while the rest of my peers jammed out to “Jingle Bell Rock” and casually chatted about how terrible their Christmas would be if their parents got them clothes.
My Christmas, I wanted to tell them, is already terrible because one of your parents has tried to poison me with sour milk that’s been sweetened with medicine. Please call for help. But I kept my mouth shut, worried that if I breathed in even a little that the memory of the nog’s medicinal taste would overpower me, forcing me into a dead faint. I’d hit my head on someone’s desk on the way down and that would be it. I’d wake up dead, with my parents livid that I had killed myself like an idiot and that they would now have to pay for the funeral.
Clearly I didn’t completely grasp the concept of death then. But I have now. Because let me tell you a thing: drinking a gallon of eggnog brought me closer to death than I expected. And if I was worried about having a heart attack before, I’m even more worried about having one now, several days after Christmas and after the worst of my gastrointestinal distress has already passed (I hope).
I’d wanted to drink the eggnog on Christmas day, but there were children present, and my husband, always worried about the things his niece and nephew should be exposed to at the tender ages of 8 and 10, immediately told me that it wasn’t happening. If I wanted to get drunk on nonalcoholic eggnog, he said, I’d have to do it on my own time, and in the safety and comfort of his parents’ home, where he and I had the use of a private bathroom to ourselves.
“How would I get drunk if the eggnog’s non alcoholic?” I asked as he was busy curtailing my rights and lecturing me about the dangers of shouting a lot when the kids beat me at Mario Kart, even though I am older and should be better than they are.
“It’s a saying,” he responded, annoyed.
“But there’s no alcohol. That’s okay, right?” I pressed, hoping that he’d see how drinking over 4,000 calories worth of slimy, festive cream actually was an appropriate way to share Christmas with his entire family.
“You can drink all the alcohol you want,” he shot back,“I don’t care. It’s much easier to explain why uncle Mark is throwing up Bud Light than vomiting what looks like the ghost of Christmas past.” Why the children would be watching me vomit in the first place was something he didn’t elaborate on (usually they’re too engrossed in their video games), but I chose to drop the conversation anyway, provided that I was allowed to drink my eggnog the next day when the only people around would be his parents who, according to my husband, “needed to deep-clean the house anyway.”
The eggnog my husband drinks is rich and expensive. It comes in a thick glass bottle you can return for two dollars when you’re done with it. It’s thick and smooth and if he’s feeling really festive, he’ll put it into a Christmas cup and sprinkle some spice on top. Traditionally, it should be nutmeg — sprinkle on enough and you can hallucinate away the taste! — but he sometimes goes with cinnamon, instead; sometimes he adds sprinkles and giggles at how droll he’s being because this is the height of wit — sprinkles on luxury eggnog.
The eggnog I buy is none of these things. It comes in a carton and is proudly stamped “Low-Fat.” The ingredients, though, are hailed as premium, and the back of the carton politely informs you that the cows who gave their milk for this holiday treat are happy and not fed any chemicals. The two half-gallons I purchased for this experiment boast 16 servings each, at 130 calories per serving. Drinking all 32 half-cups is equivalent to ingesting over 4,000 calories. The 672 grams of sugar one gallon of eggnog holds is more than 20 times the amount a healthy male should take in over the course of the day.
Before getting started, one of my friends, an EMT, warned me about “dumping syndrome,” a phenomenon that occurs when too many sugars are pushed from your stomach and right into your lower intestines. The syndrome is horrible, The Mayo Clinic cheerfully informs me, but not actually dangerous. There might be cramping and diarrhea, but as soon as I “change my diet” and eat “smaller portions,” I should be in the clear according to the literature. A psychotherapist who reached out to me on Facebook told me that unless I truly have an aversion to eggnog, one that actually interferes in my life, that flooding myself with it won’t make me like it. This was all very good advice, but since the nog is already bought and paid for, I wasn’t just going to waste it.
