August 28, 2008

What's Grosser than Gross?

This was one of the questions asked during a game of “Loaded Questions” I played years ago with my brother and sister-in-law (when they used to have a life) and a bunch of other people I didn’t know at a beach house on the northern California coast. It’s a board game of much hilarity, especially when all the players have some semblance of a wit, and I still remember my answer to this particular question: opening the fridge to get some milk and accidentally drinking my mom’s breast milk instead. Her CURDLED breast milk.

Well, I’ve now got one that tops that.

Ted and I recently returned from a glorious two-week vacation to Northern California and Oregon to find that the refrigerator/freezer we have in the garage had accidentally been switched off by our caretaker. It was our fault – the thing is hooked up to a light switch – and we didn’t think to warn anyone of it. The morning after we got back, I went to the fridge to get some bread for toast since we had next to nothing in our house and was greeted with the most disgusting smell known to man: rotting maggot carcasses mixed with mold and decomposed produce. This smell is bad enough on its own, but to a pregnant woman, it’s a death sentence. Had I eaten anything that morning, it would surely have come right back up on any surface in the garage (most likely my car), but instead I did a few audible dry heaves and ran back into the house, where I doused myself with my favorite perfume to counteract the rankness that had already begun to permeate my hair and clothes. Later on, at church, a friend asked what perfume I was wearing. I told her I had on two: J’adore, and Eau de Maggot.

I wisely switched the fridge back on to take away at least some of the smell and to turn the nasty goo into solid form to make it easier to clean out, but we didn’t tackle it until Tuesday night – the night before the garbage man came.

Ted and I had to arm ourselves, so he made a trip to the store and bought the thickest garbage bags he could find, plus rubber gloves, and at home I got into my grubbies, wrapped a bandanna around my nose and mouth, and since we didn’t have any clothespins wide enough to go over my nose, I used a 5-inch wide chip clip, attached to my nose at one end and hanging down past my chin at the other. I know I looked ridiculous, but there was no way I was going to let that nastiness let into my nasal passages. If I’d had a HazMat suit, you can bet I would have used it.

We opened the freezer.

The first thing I saw was a pound tube of ground turkey that looked like it had a huge goiter in the middle. I didn’t even want to know what caused the tube to expand like that. There was yellow opaque goo the texture of newborn baby poop in the door of the freezer that I had a REALLY hard time scooping up, as I was gagging all the way. Again, I didn’t eat anything for hours before this project because I didn’t want my bandanna soaked in my own bile. I was glad I had refrozen everything because for obvious reasons, it’s easier to handle solid meat and dead maggots than squishy rot with crawlies. The fridge had to have been switched off for at least a week, judging by the size of the maggots (they were full grown, and some of them had already begun their fly transition). I recalled an exhibit we saw about forensics in the Phoenix Science Museum, where entomologists use growth stages of maggots and other vermin to determine how long a body has been dead – usually identifiable down to a few hours. But I digress.

The freezer was disgusting. It in no way prepared me for the horror that awaited me in the refrigerator.

See, gravity is a physical law that applies to everything that has mass. Things with larger masses have a greater force than things with smaller masses, which is why on earth everything moves toward the center, meaning that certain things will make their way from the freezer on top to the fridge on the bottom. Let me list a few things that have mass in this situation: 1) that yellowish unidentifiable "newborn poop" goo, 2) blood and requisite fluid from squishy meat that has seeped or exploded out of its wrapping, and 3) the lovely parts of the animal and fungal worlds that thrive on these sorts of liquids. Keep in mind that a refrigerator is only meant to keep things cool - not to freeze them - so many treasures awaited us.

First were the melons. I bought a beautiful cantaloupe and watermelon a few days before we left, and had cut half the watermelon up but forgot about the cantaloupe. When you purchase a melon in a grocery store, one of the things you make sure of is that the rind is nice and firm, often by applying pressure. If you had done that to either of these melons, your hand would have gone right through and you would have been smelling yuck under your fingernails for days. The rinds were so soft they were beginning to wrap themselves around the metal wire shelving. Then I saw the bowl I had saved the leftover cut-up watermelon in. The lid to the bowl had the aforementioned leaked blood all over the top, and I made the mistake of looking inside. Let's just say to those who have been pregnant before, you have seen that sight during your first trimesters many, many times. I spewed stomach acid, yes, right into the bandanna.

The next few minutes weren't so bad, until Ted removed the produce drawers at the bottom. Oh, the horror. Brown blood everywhere, with bugs (some still alive) just practicing their backstrokes in it. What do you do with that? Well, we busted out the straws because we were feeling pretty thirsty... Sick. Just writing that made me gag.

