To put it bluntly, Afghanistan is not a clean country. It has no sanitation systems, sewage systems, trash pickup, and practically no understanding of basic germ theory. Trash and human waste piles up everywhere, and the whole country smells like something out of your worst nightmare. Combine all that with almost no healthcare of any kind, and it leads to outbreaks of horrific illness and disease.

That’s where our lily-white, pampered asses come in. Once upon a time, white folks came to North America and almost wiped out the natives because we carried new and unheard-of diseases. Since then, we have gotten fat, lazy, and overly medicated. We have fully functioning sewage and sanitation systems and an almost-working healthcare system depending on how much money you have. Our pristine insides were in no way prepared for the beating they were going to take while in Afghanistan.

The army tried its best to prepare us. We were injected with so many vaccines that I lost count. I was protected against diseases that I hadn’t even heard of. Most of what I recognized were from the damn history books. They weren’t things I thought people had to deal with anymore. Diphtheria, cholera, smallpox—the vaccine that left a massive scar on my shoulder—just to name a few. There were other shots, too, but after a while they all just blended together.

We all figured that after that barrage of first world medicine, we were bulletproof against anything Afghanistan could throw at our immune systems.

We weren’t even close to being right.

Within the first few weeks of deployment, Memphis went down. It started with diarrhea and quickly led to vomiting. Both of those things eventually became uncontrollable. The big country boy was laid out in his cot, puking off the side and shitting in his pants.

Gong, being a decent and caring medic, did his best to clean up after him and keep a steady flow of IV fluids going into him so he didn’t die of dehydration.

Once Memphis caught whatever it was that he caught, it started a never-ending cycle. It tore through our platoon one man at a time. Normally it would floor a person for a week or two before passing on. Because he was our unlucky patient zero, we dubbed the sickness The Memphis Blues in honor of his uncontrolled diarrhea. No one was safe from The Blues.

I was hit by it a week or so after Memphis went down. My case ended up being way worse than his. Gong insisted that I stay in bed and keep up with my fluids, but I insisted I was fine. I wouldn’t take a day off from patrolling or working out in our makeshift gym. This ended up being my downfall.

One day while out in the burning sun I was lifting weights and going at it as hard as a sexually frustrated young man locked up in a war zone can go. I loaded up plate after plate on the barbell preparing to deadlift. I bent over, grabbed the bar, and lifted with all my power. I grunted, strained, and yelled. The bar inched up very slowly, scraping against my shins as it went. My lift quickly turned bad.

I got lightheaded, dropped the bar, and very nearly passed out. I fell to my knees with bright colors flashing in my eyes. I tasted copper in my mouth, and my head pounded. Then something I never thought would happen to me as a grown man happened: I shit my pants.

It wasn’t something I could consciously stop from happening. It just happened. No one was around so I tried to struggle my way to the port-o-johns. I was so lightheaded I could barely walk. I ended up crawling across the ground, shit streaming along behind me until I made my way to the toilets.

After that, I decided to listen to Gong and stay on my cot. Not that I had much of a choice. After my failed lifting session, my condition quickly went downhill. As soon as I tried to drink or eat anything, it would rocket its way out of my body one way or another. After a few days, I gave up trying to nourish myself in any way and waited for the release of a shit-covered death.

Gong hooked me up to two different IVs and kept prodding me to eat something. He was like my fat little Asian deployment mother telling me I was just skin and bones. He wasn’t wrong. Within the first week of being felled by the Memphis Blues, I had already lost nearly fifteen pounds.

Trays of uneaten food piled up around my cot as Gong failed to convince me that I needed to eat to survive. I didn’t move other than to retch into an ammo box someone had given me to act as a bucket or to attempt to race to the port-o-johns to fire burning liquid out of my ass.

I lapsed in and out of consciousness, and no one other than Gong bothered to check in on me. Over a week passed and I wasn’t getting any better. Gong started to get a little concerned and talked about sending me back to Kandahar Air Field to see a doctor.

Things like a soldier’s general health really don’t matter when you have a war to fight.

After about a week and a half, Slim kicked me awake and stood over me. “Wake up, fucker, we have a patrol.”