“We can drink it a little bit at a time,” my husband said, as I spread out at his family’s dining room table. “Also, you don’t have to do this.” His parents shuffled about nervously nearby, worried that I would ruin their table runner.
“At least take a glass,” my husband said as I got started. “Jesus Christ, don’t just drink it from the carton. People live here.”
I wanted to talk to a doctor about the medical problems that drinking an entire gallon of eggnog could cause but my friend the EMT lives in Canada, and when she asked the doctors she knew, they said they didn’t want to be responsible for any “international incident,” which suggests that my distress would be bad enough to get someone fired.
“That’s a terrible sign that you might die,” my husband said, but I started drinking anyway, the first mouthful of nog hitting my throat with a cold and gooey consistency that felt both comforting and unnatural at the same time. It was a little like that terrible sand in The Princess Bride — something that would eventually kill you, but would feel benignly pleasant the entire time you were dying.
I remember nog tasting a little bit like milk someone had dumped sugar onto and then added a couple of spoonfuls of robitussin too just for taste, but things must have changed for the worse when our economy began to flounder. The nog that I reluctantly gulped down — the sounds of my drinking was worse than anything else, I’ve been told — tasted like someone at the Mylanta factory had made too much medicine and was now selling it as a delicacy because it wouldn’t have been cost-efficient to just throw it away.
I drank one cup. I drank two. While I’d been assured that there would be no way that forcing myself through this would lead me to stop worrying and love the nog, I was surprisingly calm the entire time. When three glass didn’t make me physically ill, I decided that maybe I’d been wrong after all. When four glasses didn’t force me to make a beeline for the bathroom, I began feeling stronger and better. Other people, I thought, might be prone to things like “cramps” and “dumping syndrome,” but the only thing I’d be facing is the possibility of being too full to go out for dinner at Applebee’s after, something that disappointed me, because there’s nothing I enjoy more than ordering on the little tablets the restaurant has at every table and then arguing with the server for several minutes about why the order they’ve brought me is wrong but that I won’t complain as long as they let me play the tablet’s many digital games for free (regularly $1.99).
By the time I’d hit the bottom of the fifth glass (that was the end of carton one!), I was feeling slightly queasy but not anymore so than I would have after enjoying two servings of cheese fries at The Texas Roadhouse, where that is one of the few vegetarian options. No longer particularly interested in whether I’d be dying — I don’t have a life insurance policy anyway, and if I did, I doubt it would cover death by low quality ingredients — my husband suggested that he and his parents might like to go to the mall and come back when I was done.
“What if I have a heart attack and die?” I asked.
“More candles from Bath & Body Works for me,” he said. “There’s an after-Christmas sale, and you know I love the ones that smell like smoke. How do they do that?”
Good question. One I thought I’d ponder over my second carton of eggnog, which I’d just taken out of the freezer in preparation of drinking its icy contents and doing my best to enjoy it. “By next year,” I thought, “I’ll be drinking this stuff with the rest of the family. And by then, I’ll also be allowed to drink it at the same time, clinking glasses of sweetened dairy with my mother-in-law without anyone worrying that I’d be making a scene.”
Those would be great times. Times we would all cherish forever.
“What am I doing with my life?” I wondered as I opened the second carton and poured myself another cold glass of liquid so sickly-sweet it burned my throat on the way down. I had asked myself this question several times in the past year — especially after an emergency surgery — but hadn’t even really questioned myself fully until now. Some people might glean their meanings from meditation and yoga. I was doing it by overindulging in something I hated and then demanding that either my estate (in the event of my death) or I be paid for the torture. Worse, I still hated eggnog. Even after drinking an entire carton!
And then my stomach started rumbling. It was quiet at first, a pleasant purring which sounded a little bit like a content cat, but quickly became louder and more alarming, like some kind of endangered animal had taken up residence in my abdomen and was loudly yowling for protection, despite the fact that it would have been much safer to keep quiet.