Toward the end we tried to wipe everything down as best we could with VERY strong bleach water. In my wiping, I came across several maggots and something else that was growing on the side of the fridge wall. It was white and looked like a clump of grated Kraft parmesan cheese, but I've never had parmesan cheese in that fridge. Again with the gag, and then I called Ted over to take care of it for me. We did as much damage control as we could handle and then walked straight to the washer and stripped down to our birthday suits and then straight into the shower. Where's the lye when you need it?

In all, this was the most disgusting thing I hope I'll ever have to face during my pregnancy, but my mom said every couple has to go through that at least once. The only thing I could be grateful for was that it didn't happen to our INSIDE fridge. But still. Do you know how much BACON I had to throw away?? I almost cried!

During what turned out to be a very memorable Family Home Evening for us, I realized I actually recognized that smell. Some of you know I worked at a mortuary for almost two years before I began teaching. Three weeks into that job, we got a call from the police department that they had just left an apartment of a man who had been dead on the bathroom floor for at least a few days and would we come pick him up please? I was a complete rookie, but I volunteered to go, not realizing the horror that awaited. I equate it to the excitement one feels for going on a mission: anyone who HAS had the experience isn't clamoring and begging to go on another. Anyway, not only was the guy a hermit, but he was also an overweight alcoholic and had had a huge blood-plus-feces bowel movement right before he died that had exploded all over the bathroom. It then looked like he had keeled over on his way to wash up at the sink, wearing nothing but his tighty-not-so-whities. We picked him up during a July heatwave and the guy lived on the second floor with no elevator, so we were left toting a very juicy, putrid man down a loooooong flight of stairs whilst we sweated through our stinky suits. And they think fraternity hazing is bad.

How did the cops know he'd only been dead a few days? His bruised skin, when you looked closely, was pulsating because of the maggots underneath his skin. The few that crawled out from some orifice or another were obviously not full-grown. Isn't science cool??

I spared this post from any pictures because I figure your imaginations are strong enough. Sorry if anyone threw up.


Emily Ellen Gibby Syphus said...

Gotta hand it to you - DISGUSTING! I can imagine it all too well because we actually had a close-to-that experience last summer. Our neighbors were away for an internship, and their fridge went out. Just opening the front door was enough for a good puke fest. I'd do that 3 more times before I'd want to experience that dead body, though.

Renee said...

I can't count the number of times I gagged during that story. I'm soooooo disgusted on every level possible. Ask Ted about the unidentifyable (for months) smell in my house on Missouri Ave that turned out to be a rotting piece of chicken in our garage fridge. Someone thought it was a good idea to put it in the "freezer" which was really just a small box in the exact same area as the fridge, absolutely NO colder than the rest of it...but it had a cover which hid its contents. Luckily it was at least cold most of that time (I think) instead of warm and maggots. I can't even imagine the sickness of your task. I wish we could have at least seen a picture of you in the bandana and chip clip :) Just's all in preparation for becoming a mommy...they have stomachs of steele!!

dietcokegrrl said...

ummm, I think I would have just thrown out the fridge. I would rather just buy a new (or used) one than deal with that. There is NO WAY I could ever do that, pregnant or not, but especially pregnant.


The Hunt House said...

Please have this published. It is hilarious. Amazingly, no gagging for me because I have a story that tops EVEN this one. It is too horrid to write so ask me about it sometime. And I am ALWAYS the last to know who is pregnant. CONGRATS! Didn't know about that. How fun. Sorry about the bacon. That is criminal.

curg said...

Hey, at least my hospitality looks good up against that, huh?

I'm into stitches. said...

When I first read this, I thought back to my EMT days where we were called to a guy complaining of leg pain. He happened to have very live maggots crawling out of his lower legs. Me: "Sir, do you realize you have maggots crawling out of your legs??" Sir: "Really?"

You can only imagine the filth this guy personified and lived in for this to happen. We had an industrial citrus deodorizer in the rig that we never used due to its overpowering strength. We spritzed that stuff like bubbles at a wedding reception to kill the stench he brought into the ambulance, but THIS! Holy mother of all that isn't holy!

Come to think of it, mom and dad's freezer in the garage lost power for a few days and we were greeted with a similar sight. I don't think you were old enough (even born?) to remember that. I remember it, and made myself really scarce when they had to clean it out. I think dad cried as he tossed $hundreds in meat back to the dust. Ahhh, memories.

charrette said...

SOOO disgusting! We have a few science project classics too...the pumpkin pie that Jeff and his roommate left in an outdoor barbecue over Christmas vacation at USC. The fridge with molding food that Jeff tried to de-stink with a bottle of Elsha (that cologne makes me gag to this day!). The huge tupperware of leftover masa we used for Christmas tamales...and just found in the garage yesterday! And the very fact that BONNIE felt the neeed to clean out our fridge while we were on vacation -- I don't even want to KNOW what she found there. I was mortified!

Yeah, I'm with dietcokegirl -- throw out the whole fridge. Or call a disaster clean-up crew! You guys are BRAVE!

The Cooling Rack

Baked goods are only half the story...