Shit[ty] Luck at MeatEater

Shit[ty] Luck at MeatEater- Photo Credit: © Steven Rinella
15 Comments    Twitter   50 Facebook   6 Google+

This story involves blood and pain and a near death experience and even some petty crime, but in the middle of it all is a nasty case of the shits.

They began on a fairly recent morning in Southeast Montana while filming the mule deer episode of MeatEater. I was standing around with the crew in the predawn darkness and I got this horrible feeling that something wasn’t right in the ‘ol gut. This was particularly distressing, as having such problems are compounded in the woods by rudimentary facilities, a finite supply of toilet paper, and usually a less-than-ideal climate. Still, there’s little you can do besides take it as it comes. So I snuck off behind a juniper and kicked a hole in the freshly fallen powder snow and then dropped my britches as the skin on my legs goosefleshed in the 8 degree air. What happened next verified my suspicions: Indeed, something was not right in the ol’ gut.

Back up the calendar about two weeks and you’ll find me and the MeatEater crew in the bottom of an Arizona canyon in the Galiuro Mountains of southern Arizona while packing out a coues whitetail deer. We’d run out of water early that morning, while gutting the buck, and now we were parched. I sat down and filled my water bottle from a pool. We’d already seen tracks from black bear, coyote, and javelina in the canyon bottom, but for some reason I still made a stupid remark about how we probably didn’t need to purify it. After all, the water was cold and clear and had some flow to it. One of the guys, Dan, quickly put the nix on this idea. In desert country, he said, the limited water sources attract just about every critter around. (And, in turn, those critter’s droppings). He said I’d be a moron to drink that without treating it first. Seeing as how Dan was probably right and I was definitely thirsty, I struck a compromise. Rather than giving the iodine tablets a full thirty minutes to work their magic, I waited about ten minutes before drinking a quart.

I realize that this story is turning into a chaotic mash of dates and places, but now please jump ahead a week or so to the oak-covered hills of north-central California.  We’d come here between the shoots in Arizona and Montana in order to film a wild hog episode on a friend’s sprawling cattle ranch. At this moment, we were in the middle of gutting a good-sized boar that had apparently been rolling in poison oak. I didn’t know this at the time, of course, but it was quite obvious about a day later when my forearms, face, and neck broke out in a mosaic of raised red rashes. I took a break in order to drive into Willows to visit an emergency room. They wrote me a prescription for a hard-hitting ten-day regimen of a steroid called Prednisone. I took my first tablet just around the time that the rash spread around my waistline and down into all areas of my groin. A day later, and the poison oak had firmly established itself in my bloodstream. I was now getting chills and feverish spells. At night, I’d wake up to the sound of my own scratching. I wore cuts into my arms, and the cuts bled.

A week later came that moment in Montana, when I was crouched in the snow thinking that something was definitely not right with my gut. Over the following couple days, I tried to ignore it. I’d hunt as best as I could, then find a quiet place out of the wind behind a tree. Then I’d hunt some more. But within a few days I could no longer ignore the increasingly severe cramps. At the end of the trip, while the guys loaded the pack llamas for a hike out the hills, I laid on the ground in the fetal position. I cradled my stomach with one hand; with the other hand, I scratched poison oak on lower portions of my body.

I got back home on a Tuesday night, after twenty days in the field. I still had the cramps and associated problems, but not to the point that I couldn’t hack it. The next morning I hung out with son, Jim, while my wife went to work. I put him down for a nap around noon and then lay on the couch to catch a little sleep. A half-hour later I woke up to some the worst cramps I’d ever felt in my life. I packed Jim up, and he and I went to my doctor. My doctor gave me a bottle to collect a stool sample, should the condition worsen, and sent me away with a prescription for a cramp reliever. I walked down the street to the pharmacy. While I was waiting for the drug, I was hit by such a wave of nausea that I knew I couldn’t make it home. I called my wife, who came to rescue me.

I spent the evening on the couch, writing in pain and scratching and cradling my stomach. Around 9 p.m. I knew I had to get myself to the emergency room. We found someone to watch our kid, and then my wife and I headed for the hospital. I’m not ashamed to say that I was literally crying (with tears and everything) by the time they hit me with morphine. A blood test revealed a very high white blood cell count, indicating a severe infection. A CAT scan honed in on its location: my colon. With the mystery resolved, I opted to head home despite the doctor’s suggestion that I be admitted for treatment. Armed with a deck of prescriptions, I walked out into the predawn darkness of Thanksgiving Day.