Then the back pain started. I am a big proponent of suffering in silence with a grimace on my face until someone asks me what’s wrong and I can weakly say “nothing,” but the combination of abdominal cramps and lower back pain was making that an impossibility. I could have stopped then, but by the time the pain really kicked in and demanded that I’d better move to the bathroom just in case my body surprised me with a spontaneous expulsion I was already two glasses into the second carton, almost done with the terrible mission I’d assigned myself because a) I was curious to see whether flooding would work and b) because doing this meant I wouldn’t have to look at RSS feeds all day and no one’s going to pass up that kind of luxury.
I’d like to say that it all went quickly from there, but it didn’t. In fact, I wish I’d poured nutmeg into the nog and shook it well because, honestly, a hallucination would have been better than what I was experiencing. My stomach hurt, my back hurt, my breath was coming out in a ragged rasp (although my husband insists that was just for effect and not a real physiological reaction) and I was certain that the heart attack I’d been so worried about was finally here.
“I think I’m dying,” I called, but in a cheerful way that suggested that even if I were about to be taken off this mortal coil I would be totally fine with it. That wasn’t the case, of course, but I didn’t want to scare my in-laws who had cloistered themselves in their room and were texting my husband to see if I was okay and whether perhaps I could consider doing experiments on myself at home in the future.
“You’re not dying,” my husband called back. Then, “but I told you this would be a bad idea. Do you like eggnog yet?”
The truth was I didn’t. In that moment, sitting on the toilet (clothed, with the lid down, the doily that rested atop it pristine), I hated eggnog more than I hated anything else. I hated it more than peas (disgusting). I hated it more than geometry, which I was forced to take three times in high school even though everyone knew I’d never be able to find the value of x. I hated it more than the time I had to fly in a tiny plane full of strangers and kept screaming when the turbulence hit and we were all thrown up and down several feet in the air. Everyone laughed at me then, but at least it was only my ego that was in danger then. Here, sweaty and full of nog, I was moments away from calling 911 and demanding someone come pick me up and drain me, replenishing whatever nutrients I’d lost with water and saline and the kind of good, nutritious food that can only be pumped through an IV.
It’s that fantasy of being gorged on fluids that finally brought me back to my senses. I had about a cup of nog left in the carton but I was also suffering the worst stomach pain that I’d ever experienced. If I were less cognizant of how stupid it would sound, I would have equated the pain to giving birth. But considering that my mother-in-law has given birth to no less than five children without anesthetic, I thought it would be impolite to compare our experiences even as I let out one painful gust of flatulence after another in her well-appointed bathroom.
It’s at times like these that I start playing a game I like to call “If I Survive.” I usually play it when I can’t sleep because I’m worried about intruders, concerned I’ll be fired, or worried that a freak traffic accident will somehow end my life on the way to the Safeway that’s five minutes away by car but a little dangerous to get to when it’s raining. “If only no serial killer is in here,” I’ll tell myself, “I’ll never watch another horror movie again. If I make it to morning without incident, I’ll donate like ten dollars to an elephant rescue or something.” Surprisingly, I’ve always survived.
“If I make it through this,” I gagged, “I’ll donate money to a foundation that helps children.” I didn’t know which one — it’s hard to decide when you literally feel your insides liquefy — but I knew that if I kept repeating it enough I would make it through.
I may have ended up on the floor and I may have fallen asleep clutching the toilet, but I also woke up in less pain than before and immediately wrote a check to St. Jude, lest it return.
“So,” my husband asked, walking in with a glass of water and a disappointed look on his face, “do you like eggnog yet?”
I could have murdered him, but that would have been a terrible way to end the holiday season. “I don’t know,” I croaked back instead, my throat dry and caked with the remnants of several cows’ labor, “but I’m not going to do any more research to find out.” Then I asked him to turn off the light and leave. I didn’t want to punish either of us with the sight of what might happen next.