We usually call it the "stomach flu," but it's not really the flu at all.
It completely disables us. We can't keep anything down. We dare not be far from a bathroom. We cannot walk without becoming nauseated. We do not want to visit or watch television or, for that matter, live, if we have to be sick like this.
We are sure we will never eat anything again.
And, most of all, we hate the place that gave it to us.
A few years ago, we vacationed in Gulf Shores, Ala. I had some seafood at a very popular local restaurant. The next day, on the way to the airport, I was seen throwing up behind churches, filling stations and shopping centers all the way to Mobile.
And each time, in the depths of my pain and exertion, I pictured the restaurant that I was certain had caused me such misery.
That is called bad P.R. bad public relations.
This came to mind when I received an e-mail last week from Norwalk residents Mike and Joyce Meinke as they neared the end of their cruise ship vacation. They said that one of the first things they saw in their cabin was a warning of how to avoid the Norwalk virus, the scourge of cruise ships everywhere.
Wash your hands, the warning said. Frequently and rigorously.
Be careful what you eat and drink and touch, it continued. Norwalk Virus germs can be anywhere.
Five years ago, USA Today reported "more than 800 vacationers and crew members became sick aboard three ships in a rash of outbreaks that began in early October." The story continued, saying "the rash of seaborne illnesses is unusual, but the Norwalk virus that ... caused them is not."
Among the troubling things about that story is that this national newspaper did not feel it necessary to elaborate on the expression "Norwalk virus." That implies to me that most people must already know the term. Like Bubonic Plague. And Asian flu.
Norwalk virus? Enough said. It's bad.
You've probably heard the history: The pesky little virus was first identified after it caused Bronson School here to be closed for a while in 1972. Some microscopic cell in the drinking water or on somebody's unwashed hands got into the food and made everybody sick.
The virus eventually graduated from Bronson and went on to make headlines around the world.
And, trust me, any time people are thinking of our city when they have their face in a toilet, it has to be considered bad P.R. for our town.
This Norwalk virus talk is all over the Internet now, too.
You can click on four or more pages of search results to learn how the Norwalk virus disabled a Boy Scout Jamboree, defeated a Pennsylvania football team and created the "Mother of All Hangovers" from a big cocktail party.
You can see an actual picture of the virus itself on the Web site of the Environmental Protection Agency. (See what I mean about bad P.R.? Who wants their town mentioned by the EPA?)
Another says: "Nature has created an ingenious bug in Norwalk." Oh great.
And one other Web site quotes I wish I were making this up a story about the Norwalk Virus from get this! "Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Reports." That will undoubtedly cause celebration at the Chamber of Commerce: "Yippee! We made Morbidity and Mortality Weekly!"
Mark Schaffer tore down Bronson School the building where the virus originated several years ago.
But just to show how tough our hometown bug is, all these years later people are still getting sick from it on cruise ships.
In fact, in some sort of ultimate irony, Mike Meinke of Norwalk, Ohio contracted the Norwalk virus while cruising just two weeks ago. He was confined to his cabin for 24 hours and missed a couple of extraordinary shore excursions, spending his time instead alone with the television and the bathroom.
But if you think he got any sympathy from his fellow passengers, guess again. They thought he brought the Norwalk virus with him from its birthplace just two miles from his home.
Which leads us to Jim Busek's Travel Tip of the Day: If you take a cruise ship vacation 1) wash your hands frequently and vigorously, 2) drink only bottled water and 3) tell the people you meet that you are from Willard.