Twelve hours later I began passing blood. At first it was just sort of bloody, but soon it was real live actual blood. Pure blood. Then, around 4 a.m., I puked up a good quart of liquid – including my medication. We found a friend who could come over to watch the kid, and then we went back to the emergency room.

After serving up some more morphine, the doctors were in no mood to consult about home treatment vs. hospital treatment. They wheeled me up and admitted me into my hospital room and put another squirt of morphine into my I.V. tube. As I faded from consciousness, my wife explained that she was going to go home to check on the boy. She’d leave my phone on the bedstand; I should call as soon as I woke up.

When I did wake up, a couple hours later, some asshole who works at the hospital had stolen my phone. A cop came up and took a statement and made a report. I got more morphine. A night passed. Then another night passed. On my fourth morning there, I woke up feeling somewhat passable. I used the courtesy phone to call a doctor to say that I had to get out of there. I was dismissed that night at 6 p.m., not knowing that I had a new and growing infection at my I.V. point.  During my final conversation with the infectious disease doctor, it was explained to me that such things as heavy steroid treatments and poison oak infections can immunize your immune system to the point that otherwise mild cases of Giardia (Arizona creek water) and e Coli (California hogs) can be crippling and potentially deadly.

Right now, at least, I’m feeling better by the second. We leave in a week to film in Texas. So, in a few months, if you’re watching MeatEater and wondering why I look about as thin as a skeleton, please remember this letter.

15 Responses to “Shit[ty] Luck at MeatEater”

  1. mdawson0215

    That blows. Glad you are doing better. I was wondering what happened with your show on the Travel Channel. Stoked to see you back on the air!!

  2. sva

    I’m stoked to see you back on the air, as well, Steve. Sorry to hear about your G.I. problems. I hope and pray your recovery continues on a good course.

    Scott (a fellow Muskegonite)

  3. wutan

    Bad luck Steve but the same thing happened to me last year, 5 days of Prednisone then Giardia from the Colorado river, nothing like having your own personal parasite!

  4. nanabi wokweses

    Steve E COLI is no fun!!! I had it and well the cramps and spasm of nausea along with the Blood well that was what won me my first colonoscopy…the pictures that they took of what it did to my colon were something from a horror movie….lets just say there will me no Steak Tartar on my menu…But I will never stop eating Both Game Meat & Grass Fed Beef, Nope! This NDN is a meat eater as were my Ancestors! Hope you get on the mend soon!!!

  5. toycruiser71

    Wow….glad to hear (read) you are doing better. I had an e-coli infection as well. Almost killed me. Oh well, live and learn. Cannot wait to watch the first episode. Take care! Mike

  6. bobbydarnell

    Glad you are feeling better and we are excited you are back on the air. As far as the cellphone goes, I would call it and when the person answers, say:

    “I don’t know who you are. I don’t know what you want. If you are looking for a more flexible rate plan, I can tell you I don’t have any. But what I do have are a very particular set of skills; skills I have acquired over a very long career. Skills that make me a nightmare for people like you. If you let return my cell phone now, that’ll be the end of it. I will not look for you, I will not pursue you. But if you don’t, I will look for you, I will find you, and I will kill you.” A friend did that and the guy returned it to the bar where it was ‘Taken’.

    Here’s to 2012 being the best year yet!


  7. ben long

    Dude. Do you think this story will make it easier to convince my wife that wild meat is safe? Any more stunts like this and I’ll have to eat tofu… Be careful out there.

  8. big d nw wild country

    Poison Oak Infection, Giardia, and e Coli, sounds like the new show is off to a great start Steve. I hope that is the worst of your encounters and you make it through the rest of your episodes without contracting anything else. Looking forward to the new show and really looking forward to having you in studio in Seattle on the 7th on NW Wild Country. Stay healthy my friend, we’ll talk to you soon…

  9. thebabcocks

    Sorry to hear about all your health issues Steve. You have no weight to lose!! Chris and I wish you the best with your new show. We don’t get the Sportsman Channel, so we may have to go to Aimee’s on Sunday nights! :)

Leave a Reply

You must be to post a comment.