This past December,
on Friday the 13th (fitting), my husband was in the UK and I was in week two of a sinus infection and day three of a sinus migraine so painful that, after three nights with no sleep, I decided, "Screw it, I'll take antibiotics."
For my previous Annual Holiday Sinus Infection, I misread the RX directions and took one pill a day instead of the prescribed two, so I had a 7 day stash of Amoxicillin on hand. While I’m not a Doctor (though I do watch one on TV), I figured I took the pills before with no ill effects, I could do so again. Sure, I'd had adverse reactions to Penicillin in the past; a slight swelling of the lips or full body hives, but not with my old pal Amoxicillin.
So after my morning bucket of coffee, I took my first dose and five minutes later, the palms of my hands got really hot and red and I groaned, "Here we go again, another rash/hive situation." I ran to the bathroom, stripped down, yep – hives everywhere. Annoyed, I popped a Benadryl and decided to take a shower in cool water to quell the hives (plus my hair was filthy.) Post shower, if I was still having a reaction, I planned to drive myself to Urgent Care – probably unnecessarily – but better to be safe.
I was just about to jump in the shower when I suddenly puked and began to hyperventilate like mad. I tried to drink water but couldn’t swallow - it felt like I had a huge ball of peanut butter & Wonder Bread wedged halfway down my throat and nothing was getting by it.
I remember briefly wondering "Is this serious? Like 911 serious?" I don't recall actively answering those questions (like most of my major life decisions - moving cities, ending relationships, quitting jobs - I don't recall actually making them. I think about it, then find myself doing it, but it's like the actual decision to do so was made while I was out of the room), but my subconscious or guardian angel or whatever decided it WAS serious because the next thing I remember is wrapping myself in a towel and running to our kitchen land line (we live in a Black Hole of Cell Signals) to call 911.
Like the singing congressmen from 1776 (Broadway musical, three Tonys), the 911 Lady was cool, cool and considerate. I was only able to breathe/talk in short, syncopated gasps and my panic level was RED. She asked me to stay on the line till the Paramedics arrived but I realized "I need clothes!' so, at her behest, I unlocked the front door first (Thanks, 911 Lady!) and then threw on a ratty black T shirt and ill-fitting sweat pants. I didn't manage socks or shoes because by now I was having trouble seeing and the instant I collapsed in a chair, five to seven MEN in yellow Haz-Mat suits tromped through the front door.
I say five to seven men because my blood pressure was now so low, I couldn't see anything but a kaleidoscope of shapes and colors, so I never got an exact count. That, I think, was when I was most scared. When I couldn't see. Well, and the not being able to breathe, that was fairly terrifying too.
The five to seven Men bombarded me with questions (Note to First Responders: maybe don't ask someone who can't see, can't breathe and is, in fact, undergoing severe anaphylactic shock to describe her symptoms, list all medications, provide ID, identify her doctor and cite any known allergies all at the same time.)
In a flurry of activity, the 911 Men punched an IV in my arm, stuck a bunch of monitors on my chest, and pulled down my sweats to jab an Epi-Pen in my thigh. I faded out for a moment, coming to as they loaded me on a gurney and, after a serious discussion of physics, trajectories and angles, they maneuvered me through our narrow, herky-jerky doorway.
The paramedics were still playing a fast-paced game of Extreme 20 Questions and, while I failed answering most, I was able to provide the location of my house keys (an advantage of being a Virgo - everything in its place) so one of the five to seven could "Secure my domicile."
They shoved me into an ambulance and, sirens blaring, we were on our way! Enroute to the hospital, the Leading 911 Man cleared his throat, "I have to ask you a personal question."
I thought "You already pulled my pants down, how much more personal can you get?!" but I told him to go for it.
“Are you lips normally like that or do you have injections?”
I said nope, whatever puff he was seeing was the allergic reaction, to which another paramedic excitedly chimed in “Yeah, see her eyes? Her eyes are puffy too! Very puffy!” (They didn’t ask if I had eye lid injections.)
At the hospital, they rushed me into the ER, hooked me up to a bunch of IVs and machines that instantly began loudly and repeatedly BEEPING; red lights FLASHING. The nurse said the alarms would stop when my blood pressure climbed to a safe level – which it did eventually, thanks in part to all that FLASHING and BEEPING – it was beyond irritating.
I lingered in the ER for five hours, being pumped full of various fluids and potions (one of which made me so cold, I started to shake violently – my teeth literally gnashing like a plastic Chatter Teeth toy.) The Doctor said I was 'In severe anaphylaxis, what the Hell had I taken? What are you, an idiot? Don't ever do that again.’ (I’m paraphrasing but you get the gist.)
Meanwhile, an Officious Office Woman kept popping in and out, pestering me to fill out a form. I’m like, “Bitch, I’ve got a blood pressure thing on my finger, four IVs in my arm, my hands are shaking like a junkie in withdrawal and I can barely see – how'm I gonna fill out a form?!” After her second request, she yanked the clipboard away, "I'll do it myself!" and started peppering me with questions but I waved her off. “I don’t have my wallet, I don’t have my phone, I don't have the bandwidth to do this right now, you gotta wait.” But, no, no, no she could not wait and the third time she came back with her cursed form, even the MD yelled at her “NOT NOW!”
Once my blood pressure was normal and I was able to talk in complete sentences (and see! and at least partially fill out that stupid form), the MD gave me a script for a crazy-making steroid to prevent a secondary anaphylactic reaction, which would be a concern for the next four days. Then the nurse handed me discharge papers, my house keys (in a bio-hazard bag!) and, since I didn’t have any socks or shoes, some neon yellow hospital socks. I was free to go.
Now. In retrospect, I obviously was not thinking clearly as clearly what I should have done –seeing as I had no money, no phone (thus no one’s phone #) and no shoes – what I should have done is ask for a cab. But I wasn’t sure if I had cash at home to pay for the cab plus the only person I could find to call was the Officious Office Woman and I did not want to deal with her so I thought, “Eh, it’s not that far, I’ll walk.”
Turns out, in Hospital Sock-ese, yellow is code for "fall risk." Also turns out “not that far” is relative. The hospital is a mile from my house, which doesn’t seem
far in a car, or even on foot - provided one has shoes and hasn’t just been discharged from the ER - but it socks it was... a challenge.
Nevertheless, I persevered; mincing down Venice Blvd., discharge papers in one hand, bio-hazard bag in the other – pale as a ghost, filthy hair, dressed all in black with bright yellow socks. It’s a look. At one point, I hobbled by a big guy who called out “Looking Good, Mama!” and I burst out laughing. He turned to assure me “No! For real!” It appears the bar for cat calling on Venice Blvd. is very, very low.
I made it home without further incident and, with the exception of a blood blister on the bottom of my foot that may just be permanent, and a $2,500.00 ambulance bill (we’re negotiating that), I’m good to go. Sure, now I carry an
Epi-Pen, and I can never take ‘cillins’ again, but all in all, I’m fine.
As one who likes to do holidays in style, I’d say I knocked Friday the 13th outta the park! But I don't want a repeat performance. Equal parts ridiculous and sobering, my 911 / ER / Hospital Sock Walk Of Shame makes me hyper aware of how tenuous one’s life/health/well-being can be. The adage “Health is the crown only the sick can see” is frighteningly apt and this was a dramatic reminder not to take the ‘crown of health’ for granted, ‘cause that shit can turn on a dime.