Striking Outside of Netflix Can Be Hazardous To One’s Health. Just Ask Joe Syracuse

Editor’s note: One in a series of stories marking the 100th day of the WGA strike.

Since the start of the WGA strike in early May, screenwriter Joe Syracuse (Parental Guidance, Amateur Night) has walked the picket line outside the corporate offices of Netflix. Traversing Sunset Boulevard on an almost daily basis has given Syracuse a feeling of both joy and resolve, as it helped him to forge new friendships and to appreciate the youthful energy of his fellow union members.

Little did he know it would end up sending him to the hospital.

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On one of his many days picketing in late June, Syracuse made the mistake of eating the last cellophane-wrapped turkey sandwich from the food table. Though a strike captain and his wife/writing partner Lisa Addario told him not to eat it — the sandwich had been sitting in the sun for at least two hours, they warned — Syracuse devoured it, anyway.

RELATED: L.A. Picket Locations: The Best And Worst Places To Strike Over The Past 100 Days

“As a writer, I’ve been trained to charge ahead when I hear people say ‘that’s a stupid idea. Don’t do it,’” Syracuse tells Deadline. “If you didn’t have that mentality of charging forward when you’re told it’s stupid, then you know you shouldn’t write. So that’s probably what it was. I have lived my life like that. So anytime someone says don’t do it, I’m fully gonna try it.”

By that night, Syracuse complained of an upset stomach. Two days later, he was in an emergency room in Glendale, where the doctors suspected gallstones, a ruptured appendix or even worse, cancer.

“The pain was so extreme,” recalls Syracuse.

After Syracuse was rushed into surgery, doctors cut through his stomach muscles and pulled out his entire intestine. The good news was that they found no cancer; the bad news was that Syracuse contracted salmonella so a portion of his small intestine had to be removed. They even took out his appendix for good measure.

“They were like, we might as well get rid of it while we’re in here,” remembers Syracuse. “A piece of my intestine had died, which is consistent with salmonella poisoning. I read this thing subsequently that in the sun, bacteria on food and meat doubles every 20 minutes. So the sandwich was probably out there for three hours in the sun. It was literally the only sandwich left.”

After spending six days in the hospital, Syracuse was discharged on July 4. Two days later, he was back on the Netflix picket line where he began showing off the abdominal scar to anyone who asked (though it’s currently hidden under a velcro wrap to protect the surgical incision). Fortunately, he and his wife have not been burdened by exorbitant medical bills: thanks to the WGA’s “amazing” health care coverage, he’s only had to pay $900 out of pocket for his hospital stay.

“It’s been rough honestly,” Syracuse says of the ongoing strike and the financial impact it has had on his family. “There’s a certain exhilaration because we’ve stayed strong and hung together. But it’s a challenge. We have two kids in college. We’re maxed out on everything on credit cards. We actually qualified for the Writers Guild assistance funds, so that has been helping us.”

On Day 100 of the strike, however, Syracuse was all smiles as he stood on the corner of Sunset and Van Ness outside of Netflix. After all, he’s back with friends who have his back.

“I kind of made a name for myself out here [early on] because I was trying to work on my skateboarding skills,” recalls Syracuse. “Now I can no longer do that. Now they know me as the stomach suture guy, the sandwich guy. And if they see me eating something, they’re like ‘don’t do it.’ Even the security guard on Netflix came when she saw me eating a burrito. Even the Netflix security cares.”

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