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Food Poisoning Client Story

Robert Rife
Salmonella Poisoning - Foodborne Illness

The Horrors of Salmonella Poisoning

It was four years ago. But Robert Rife remembers it as if it was yesterday. He'll never forget the excruciating pain. It felt as if someone were sticking a knife through his intestines, the 60-year-old Helendale resident says. Well, he didn't get in a car accident or suffer from a debilitating disease. All he did was eat sushi.

Robert remembers the date because the day, its events and the horrific aftermath are all etched in his memory. August 28, 2003. Robert worked in Buena Park at the time, commuting 100 miles each way to Helendale and back. He and some of his colleagues decided to go to Karuta, a sushi place close to work.

"As far as I can remember, it was a nice lunch," Robert says. "I remember it because it was the only food I ate that day."

He ate some fish, of course, topped with raw quail egg. He went back home that night, drank a soda at about 11 p.m. and went to bed. The next morning, he woke up with a diarrhea -- a kind he had never, ever experienced in his whole life. A big guy at 6-foot-2 and 290 pounds, Robert lost 15 pounds in the next two days. He couldn't even stand up. The sharp, cramping pain vibrated up and down his abdomen. When he went to the hospital, doctors diagnosed the problem. It was acute salmonella poisoning.

Salmonella enteritidis is a type of bacteria, which can be found in perfectly normal-looking eggs. If these eggs are eaten raw or undercooked, it can result in severe illness. The most common symptoms are just what Robert experienced -- fever, abdominal cramps, vomiting, diarrhea, which usually begins 12 to 72 hours after consuming the contaminated food.

Robert had to be hospitalized for a week.

"Imagine you had the flu and a hangover at the same time and multiply that a 100 times," he says. "That's pretty close to how I felt. I wouldn't even wish it on my enemy."

It didn't just hurt physically, but also emotionally, Robert said. A lot of people don't think about it that way, but when you suffer from such an illness, your sense of honor and dignity takes quite a hit.

"I was scared I'd mess myself up every time I stood up to go to the bathroom," he says. "My stools resembled black water."

And the smell. Robert cannot forget the smell.

"Salmonella infection has an odor all of its own," he says. "It's terrifying."

It was the smell of the bacteria eating the inside of his intestines. The experience was not only physically painful, but also degrading. Robert was put in isolation at the hospital. Every time nurses or other hospital staff came to attend to him, they had to wear a safety suit. He felt as if he was an untouchable and that wasn't easy to accept on top of everything else he was going through physically. Even after he was released from the hospital, the bacteria was present in his system for months, almost close to a year. He had to have his stool samples tested every month to make sure the bacteria hadn't returned and they did come back from time to time. The cramping pain he so often describes continued on and off for close to five months.

Robert was confident that something at the restaurant was quite not right. He was the only one in the lunch party who became ill and he remembered the raw quail egg he alone ate that day. His wife, Joyce, started looking for an attorney to represent them. Joyce found Bisnar Chase Personal Injury Attorneys on the Internet.

"Their office was 130 miles away, but it was well worth the trip in my opinion," Robert now says.

John Bisnar came across as not only professional, but as a considerate human being, he says.

"John believed it was going to settle before it went to court," Robert said. "It took us two years from there, but John and his staff led us through it all. The way they handled our case was very, very impressive."

John gave advice on what offer to take and what not to take, but always left it up to him, the client, to make that final decision, Robert said.

"John gave us an honest evaluation of the case. He did not build our hopes up unnecessarily. He and his staff just came across as very nice people and I'm very satisfied with what they did for me."

Robert says he filed a complaint with the Orange County Health Care Agency against the restaurant. The day inspectors went in to the restaurant, they found 14 safety violations, Robert said.

"They found employees eating and smoking in the kitchen," he said. "They were handling a lot of raw seafood being a sushi restaurant, but apparently they weren't storing the food at the right temperatures."

As for Robert, the price he paid for that lunch, not just in terms of money but his physical and emotional well-being, seemed too steep. He also believes he developed a lifelong heart condition because of the stress and dehydration he suffered through during the salmonella infection.

"I thought I was going to die," he said. "My wife thought I was going to die. It was the most horrible experience in my entire life."

He's never eaten sushi again and doesn't intend to for a long time, quite possibly the rest of his life. Ironically, Robert says, he always looks at restaurant grades before walking into one. But Orange County Health Care Agency does not give its restaurants letter grades like Los Angeles or San Bernardino counties.

"If county health officials had rated this restaurant, I'm sure they would've gotten a B or a lesser grade and I wouldn't have gone in or been put through this hell," he says in hindsight.

The only positive he sees is that it has brought him and his wife Joyce closer together.

"It was such an intense experience for both of us," he said. "But she took care of me right through it. And we realized how important it was that we had each other and our relationship became more special."

Robert hopes he'll never go through a similar experience again, but he knows that if he does, the first call he would make will be to Bisnar Chase Personal Injury Attorneys.

"They're simply a very classy organization," he says. "Our case has been long over and they didn't have to do anything. But what do they do? Last week, they sent me a birthday card with a coupon for ice-cream at Baskin and Robbins. Now, that's what I call classy."

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