When I first saw the blood, the truth is that I thought I had cancer. You can’t help but have your mind go to the darkest place-the worst-case scenario-when you’re in your fifties, you’re doubled over in excruciating pain, and nothing but blood comes out when you go to the bathroom. I just started shaking.
My sister is a nurse, so I tried calling her to get her opinion, but it was after 9 o’clock at night, and she didn’t answer. I texted her instead. I live alone, and I needed to talk to somebody, so I tried calling my local hospital to find out what I should do. I’d been sick since the moment I stepped out of the shower that morning-I’d been going to the bathroom about 40 times over the course of the day-but it wasn’t until the evening that I’d started bleeding like that.
The hospital staff couldn’t tell me what to do; it was a decision I had to make myself, they explained. I felt so weak that I decided to just go to bed.
I woke up to missed calls and frantic text messages from my sister. "There’s nothing good about a toilet full of blood," she told me. "If it happens again, or if you have tarry stool, you have to go to the hospital." In addition to being a nurse, she takes care of my niece, who has seizures all the time, so she knows how to stay calm in all kinds of situations. Now, though, she sounded scared.
I’d Been A Longtime Chipotle Fan.
Everybody knew Chipotle was my place. As a vegetarian who doesn’t do fast food (I don’t even eat French fries) and is absolutely anti-GMO, the fast-casual chain was one of my favorite places to go for a low-calorie, healthy meal.
I’d pop in to either of the two stores near me in San Jose, CA, about three to four times a week. My order was always the same: One taco with sofritas-chipotle-spiced, shredded tofu-black beans, veggies, lettuce, a little cheese and some hot sauce on the side.
I made that very same order at the Chipotle at 2007 Camden Avenue on Sunday, Oct. 25, around 4 p.m. I felt fine that night, and even on Monday morning when I first woke up. But suddenly, while I was blow-drying my hair, there was such an intense pain in my stomach that I just doubled over, falling to the ground. It felt like a bunch of people with sharp, spiked boots were kicking me, over and over.
The violent pain soon turned into violent diarrhea, and I lost control of my body. The pain was so overwhelming that I just started screaming. It’s embarrassing to admit, but I was screaming at the top of my lungs.
At that point, I suspected it was food poisoning. What else comes on that abruptly? I’d gotten food poisoning once before, after eating shrimp rolls in Maui, and spent two days in bed. This was much, much worse though.
As the day went on, I started dry-heaving and throwing up. My mouth tasted like lettuce, which made me think that was the contaminant, even though one hasn’t been officially determined. I decided to call the Chipotle I ate at and ask if there were any known outbreaks or issues. They said absolutely not, and I asked the woman I spoke to if somebody could call me back. I didn’t hear anything that night.
The only person I heard from was my sister on Tuesday morning, begging me to watch my symptoms closely. And by that evening, I was standing in the waiting room of the hospital with an overnight bag. All I could think about was that taco I had eaten two days earlier.
I Was Bleeding Internally.
I was so out of it that I didn’t even realize the nurse had taken my blood.
"I’ve already gotten five vials," she told me "You look as pale as a ghost-an attractive ghost, but a pale one."
The doctor wanted to do a CAT scan right away, but I’ve always wanted to avoid being exposed to radiation unless it’s an absolute emergency.
"This is an emergency," the doctor told me.
You’re bleeding internally, the nurse explained, describing it as a bacterial infection raging through my system. It had essentially created open wounds in my intestines, which caused the bleeding. I needed to take Cipro, an antibiotic, to help get rid of it, and eat only soft foods for a while, to give my body a chance to heal.
I went home convinced that I could just power through this. I’m tough; I can handle it. I had no idea what I was in for. Eating anything, even soup, brought on excruciating stomach pain. It was like trying to swallow nails.
I’m Not Just Sick-I’m Livid.
By Thanksgiving, I still felt awful and people were telling me I’d lost so much weight that my clothes were falling off of me. Here it was, a month later, and my digestive system was still totally messed up. It was beyond frustrating.
In the meantime, I called Chipotle again, and I emailed them. I also called the Santa Clara County Department of Health on Nov. 2 and asked them to look into the location, which they did the very next day. Inspectors found that the tofu and white rice weren’t being held to the proper temperatures-the rice was at 118 degrees F and the tofu registered at 128 degrees F, when both should be at or above 135 degrees F. Both were thrown away immediately and the issue was marked as having been corrected that day on the Official Inspection Report I received.
[Editor’s Note: The Santa Clara Department of Health inspected the store again on Jan. 20 and found that the rice and carnitas being served at that location were underheated. These issues were addressed and corrected on the day of the inspection, according to Santa Clara County Department of Health records. The store was ultimately given a green pass placard, the highest of the three "How safe is it to eat here?" levels. No E. coli or other food-borne illnesses have been officially linked to the location.]
Later that day, I was scrolling Yahoo and saw news of the E. coli outbreaks at Chipotle, where they shut stores down. At this point, I’m not just sick-I’m livid, because no one from Chipotle has gotten back to me.
The next day, I received a generic email from the chain’s customer support team:
"Thank you for letting us know about this incident. So that we can better understand what happened, a member of our team will be calling you at [the phone number I provided in my initial email]."
They did call me-they asked about the details of my meal and my symptoms. And since then, I’ve been in touch with the regional manager of Chipotle for my area, as well as people from their insurance and legal teams, but I haven’t heard anything more than just "I’m sorry" over and over. I wanted them to take action, and I can’t help but think that if maybe they had acted sooner on complaints like this, they would’ve prevented more people from getting sick.
For the most part, the pain is pretty intermittent. Last Saturday, intense stomach pain came out of nowhere, waking me up in the middle of the night. But it’s been two months, and I’m still trying to recover. I’m not sure when it will end.
I do know, though, that I won’t be going back to Chipotle. I’m not a masochist.
"Chipotle’s Hot Mess: How The Beloved Chain Let America Down"
The company closes its doors today-but let’s be honest: It’s been shutting us out for months. Here’s a look at the gut-wrenching downfall.
"Working At Chipotle Is So Different Now"
One employee in Texas breaks down exactly how dramatically different his job (and your burrito) has become since the outbreaks began. Read more here.
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