How E.coli made me appreciate my iPad

What does a powerful foodborne pathogen have to do with everyone's favorite tablet computer? Read On.
Written by Jason Perlow, Senior Contributing Writer


What does a powerful foodborne pathogen have to do with everyone's favorite tablet computer? Read On.

A lot of people have been talking about how great and liberating the iPad is as a travel computer. Michael Gartenberg, for example, notes that besides the usually stated reasons (which includes the device's impressive battery life) loves how it frees his travel bag from lots of excess weight and is at least for the time being excepted from the TSA's normal laptop bag removal rules.

iPad aside, if you want, there are plenty of bags out there, such as from Mobile Edge and Skooba Design, that will allow you to leave your laptop inside per special TSA guidelines.

Like Gartenberg, who's been traveling with his iPad for the last couple of weeks, I also recently brought my iPad with me last week on a business trip to Chicago.

The iPad was intended to be used as an entertainment device for me to use during the evenings, to read books and to brush up on work documents for a consulting gig, and for casual evening browsing away from my work laptop, which also came with me on this trip. However, that's not what my iPad ended up getting used for.

Let me introduce you to E.coli -- one of the most common, yet perhaps one of the most awful little microorganisms on Earth.

Escherichia coli, or E.coli for short, is a tiny little bacterium that grows in warm temperatures, typically in moisture-rich environments. Like many other common food-borne pathogens, it is spread by the consumption of unwashed vegetables or meat.

When you travel and interact with restaurants and hotels as often as I do, you're bound to strike out. You get sick sometimes, it happens. Any number of common bacteria out there and deficient sanitary practices on part of a restaurant or one of its provisions/produce suppliers could make you ill, not to mention contact with sick people themselves which cause you to pick up the occasional cold, flu or other short-term virus.

The usual remedy for foodborne illness? You take some Imodium, you drink water, take a few Tylenols for the headaches and other pain and within a day you get over it. Usually.

But nothing, and I mean nothing, prepares you for E.coli enteritis.

It started on Monday night. A group of us had dinner in the hotel restaurant -- it was reheated frozen Chicago-style pizza from one of the established local chains and a big bowl of Caesar salad.

Wanting to eat healthier, I had two slices of pizza and a big heaping pile of Caesar Salad -- the primary ingredient being Romaine Lettuce.

What happened over the next twelve hours is indescribable. I transformed from my normal, weary-from-first-day-of-travel self to someone who felt like they were going to die.

I'm going to spare you of the gory, awful details of what happens when you get food poisoning from E.coli. If you're interested, you can read up on it here.

Over the next 12 to 24 hours, my body began to ache along with flu-like symptoms and a fever, and I developed a case of extreme gastrointestinal distress and abdominal cramps. While I was able to work (barely) on Tuesday, it quickly turned into a never-ending battle between the Conference room and the Men's room.

I evacuated liters of water as fast as I was able to consume it, and the thought of putting any food into my body was nauseating. For two days I literally had to force feed myself basic starchy foods and protein.

Tylenols were able to stave off some of the pain, fever and headaches, but the Imodium I had purchased at the local Walgreens proved to be useless -- and as I found out later, is not recommended for treating the symptoms of infection from this particular vicious pathogen as it can prolong it from being evacuated from your body.

It was Tuesday when I also figured out and confirmed what had likely nailed me.

After meeting with the hotel's management, we discovered the in-house restaurant had been using one of the brands of bagged, chopped Romaine lettuce destined for food service that had been recalled in 23 states that had been contaminated with E.coli O145, one of the pathogenic, but extremely rare Shiga toxin producing variants of the common foodborne bacterium.

E.coli also comes in other wonderful varieties, such as the well-documented O157:H7, and it was certainly possible I was nailed with that, or even one of the other common foodborne pathogens and not the rarer E.coli O145, but given the "smoking gun" I had to place myself into the unreported victims category. I was now a statistic.

For More Information about Foodborne Illnesses, check out FoodSafety.gov

My desire to eat healthier had actually resulted in a potentially life-threatening situation. The irony of all of this is that If I had just stuck with the mediocre deep-dish pizza, I probably would have been fine.