I slowly opened my eyes. They were so dehydrated I swear I could hear them crack as my eyelids slid over my eyes.

“I…what?” I croaked through a terminal case of cottonmouth.

“It’s been a week, you should be fine.”

“All right…let me just get my clothes on.” I struggled to sit up. That little amount of effort caused my head to spin on its axis. My stomach lurched, but I fought my way to my feet. I staggered and stumbled around trying to put pants on for the first time in what seemed like forever. Gong had to help me put on my combat gear. He handed me my rifle. Gong had tried to talk Slim out of making me go, but it was useless. I dragged my feet out to meet the platoon and prepare for our patrol. Everyone recoiled when they saw me.

“Jesus, he looks like a fucking zombie.” Cali cringed.

“Good enough to fuck your mother,” I spat back.

“See?” Slim slapped my shoulder. The force was almost sufficient to take me down. “He’s good. Let’s get going.”

It was dark out, and the rough Afghan terrain was only lit by the moon and stars. Several Afghan policemen joined us, and we ventured out into the night. I lagged at the back of our column with a few of the Afghans. This was hardly the best place to be when I was perfectly healthy and alert; right then it was damn near suicide. I wasn’t looking anywhere other than down at my feet, trying my hardest to just keep moving. The Afghans noticed my struggle.

“You okay, friend?” one of the Afghans asked me in broken English.

I was bent over with my hands on my knees. My rifle hung uselessly from its sling in the dirt. “Yeah, friend, I’m fucking grand,” I barely got out. The words were barely off my tongue before vomit rushed up my throat and out of my mouth. The burning bile splashed across the Afghan’s boots, and he shrieked and jumped back. “Sorry, bro,” I coughed and wiped my mouth with my sleeve.

Slim must have heard the commotion in the back of the patrol because it didn’t take him long to run back there with us. Slim took one look at me bent over and vomiting all over our Afghan brother-in-arms and mustered up all his compassion. “The fuck is wrong with you now?” he complained.

“I think my insides are dying,” I moaned. More bile bubbled up in the back of my throat.

“I swear you’re a massive pussy sometimes.”

“Yep, that’s me, huge pussy.” I puked again.

Finally, Slim had some mercy on me and turned the patrol around before I collapsed. Gong helped me to bed and stuck some more needles into my arm. The patrol walked back out of the gates without me. I was sidelined for another week before I recovered.

Probably the funniest case of The Blues was Sal’s. Unfortunately, Sal, being a medic, was someone we simply couldn’t do without. So throughout his whole sickness, he had to slog alongside us on patrol. One night while attempting to raid a target’s house, he stood up next to me with a start.

“I gotta shit, bro,” he moaned and rushed off into the bushes. I heard him crashing off through the brush like an animal for a few minutes and then he settled down. I couldn’t see him in the pitch darkness, but someone above could.

Above us hovered a Kiowa Warrior recon helicopter outfitted with heat and night vision. I heard someone’s voice over the radio.

“Spartan two-two, this is Long Knife.” It was the helicopter.

“This is Spartan two-two,” Slim said.

“Be advised, there is an armed…pants-less man in the bushes about fifty meters to your squad’s rear.”

I could hear the voice on the radio fighting back laughter. He had used his multi-million-dollar piece of weaponry to see our poor, sick medic shitting his brains out in the bushes behind us.

But the worst case of The Blues by far went to Cali. In his case, the symptoms started while we were out on patrol and he suddenly started having to stop every few minutes to run off into the bushes to shit. Later that night, he couldn’t get off of his cot without projectile vomiting like the girl in The Exorcist.

Sal was watching over Cali’s deteriorating condition in our shared tent. Cali was lying in a pool of his own sweat and vomit, mostly dead to the world.

“He going to die?” I asked.

“Not really sure if he’s alive right now,” Sal joked. “His vomiting is getting worse, I think I’m going to have to give him some medicine other than saline.”

“What…am I getting?” Cali croaked through a dry throat.

“Something to help your stomach feel better.” Sal smiled and nodded at him. We helped Cali to his feet, me holding an IV bag over his head while Sal gave him support. We walked him across the little base and into the aid station.

