The man at the Poison Control Center sounded amused. I had just finished
describing to him my roommate's symptoms: shortness of breath, dilated
pupils, waves of heat rushing over her body and -- oh yes -- she had eaten
some funny brownies that night.
"Take her to the hospital," he told me laconically. "Call an ambulance."
"Well, thank you very much as if I didn't know," I wanted to spit. "Next
time I ingest some mercury, I'll call you up so that you can tell me what
the number for 911 is."
I had gone to bed early that Saturday night, feeling like I had the flu. My roommate was out. She is always out. She is an exchange student from Germany, tall and coltish. Except for a couple of missing bicuspids, she looks like a model.
But at about 12:30, she came back and woke me, obviously agitated.
She said in that lovely Anglo-German accent that someone had given her "a
cake," she found out there might be drugs in it and now her thoughts seemed
to be floating "out of her head." If something happened to her in the
night, such as, for instance, death, she wanted me to know.
My poor roommate is not exactly a hard-living gal. A tiny finger of Amaretto administered by one of my friends the other week flushed her up to her forehead, and just watching the drug consumption in "Trainspotting" made her turn three shades of green. Still, I thought, a marijuana-laced brownie would hardly kill her. She was a strong, big girl and, hell, this was college culture in the 1990s. We belonged to a generation fed on the glorious stories of drugs.
Our parents were, after all, the baby boomers. Since childhood, we have
been witness to the industries that have sprung up around the nostalgia for
their indulgences. Our after-school activity consisted of watching the
thinly veiled, grooving ghost tales on "Scooby-Doo." We have consumed a
media diet of Woodstock, Dylan and "Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds" with a
full knowledge of all their implications. This generation has inhaled one of the biggest inside jokes in North American society: We understand that drug use is condoned as long as you keep it light and entertaining, as long as you can wring a good story out of it.
With this mind-set, it was easy to be cavalier about my roommate's
symptoms. As a precaution, I did ask the poor girl a few leading
questions, in case someone had slipped her something stronger than
plain old pot, just in case I would have to hide all the sharp instruments
and tie her down. Could she, I asked, see anything, ah, unusual in the
room? Were the walls melting or perhaps speaking to her in Urdu?
At the time, she seemed fretful but fine -- no hallucinations, no visions, no talk of God or the sublime. I sent her off to bed shaking my head,
telling myself to give her a crash course on American recreational
pharmaceuticals the next morning. It seemed odd that she did not know about
the space cake. I had always thought of it as being a global phenomenon,
but then again, I am Canadian. For me, cross-cultural experience means
accepting the Anaheim Mighty Ducks as a legitimate hockey team.
My roommate lay down in bed, tossed around a bit, then started some serious
groaning and moaning. I got up and checked her again. She was definitely an
unhappy specimen. Her face was red, her pulse was racing. This was not a
psychedelic new Volkswagen Beetle commercial. She was not swirling with joy.
And, in truth, by that point neither was I. While she was riding her
brownie waves, my flu symptoms had come back -- with a vengeance. Pretty
soon, I would be useless to both of us.
No amount of Cheech and Chong films had ever prepared me for a scenario of
happy, hippie pot consumption colliding unfortunately with one of the more
mundane ailments of real life. And no one else, not even the man at Poison
Control, wanted to take me seriously when I started getting really
worried. Two dizzy college kids, one strung out and the other wrung out,
was comedy for them -- but it could have very easily veered off into
In the midst of reviewing some more drastic options -- campus medical center, ambulance to the emergency room -- I keeled over beside my roommate's bed, dizzy and nauseated. But although my body was useless, my brain seemed
bent on offering color commentary. It took time to note that my roommate
was continuing to flip out in English for my benefit (I would have to
thank her for that courtesy tomorrow, in the unlikely event that we
both survived). My brain also noted that my roommate was getting
increasingly alarmed. This might have been because her main source of
support -- me -- was sprawled on the floor, belly clutched in agony.
In order to placate everyone, my roommate, my stomach and my chattering
brain, I kept on talking in a stewardess-before-the-crash voice.
Inevitably, though, after a few minutes, I had to excuse myself. I
staggered to the bathroom to throw up in what I hoped was a calm and
reassuring manner. And, as I lay on the floor, enjoying that incredible
moment of clarity that always follows vomiting, my brain noted, "Well, if
we have to call an ambulance, maybe we can get a two-for-one rate."
If there is a lesson to be learned from my experience, it is only this: Never get the flu when your roommate has had bad weed. It's not a romantic maxim comparable to "Make love, not war," but while the '60s generation has
had its space cakes and eaten them, too, our generation has been made
practical and cynical with the indigestion. For every time they have
wanted to give the world a Coke, we now must remember not to take candy
We never ended up going to the hospital, but the next morning my roommate and I
were both pale. I explained to her the funny brownie and some other
commonplaces of North American life. Then I swallowed aspirin with a glass
of cold water -- the breakfast of champions -- and went into the cool Sunday morning thankful for small blessings.