|Posted on June 3, 2011 at 11:30 PM|
“My Mom says to never boil rolled oats with meat, especially pork” I told Sister Angelique. “She said it's not good for the stomach”
“Bah, what does your Mom know? She don't know how to cook. Look how skinny you are” Sister Angelique said to me in disgust brushing away my words like they were flies buzzing around her face. I watched as she dumped a few big handfuls of rolled oats into the giant boiling pots of water where chunks of pork rolled and bumped around with a few potatoes. Potatoes that her and another Nun had come and got me and my best friends, Louisa, Angeline, and Doreen to come and peel earlier that day. We had to clean, peel, chop up and store them in giant pails of cold water to keep them from turning black while the Nuns got the meat chopped up and got it boiling until it was soft.
We laughed over the potato peels and saved a few in our pockets with a pinch of salt for snacking on later. Our tunics had large enough pockets that hiding peelings like that was a common practice, we would sit outside or sneak to each others' cot at night and snack and visit and talk about cute guys on the boys side or gossip about staff. It was a good gut filling salty snack and it filled in the corners when supper was small that we got hungry late at night, especially when the little ones were hungry. Instead of letting them cry we would take them to our beds after the lights went out and snack with them. Lots of us older girls did this whenever we had potatoes to peel.
Our dorms were on the top floors, the boys on one side and the girls on the other side of the building and on either side of the dorms the emergency exit was a fireman's pole which we would have to hang onto to escape if there was a fire in the building lower floors. We had monthly drills on how to slide down the pole 4 floors to safety, even in the winter when it was freezing out. At least our relative safety was considered to some degree. The back of the dorms had showers and bathroom stalls and a long trough looking sink with foot pedals for us to wash up in the mornings, the water was cold most of the time but at least we were clean. The kitchen and dining hall was on the bottom most floor and was the one time that the girls and boys were allowed to be in the same room. I could see my two little brothers then and steal a hug or a kiss on top of their shaved head when the Nuns and Priests weren't looking. I let them know that they were loved above all else in my heart, no matter what we promised to God in front of the Priests.
Supper time finally came and my stomach was growling but I was wary about eating the oats and pork soup I was glad for the potato peels in my pocket that had been rolling around in the salt I poured in there to flavor them. I patted my pocket as I dutifully lined up and took my helping, I nudged Louisa and whispered to her about the stomach ache the soup was going to give her later. She nodded and patted her pockets as well and we shared a secret smile. She passed the word to the rest of our group, just Doreen was too hungry to care, she shrugged and said “I'm gonna eat it anyways. Sister Angelique says it'll be okay.” The rest of us exchanged glances and shrugged, I still was not going to eat. As I was taking my tray back to my table I walked past my brothers' table and stole a quick glance the Priest was watching the food line so I leaned in and said, “Dont eat too much your stomach will hurt later. Its oats and pork and Mom says-” I was cut off by a sharp sting to my backside. The Priest had caught me and gave me a spank with the strap he always carried with him. I looked at him and hurried away, hoping my brother had heard me and had enough sense to warn Charlie, our youngest brother.
I made my way to my sister's table, Lena and Margaret and told them the same thing, “But I'll be so hungry later” Margaret whined, being only 7 she whined a lot.
“No you won't. I have peelings in my pocket with salt. I took lots this time” I whispered with a smile. “I'll just have a tiny bit of soup then” Margaret said smiling slyly at me.
“Me too” Lena said biting into a small chunk of potato.
“Okay not too much, you'll have sore tummies later and won't be able to eat any peelings.” I winked at them and went and sat down at my own table before the Priest saw me again.
I had a few small tastes of the meat and the potatoes but took my time eating, I watched all the other students eat up the soup. I was grateful for the potato peels in my pocket, because breakfast was a long way off. Later that evening, after lights out a few of the girls in the dorm were complaining of aching stomachs, gas and belching. “Uh oh there's the stomach aches mom said would happen” I thought to myself. Lena and Margaret made their way to my cot after the night supervising Sister Dominga had dealt with the girls by giving them hot water to sip and retired to her private room for the night. We sat down on my cot and I 'shh'ed them when they giggled as I pulled out the peelings. I spread them out for us to eat, we sat quietly for a moment chewing and looking at each other in the relative darkness of the dorm when Lena said “A girl on my side had a stomach ache so bad she had to go have a big ole' poop” she said, “You were right about the soup. Glad I didn't eat too much.” I nodded and smiled, “Charlie and Ronald had only half a their bowl. So they'll probably just need to poop to feel better.”