Sal’s aid station was little more than a wooden shack with a cot in it. He sat Cali down on the cot, took the IV from my hands, and placed it on a stand. Sal popped the top off a little bottle of medicine and drew it into a syringe. He rolled Cali over and stuck the long needle into his ass cheek.

Cali was so out of it that he didn’t even flinch.

“What was that?” I asked.

“It’ll help his nausea. But it has a slight side effect,” Sal said.

“Like what?”

“Well, it’ll make him act like he’s drunk as hell. Normally not a big deal, but since we’re in the middle of Kandahar, if he goes wandering off into the night he’ll get his head sawn off. We’re gonna have to watch him.”

“Good point.”

We picked Cali back up and walked him to his cot. We carefully laid him down and set his IV back up. He didn’t seem drunk. He was just tired and out of it the way I was when I was fighting The Blues.

But it didn’t take long for the effects of Sal’s butt shot to take effect. Cali started giggling to himself and rolling back and forth on his cot. It was as if he wasn’t sick at all anymore.

The laughing stopped as quickly as it had begun. “I gotta puke,” Cali moaned. He rolled out of his cot, tearing the IV from his arm and leaving it dangling and dripping blood all over the place. Cali crawled hand over hand to the entrance of the tent and puked into the rocks. I remembered I was supposed to be helping and assisting him, but instead was watching and laughing at him. I started to feel guilty until I saw Sal doing the same thing.

“I shit…” Cali said, drooling puke out of his mouth.

“What?” I asked.

“I shit myself. I fucking shit myself.”

“Wonderful.” Sal shook his head.

“I have to shit again,” Cali informed us. He pulled himself to his feet and drunkenly wandered off into the night. Sal and I chased after him as he staggered to the line of faded blue port-o-johns. Cali nearly tore the door off the hinges of the nearest one and climbed inside. The door slammed shut, and we could hear him banging around inside. The port-o-john shook and moved around.

“The hell is he doing in there?” Sal asked.

“No idea. You think he’s okay?”

Almost as if he was trying to answer our questions, the port-o-john shook violently, and we heard a splash. “Ah! Mother fucker!” we heard Cali scream from inside.

Sal and I shot each other confused looks and ran to the door. Cali had locked it from inside, so we had to force the door open. It was surprisingly sturdy for being a plastic latch. Finally, it snapped under our assault, and we got to see what was going on inside.

Cali was standing inside the toilet of the port-o-john, more than waist deep in that mysterious blue liquid that swam with human waste.

“How the fuck did you manage that, dude?” I fought back laughter.

Sal wasn’t fighting back a damn thing. He was laughing so hard he wasn’t even making noise anymore. In between fits of laughter, we managed to pull Cali out of the shitter. He was covered in bright blue liquid; it almost looked like paint. Almost.

“What do we do with this dude?” I asked Sal. We were trying our hardest to help him along, but not let his lower half touch us.

“He needs a damn shower,” Sal said.

“After the shitter incident, if we put him in a shower, he’s going to end up drowning himself,” I pointed out.

“Godammit. We’re going to have to bathe him. He can’t walk around covered in shit and blue juice. He’ll get Hep C or something,” Sal lamented.

“I hate you right now,” I muttered to Cali. We slowly walked to our single working shower stall. It would only produce ice-cold water, but it was good enough to wash the shit and disease off Cali.

We walked Cali up the rickety steps that led to the shower. We sat him down inside and stepped back.

“Get naked, you gross ass,” Sal said, trying to look away.

I did the same.

Cali fumbled with his clothes, and after a whole lot of fighting, got them off.

Sal squeezed past Cali, who was trying his hardest to stay on his feet, and turned the shower on.

I picked up a bottle of liquid body wash and sprayed it at Cali. “Rub that shit around,” I said trying my hardest to look anywhere other than at my naked friend.

Cali was hardly the last person to catch The Blues, but he was by far the worst case. As far as I know, I was the only one ever to vomit on an Afghan cop, and he was the only one to take a swim in the port-o-potties. Sal never tried to treat anyone with anything more than IV fluids after that. I guess having to physically shower one of your best friends changes a man.

I never offered to help Sal in his aid station again.