Tuesday night I found myself in a continual cycle of lying in bed, in agony, waiting for the next urgent rush to the bathroom, which would happen at least once an hour over the next 48 hours. And in bed and in the bathroom, I had my iPad to keep me company, which allowed me to keep up with my family and friends, research my illness, and to stop me from going absolutely crazy in my sleep-deprived, pathogen-induced infirmity.

All while my trusty ThinkPad T60 stayed in suspend mode, plugged in on my hotel room's desk.

I had never intended to use my iPad as my primary link to the outside world. But that's what it became.

After 24 hours, I found myself unable to work at all. Wednesday morning I was extremely weak, fading in and out of consciousness from sleep deprivation during the after-breakfast planning sessions with the customer, and after observing my deteriorating condition, the Project Manager dismissed me from my assignment. I retreated upstairs to my hotel room, praying that I'd be in enough health to handle a flight home to New Jersey the following evening.

The next two days was a bit of a blur. From 11am Wednesday to 2pm Thursday, I did not leave my hotel room. Without my iPad to keep me company between short bursts of sleep and long stretches of laying down, running to the bathroom and purging, I would have gone absolutely out of my mind.

Yes, I had my Droid with me the whole time as well, and it's easy to lie down in bed with one, but using a smartphone for anything but the most casual web surfing and email checking is tedious -- for extended computing sessions, I find I need something with a decent-sized screen.

Sure, I could have dragged my ThinkPad in bed with me. I've done it in the past. Frequently. But a full-size 15" 5-pound business laptop generates a ton of heat, and it's not exactly the most practical device to keep in bed with you between sleeping sessions and praying to the Porcelain God.

To comfortably use a full-sized business laptop, you also have to be sitting up. And when you have food poisoning, the last thing you want to do when you are in bed is to sit up or move around more than you absolutely have to. Not a good idea to swirl stuff around in your belly.

I already knew the iPad was a great computer for using in bed and lying down from playing with the device at home, but it is absolutely a phenomenal device for the sick. It is the modern technological equivalent to a hot bowl of chicken soup or a teddy bear -- the iPad is a comforting device.

The iPad is extremely easy to use while lying on your side or in a reclined position, and although it is substantially heavier than your average e-book reader, at 1.5 pounds it's easy to move around on the bed and has far more applications than your basic Kindle to keep you amused and distracted from the awfulness of your situation.

On Thursday afternoon, I did eventually check out of my hotel and manage to scrounge up enough energy to drive to Midway Airport, return my rental car, get the early flight out, and sit in my airplane seat for an hour and a half without any major issues.

This experience has taught me a few new things. One, only cooked vegetables from now on when I travel. Two, I am now ALWAYS bringing my iPad with me, as it has become my favorite computing device. Three, I have come to the conclusion that I am now a full-blown iPad fanboy.

Thank you Steve Jobs, you crazy, isolationist genius control-freak.

Now that I've had this week-long stomach-churning experience, I can certainly see some new and interesting applications for the iPad, particularly for the elderly or the hospitalized that have to be confined to a bed or a wheelchair. For clinical/hospital use, however, I would definitely like to see the iPad accessory vendors come up with some sort of rubberized or plastic sheath to hold the unit between uses or patients that can easily be sterilized.

My only major complaint about the iPad itself when used in these types of situations is that as a nearsighted person who has to use glasses,  the URL status bar in Safari and on-screen controls for some of the other standard and 3rd-party iPad programs have small text and icons that are difficult to see. If it weren't for this issue, I'd say the device was just about an ideal computer for the elderly to stay in touch with their families and care providers.

I would highly encourage Apple to continue to develop the Accessibility section of the iPad Settings app, particularly in the areas of app control/icon visibility and size. Right now Safari, Mail and iTunes have monochrome/grayscale controls and fixed font sizes, I'd like to see this become user adjustable or themeable.

Ideally, I'd like to see URL/control bar(s) that had text and icon sizes that were at least twice the size of what they are now, which would automatically recede and give way to the app or browser view when not being used.

Have you had to be confined to bed with your iPad yet? Talk Back and Let Me Know.

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