Sunday, July 12, 2015

I'm Still Here, or 50 Shades of Red

Yesterday I tried something new:  anaphylaxis. Whee! Could have done without that exciting experience. I now belong to an elite club, kind of like the Mile-High Club only without the sex or the airplane, so what’s the point? I belong to a club of people who have had an allergic reaction to the stings of “vespids,” which includes yellow jackets, hornets, and wasps (not a bee sting allergy, but the body responds the same way). If you are wondering where anaphylaxis falls on a scale of one to ten for pain and discomfort, where 10 is childbirth, 9 is a Justin Bieber Concert, and 1 is a hangnail, I’d put it at about 7. In terms of rating it for the level of adrenalin rush, it would have to be about 11 since the drug of choice to save you when you have anaphylaxis is epinephrine, which IS adrenalin.

How did this happen, you may well ask. Well, I was in my yard innocently pulling weeds out from around an extraordinary cluster of prolific cantaloupe plants (which are on the verge of producing enough melons to cater a New Jersey Bar-Mitzvah) when I inadvertently disturbed a yellow jacket nest. Inadvertently because who in their right mind would do that on purpose? I have been stung by a single yellow jacket before; in fact I was stung by one two weeks ago and nothing serious transpired. The sting hurt. It swelled up. I put Benadryl cream on it, complained (because who can waste an excuse like that to kvetch), and that was that. It was gone in a few days. But yesterday I was swarmed and stung about a dozen times (not on my face or neck, luckily). The minute the yellow jackets attacked, I dropped everything and ran like a Loony-Toon character across the yard and into the garage, where I slammed the door shut. I swear a swarm was chasing me. I stripped off my clothes in the garage and stomped and swatted the yellow jackets dead. Then I made a beeline (oops, poor word choice) for the shower, where I ran cold water on my stings. I took a Claritin antihistamine immediately.

After my shower, I explained to Ron what had happened. By then I was beginning to feel lightheaded so I sprawled on the sofa and drank a ton of water and ate an energy bar. My scalp, palms, eyes, ears, and other odd places where I had not been stung started to itch like crazy. My ears were swelling up inside so that I could barely hear. Then I began to break out in impressively colorful and prodigious hives. Ron was not allowed to take pictures. Time to dash to the ER. When I stood up I became viciously dizzy. The ER is only a few minutes’ drive from our house (that’s why we moved here, to be closer to medical services). Ron demonstrated admirable driving restraint. He couldn’t have done better if I was having a baby, which I’m indescribably grateful that I was not. (Especially because when you are in labor everyone keeps telling you to breathe and I hate it when people tell me to breathe – if I wasn’t breathing I’d be dead, so what kind of stupid advice is that?) It’s a good thing we booked out of the house when we did because I was beginning to have trouble swallowing by the time I walked into the hospital. The next level of anaphylactic shock is when the person can’t breathe. That’s how people die of it. I’m partial to breathing. (Maybe I did need someone to be telling me to breathe after all, just to make sure I could still do it.)

By the time they took my vitals, I was covered in angry red hives from head to toe. I looked like an enormous strawberry, or like a lobster; I mean I was as red as the Communist Manifesto. The doc gave me a shot of epinephrine and started me on intravenous Benadryl. By then my toes and fingers had turned blue and my blood pressure had dropped very low, even for me (I usually have low blood pressure anyway). My symptoms had crossed over into anaphylactic shock, but fortunately the epinephrine halted that instantly. Ron was tripping over the fact that he was on the other side of the emergency episode. Usually he’s the one in crisis and I’m sitting on the sidelines while the doctors bring him back to life. This time it was reversed. The blast of Benadryl put me to sleep. So Ron went in search of more entertainment and found a Peet’s Coffee outlet in the hospital cafeteria. I swear that my husband has an internal Peet’s Coffee dowsing stick in his head. He could find a Peet’s Coffee in a sandstorm in the desert without a camel or a compass. I slept for about 15 minutes and when I woke up Ron was back with his cup of Peet’s, sipping contentedly, and I was a more normal color. The drugs stabilized my condition in a jiffy. (The Peet’s stabilized Ron’s.) The doc unhooked me from all the apparatus and released me with prescriptions for Benadryl and an EpiPen. He tried to talk me into taking prednisone, but I’m not inclined to go that route. I would rather not if I can help it since prednisone scrambles the immune system.

While I was turning 50 shades of red in the ER, I recalled another yellow jacket encounter that happened about 10 years ago. My then-teen son was weed-whacking brush in the yard at the Ranch when he stumbled upon a yellow jacket nest. Through the kitchen window I saw him tearing across the yard faster than the Roadrunner. Actually, he was just a blur. The first thought that crossed my mind was FIRE and I reached for the fire extinguisher. He raced into the house, slammed the kitchen door shut, hollered, “yellow jackets,” and unceremoniously stripped down to his underwear on the spot before fleeing down the hall and leaping into the shower. I picked up his clothes from the floor and discovered yellow jackets trapped inside them. I sustained two or three stings before I threw the clothes out the door onto the porch. Our children bring us the darnedest gifts. Neither my son nor I had an allergic reaction to those yellow jacket stings. I had to fetch the weed-whacker from the yard where he had abandoned it since my son refused to step foot out of the house again.

If yesterday’s fun-and-games had occurred when we still lived at the Ranch, I would have been in far worse shape after driving for half an hour to get to the ER. It certainly gives me pause to consider that alternate scenario. Here I am, in perfect health; I take no medications, have no significant ailments. Theoretically I should live a long time, but life happens. It seems ludicrous that an insignificant little insect can kill a person. And I use the term “insignificant” with the unequivocal intent to insult stinging creatures. (Remember what happened to Steve Irwin, acknowledging that a stingray is a bit larger than a yellow jacket.) Yesterday’s mishap reminded me yet again of the precarious nature of my existence. I’m grateful that I’m still here.

Endnote:  If you read my blog a few weeks ago about my bottomless handbag with everything needed for life on the planet crammed into it, then you will get why I’m so excited to now have an EpiPen to add to my collection of necessities in my handbag. I’m now fully prepared to respond to yet another potentially catastrophic event.

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