Food Poisoning at Fiesta DC

The Three Tall Steeples of Columbia Heights

Above: Three beautiful churches pictured behind a group of families at the DC Fiesta. From left to right are: All Souls Unitarian Church, Peace King Center of the Unification Church, and the National Baptist Memorial Church

I had never been to a DC Fiesta. I had not had a chance to enjoy the festivities of this homegrown Latino festival held annually in the charming and historic Columbia Heights neighborhood.

Columbia Heights, like the rest of the city along 14th and U Street, was destroyed during the 1968 riots following the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.

Mount Pleasant is an idyllic cultural center located in the heart of the Adams Morgan, Columbia Heights historic triangle. It has quaint residential streets filled mostly with the middle class and many immigrant families from El Salvador.

Read about my previous run through Adams Morgan and Mount Pleasant

Well I had a great time watching the Flamenco dancing and feeling the hot rhythm of salsa. People seemed to be enjoying themselves and enjoying the great vibe and festive atmosphere.

It was also great to see the city there: Metropolitan Police, Department of Health, Office of Latino Affairs, and even Councilmember Jim Graham who was out meeting with his constituents.

In light of the scandal with Graham's chief of staff, it was good to see him out in the city showing support for the festival and the attendees.

What Happened:

I was feeling great until I got something to eat...

It was around 4:30 PM, when the vendors were starting to wrap things up. I saw a sign for a chicken sandwich, chips and a drink special for $4.00. In retrospect, I should have been more cautious when buying from a vendor who was in a hurry to close shop for the day.

I agreed to buy the sandwich and was surprised when I was handed a chicken salad sandwich instead of a chicken breast sandwich.

Still, I was so busy taking pictures and enjoying the festival that I scoffed down the sandwich, not even thinking twice -- the grim truth is that I wished I had long and hard about it and the risk of eating anything made with mayonnaise sold by a vendor that was not a licensed restaurant.

It hit me almost right away -- feeling queasy from the chicken and mayo. Still I pushed on and enjoyed the rest of the afternoon.

But by 7:00 PM, I was home and downtrodden.

It started with stomach cramps, then nausea, then vomiting and it continued through the night until the cramps picked up a notch and I started feeling cold spells.

Shall I Go to the ER?

I've had food poisoning before -- the last time earlier this summer when I ate undercooked salmon.

But never in my life had I suffered from food poisoning this severe with symptoms so painful and unbearable. This was the worst abdominal pain I've received since my appendicitis ruptured in 1994.

So unbearable that at 2:30 AM, I had enough and drove myself slowly and methodically to the Washington Hospital Center.

On the way there, I threw up again -- my 10th time since getting sick. I had become dangerously dehydrated, not keeping anything in, not even plain water.

I parked at the garage just minutes away, but the walk to the ER seemed long and excruciating.

After waiting for nearly two painful hours in the lobby, I was admitted into a room with a voiceforus patient who was rude and obnoxious.

I never got to see his face -- he was behind a green curtain, and he was yelling and screaming about his body parts almost the entire time we shared a room together.

But I could feel his pain. It was disheartening and my first exposure to a civilian ER (Had always visited a military hospital in the past -- I was now in for a rude awakening.).

Why ER can Help:

When I met the doctor, she ordered a small morphine drip, which along with my IV took away the pain and I started feeling dramatically better almost immediately.

Within two hours--by 0700--I was discharged from the hospital. I wanted to stay a bit longer to get some rest, but they clearly wanted me to go before the next shift started.

So, needless to say, tonight was interesting. I'm glad the ordeal is behind me but I'm also glad to have learned a very good lesson: the memory of the pain alone is enough motivation to steer clear of foods with mayo and stick to drinking beer.

Be careful about what you eat at festivals especially anything prepared with mayonnaise.

Be careful if the vendor is trying desperately to get rid of their goods.

Be careful if the vendor is not a licensed restaurant or from some trusted organization you are familiar with.

Make sure the food has been refrigerated and your chances of getting food poison may be much greater later in the day.

And most of all, don't worry about this happening to you. I'm sure 99% of the vendors at city-sponsored events serve fresh and bacteria-free food.

Read about the cultural, colorful and SAFE cuisine I scoffed down during this year's Cherry Blossom Festival.

Today, I just happened to stumble (no pun intended) on that minuscule one percent.

The Horse Statue of Francis Asbury (1924)

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