“That's good. I didn't want them to have bad tummies tonight. There's no one there to look after them if they get sick.”
“Lots of girls have sore tummies” Margaret added, “I could hear some moaning and saying they needed to fart real bad.”
“Then they should fart” I said and we giggled quietly.
Suddenly, there was a heart stopping pounding on the dorm door which was right near where my cot was. We froze in mid chew and stared at each other, to be caught out of bed after lights out meant a whipping or worse, a naked whipping in front of the classroom. Margaret let out a small whimper and I put my finger to my lips to shush her then I pointed to the other side of my cot where the supervisor wouldn't spot them if she was just going to answer the door and go back to bed. Then there was more pounding this time more urgent, I had just enough time to jump under covers when the supervisors door flew open and Sister Dominga came out in her long nightgown and a housecoat over top. She rushed to the door and we could hear a mans' voice call out “Hurry up will you! There's an emergency going on!”
She unlocked the door and yanked it open and the man said “Where are all the clean underwear for the boys?”
“It's in the wash” she answered bewildered. “What's happening?”
“All the boys are sick, they're having diarrhea badly. Some aren't even making it to the washroom how are the girls doing?” he asked.
“Well there was a few upset stomachs but nothing like-” she was cut off by a girl jumping out of bed and running to the bathroom crying loudly. As she ran by the back of her nightgown was staining brown, “Oh my good Lord” Sister Dominga said in shock.
“Father Storka” I heard a boys' voice say, “I have to go again” he said urgently and sounding distressed. Before he could respond another girl was up and running, and another one screamed “Sisterrrrr! Ellen had a fart and she pooped all over her bed its leaking on the floor and she's crying!” Sister Dominga turned around in a large circle and soon all the girls were getting up some were crying, most were moaning and every one of them were jumping out of bed and running to the back to use the toilet.
“What on earth is going on?” she asked Father Storka.
“Well obviously they ate something that didn't agree with them!” he said getting flustered and loud. Then the boys were in the girls dorm running past both supervisors, some of the girls screamed to see boys in the dorm, but they ran right past to the fire escape pole and slid down it.
“Where do you think you're going?” Father Storka yelled.
“To the outside toilets” one of them answered. As they thundered past the girls were getting out of bed, one little girl stopped behind Sister Dominga and started to cry as wet feces dripped down her legs.
I turned to look at my sisters who were still lying on the floor beside my cot and they looked terrified. I put my finger to my lips and turned around again to watch it all unfold. By now the entire dormitory was smelling like feces and it made me want to gag.
“Everyone out of bed now!” Sister Dominga yelled at the top of her lungs as she took the keys from around her neck and handed them to Father Storka and he took off back down the stairs. Everyone was out of bed, some girls were crying, some were gagging and vomiting on their beds but everyone was up and running either to the back for the bathroom or if they didnt make it to the showers to wash themselves. The sounds of farting, pooping, crying, gagging and vomiting filled the room. I crawled out of bed and got my sisters up, we went and stood in the middle of the dorm and huddled together. I put my arms around my sisters and looked around me. Soon Louisa and Angeline joined me they too hugged my sisters and we watched the scene around us.
Sister Dominga had gone to the back to the bathroom stalls to investigate when I heard her scream “Oh my Lord Jesus. There is shit everywhere, how did it get on the walls?”
and then again “Oh my Lord! We need a doctor here!” She was yelling commands, make sure it's flushed, get into the shower and wash that off. Then finally, "everybody outside, down the fire escape pole let's all get outside before the smell kills us!” There was a rush of crying girls with poop running down their legs towards the fire escape, they were sliding down the pole as we practiced in our drills. We huddled closer as the girls ran past and behind them came Sister Dominga she stopped short when she seen us not affected.
“What are you standing there for? Start cleaning if you aren't sick. There are some seriously sick girls in there that are shitting so hard they're bleeding and it's shooting out of them like a shower!” She yelled as she ran past us towards the exit.
There were two long rows of cots each placed side by side in sets of two, one ran along the east wall and the other along the west wall. On the south side of the building was the fire exit, on the north was the shower and bathroom stalls, in the center of the rows was the exit to the lower floors and the long trough in which we washed up in.
