Something about hyponatraemia.

Something about hyponatraemia.

The day started innocently enough. I think the year was 2001 and I was on a ‘drink-two-litres-of-water-everyday’ kick. By 10 am I’d ticked off the task for the day and polished off the remains of the 15-litre water cooler bottle where I was working.

As I went to replace the bottle, one of the guys I worked with, Dave, casually offered “I’ll give you $50 if you drink the lot”. One of the other designers, Nik, chimed in, “$50? I’ll give you $500 if you get through that!”

While I had two litres on board, I don’t generally shy away from a challenge so, with much bravado (and far more stupidity) I blurted out: “you’re on, and you should be nervous about your $500”.

Terms and conditions were negotiated. The money would be exchanged — all $550 of it — only if the challenge was completed. I would have until 5 pm.

The plan seemed simple enough. Two large 500 ml cups were filled at a time and as I worked away at creative type things, I also worked my way through more aquatic pursuits. The strategy was similarly plain: go hard early, get the equation on your side, take victory in the last quarter.

It’s only water. What could possibly go wrong?

The challenge was underway. It turns out that no one else wanted any water that day. Certainly not from ‘Simon’s water bottle’. I established my two-by-two rhythm well enough and by 11 am I had five litres under my tightening belt.

As I moved into my sixth litre, I began to wish that I hadn’t downed two litres before the shenanigans kicked off.

It was hot outside and as I got the seventh and eighth litres on board I had two thoughts: sooner than later there’ll be a whole lot of pee going on so, in the interest of science, I should probably monitor such activity. I decided on using one of the empty 15-litre bottles to track ‘outflow’.

My other thought was more strategic: how about a run? It’s hot outside, I’ll sweat a bunch, and surely that will create some capacity (desire even!) for more fluid. I ran inside on a treadmill in heat, sloshing my hapless-water-buffalo body through 10 kilometres. It was like a sauna. I sweated a bit but it’s fair to say I wasn’t particularly thirsty by the time I was done.

I showered off and got back to work. With imagined vigour I downed another two cups and eased into my ninth litre.

By this time, my belly was pretty tight and the ‘outflow’ bottle seemed to have 3-4 litres on board.

Details on consumption from this point are a little sketchy. Memories are hijacked by what came later.

I remember racking up twelve litres as my mate, Nik, left for a meeting. He was a little nervous by this point. $500 is $500.

While he was out, I fuelled the anxiety and drained nearly two litres into a saucepan. When he returned, I was (seemingly) on the home straight.

One litre to go. I slowly moved through the last litre as the clock approached five before ‘fessing up the two ‘unaccounted for’ litres that weren’t under threat.

5 pm came. I sipped the last litre very, very slowly. Add my initial day’s work to the tally and I’d sort of reached the full 15. No money was exchanged.

Around 5:30 pm I started to feel pretty seedy and headed home. The lights all seemed a bit bright and I gingerly lay on the couch in darkness as a searing headache began to grow. Every cell of my body felt utterly engorged. Hey, it probably was engorged.

In the interests of science once again, I decided I’d weigh myself. At that time, I was around 67kg. I’ve never been above 70kg in my life, except for that day. As I hopped onto the scales, 83kg flashed up. Yep, somehow, I had an extra 16 kg of something on board. It’s fair to say that most of it was water.

This is probably a good moment to tell you about hyponatraemia. It isn’t a word I knew back then.

Wikipedia will tell you that you can spell it two ways. It will also tell you that it’s a condition caused by a low sodium content in the blood caused by ‘overdilution’.

It’s a common condition for people hiking through the outback. They are so paranoid that they’ll dehydrate that they go the other way. Hyponatraemia ensues. Signs and symptoms of hyponatraemia include nausea and vomiting, headache, short-term memory loss, confusion, lethargy, fatigue, loss of appetite, irritability, muscle weakness, spasms or cramps, seizures, decreased consciousness or coma and, occasionally, death.

I certainly didn’t fall into a coma, but I was feeling pretty shabby.

What I did know was that I had to go to dinner. A good mate of mine, Allan, wanted to introduce me to his (now wife) Donna, and that would be over a lovely meal together at an exclusive restaurant.

I eased my way into some ill-fitting clothes, pulled the seatbelt away from my distended gut, and made the journey to the restaurant, dreading the thought of even consuming a wafer.

When I arrived, I said hello to Donna and felt it appropriate to give them some pertinent information in response to the ‘how was your day?’ enquiry.

After some jokes about what I’d like to drink, I found the smallest, least daunting thing on the menu: gnocchi.

I nibbled some bread but was hardly sparkling company by this point.

As dinner arrived, I wasn’t aware anything had changed but Alan said: “are you ok?”. Apparently, the blood suddenly drained from my face and I turned a whiter shade of pale.

I stood and announced that I’d better go to the toilet.

The next part of this story may be what you came for, or may be something you’d rather not have etched in your mind.

As I burst into the cubicle with my mouth opened wide, a projectile flow best likened to a dam wall overflowing erupted. It just felt as though the opening could not be made wide enough for the volume of fluid that had to come out. There were two heaves in total. Just two. My guess is that each would have expelled around five litres of water. It was torrential.

After the second heave I just stood there for a little moment, basking in the afterglow. “I think I’m done. I think that’s it.”

I rinsed my mouth, wiped my face, and walked back to the table.

You know that nasty aftertaste you have after a vomit? There’s none of that going on when your body is rejecting 15 litres of water.

Returning to the table I felt completely normal. Eerily so. I looked at my gnocchi. It seemed a bit of risky proposition so I left it. I had some dessert, though. Who wouldn’t?

The following day I shared my tale with my emergency physician brother in law, Steve. He told me I was an idiot and could have killed myself.

A month or two later, there was a radio competition over East where people were set a similar challenge. Someone did die.

While I’m up for a challenge, I certainly wouldn’t have taken this one on if I’d known any of that.

Is there any point to this tale? No, not really. Suffice to say that there are few things in life that can be enjoyed with unbridled excess. No matter how good they are.

Grace would be one of them.



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