I peered down towards the bathroom stalls and could see puddles on the floors, some were smeared where girls had slipped in and fell down spreading it around. Now the noise of the gagging screaming crying girls had moved outside and was accompanied by the screams of the ones the who didn't make the slide down the pole but fell and were injured at the bottom. I tiptoed through the maze of diarrhea puddles to the bathroom and heard even more crying all I could see was the amount of diarrhea that was on the floor and some even on the walls, there were discarded soiled nightgowns left on the floor. Some were soiled brown and some brown with red lay crumpled where they were dropped.
I covered my nose with my hand as I made my way to the sounds of crying, I gasped and nearly screamed when I came upon the first girl curled up in a ball in the bottom of a running shower and there was blood and diarrhea swirling around the drain and more was coming out. She looked up at me and her face was contorted in pain and she let out a cry of pain that sent me running. I stopped and went back feeling bad for leaving her, I helped her to stand and she doubled over again as another wave of cramp and diarrhea hit. More sounds, shit and blood shot out of her and on the walls of the shower.
“I have to stay down or it gets on the walls” she sobbed. I nodded and let her down easy, when another sound caught my attention. I dropped her hands and moved towards it. It sounded like a mewling cat or a small injured animal how pitiful and whiny it was. I opened the shower stalls and found nothing but feces dripping down the walls or in puddles on the floor, in each one I started the shower to wash it down. Finally, I came to the toilet stalls, there were three and in each one I pushed open the door to see the toilet swilling with brown or beginning to overflow from becoming plugged up. The last stall there was a thump and the sound of a tumble I jumped back and looked underneath the door and saw a girl on the floor half undressed and blood and feces still coming from her behind. I screamed for Louisa and opened the door and tried to help her up. I held my breath and grabbed her by the arm and it felt wet and hot, making me nearly gag I knew what I had put my hand on. She came to and groggily said “I can't breath it hurts so much.”
“Louisa!” I screamed again. Suddenly she was beside me and kept saying over and over in shock “Oh my Lord, Oh my Lord, Oh my Lord. What do we do? What do we do?”
We struggled to get her out of the bathroom stall but realized we had to leave her there as the feces oozed out of her, we put a pillow under head and gave her a sip of water. I grabbed a mop and pail with some water and cleaner in it, and wiped up around her and every time she defecated I mopped it up again. This went on for what seemed like an eternity until a group of Nuns came in with a few men who weren't priests and they began to take over. Taking the mop from me and telling us to go outside and get some air that the doctor will be here soon. The men were kindly and looked genuinely worried for the girls. Back in the main dorm area my sisters were still huddled together crying quietly from fear.
Finally, the men made their back towards the main dorm area and were cleaning up there changing the water often and making the place smell clean again. They were tearing sheets and blankets off the beds and we helped as much as we can, gathering discarded bed clothes and blankets. I made my sisters stay on my bed where it was clean and as far away from the smell as they could get, they lay under the blankets hugging one another afraid. The sounds outside were still going on but a lot more subdued as people got a handle on what was happening to the students. After a few hours all sheets were cleaned and mattresses wiped clean and girls made their way back to their cots in exhaustion, I asked Doreen who had been one of the girls outside if she saw my little brothers.
“Yeah, they were okay. Not too bad, crying and pooping but not as bad as some of the others. Some of them were being taken to the infirmary to spend a few days there until the diarrhea had stopped. Or they gained their strength back.”
Much later that night when the lights went out and most girls stomachs were settled by a black chalky drink, Father Storka came in to speak with Sister Dominga. They stood near the door talking about the incidents on each side, he was explaining how the boys were complaining of stomach cramps then they they seemed to all need to use the lavatory all at once.
“What do you suppose happened? I have some boys who nearly perished” he said. Sister Dominga stood with her hand on her chest holding her rosary and shaking her head slowly in disbelief.
“I told Sister Angelique not to use rolled oats with the pork” I ventured hoping to help them solve the mystery.
“Get back to bed, you just want to sound important you did no such thing.” Sister Dominga said to me and grabbed me by the shoulder and turned me around.
“Well whatever it was there was sure a lot of traffic in the bathrooms, infirmary and down the fire escapes tonight.” Father Storka said softly. Their voices were soft now and I couldn't make out the words anymore. Just as I was falling asleep I heard two words apart that stuck with me the next day. Traffic and soup.