This is a true story of an experience I endured on December 30th 2012 :) The writing is rather poor since it's a first draft and therefore a very rough copy...however I am not about to re-read that whopper...so have fun picking through the bones yourself :P
A Brush with Death: My Anaphylaxis Experience
It was a regular day at church. Ok, well, it looked regular. The skies were a broken shade of grey and snow littered the ground, petering off into dangerous little patches of ice. My shoes clicked annoyingly as I crossed the pavement from the car to the front door. Stealth was always my desire, especially after my dad’s lecture many years back on how silly it was to wear noisy shoes.
The morning progressed as it always does. I practiced the worship songs downstairs with our pianist and then chatted for a while with my friends. Before I knew it we were well into the service, singing and praising our Lord and Saviour.
However, things began going wrong when we got to the benediction offering. I arose to sing the last song and felt a piercing pain in my abdomen. It had been there, constantly niggling the underside of my consciousness for the past two days, but this was different. This was a transformation from nuisance to beast. I panted for another breath and clutched my side; the sensation heightened as we rounded into the second verse. I felt my forehead start burning, so I began to pray as I sang, asking the Lord for mercy and that He would let me get through this without making any mistakes.
The Lord is good indeed; I walked off that stage feeling confident that no one noticed my plight. After grabbing my bag and jacket from the second row of pews, I snuck to the back and sat down next to my mom.
“Good job!” she said in an enthusiastic whisper under her breath.
I smiled and felt my eyes start watering. My hand returned to my side and I curled in pain. Mom instantly noticed,
“It’s my side. That pain is awful.” I replied.
“Do you want to go see dad?”
“Yes, yes please.”
Mom nodded and then grabbed her bag and we both left by the back door.
Upon reaching the hospital we waited at the eastern entrance for my dad to meet us. He came, swiftly and noiselessly careening around a bend all the while smiling.
“What’s up kiddo?” he asked.
I explained what was wrong and how I believed the pain to be related to the multiple falls I had experience from skiing on Friday. He asked me to point to where I had pain, then he nodded and said,
“Ok, we’ll get one of the other doctors to see you, let me just check in here for a moment.” (since physicians are generally not allowed to treat their own family members, due to safety reasons)
He entered into a side room and several minutes later returned with Dr. D in tow. After going through the same set of questions and pointing to where I felt pain, both doctors decided I needed to be properly examined so they tore off in search of a free bed.
They finally found one and Dr. D proceeded to examine my abdomen. He determined that the pain I was feeling wasn’t simply from common human ailments and he said to my parents,
“I believe it is the spleen. If the pain had been lower in the abdomen I wouldn’t be worried, but with the way it is I think she should have an ultrasound. Best to get it checked out right away.”
After thanking Dr. D for his time, my dad led my mom and I through a networked maze of passageways and then deposited us at the emergency sign-in counter. He then left to care for some sick patients.
It took a little while to sign in, but after it had all be done, mom and I managed to find a seat in the unusually crowded waiting room. I’d just gotten comfortable and was proceeding to grin at every elderly individual my eye contacted when a commotion in front of us caught our eye.
One of the nurses was standing down the hallway and was signaling with her finger, indicating we should follow her. At first, I raised my hand to myself and questioned,
I looked at mom. The nurse continued nodding her head and signaling. We both got up and joined her. She then quietly took us through the emergency room doors and led us back to an empty room with a bed.
“Have to be sneaky around here.” She said, “Don’t want the other patients to get upset, thinking ‘Oh she just got in and now she’s going? Why is that?’”
I grinned as she continued,
“Plus, there’s got to be some perks to having an insider, right?”
“Of course.” We agreed.
“Now I’ll just change the linen on this bed and when I’m gone you can slip into this lovely gown I have.”
I rolled my eyes as she produced a typical, chalky blue coloured gown.
Once everything was set and I was in my robe of honour, a lady came in to do some blood work. I cringed as I saw the needle but as usual, the pain of its entry was far less than expected. She left as quickly as she came, the only difference was she now carried four vials of my life source.
Dad joined us afterwards and had mom follow him to go grab a coffee. Mom was hesitant at first,
“She’s not going anywhere, right?” she asked
“No no, the doctor is going to be a while yet in coming. They’re really busy here. We’ll be back before she’s gone.”
It was about the time that he uttered that statement that Murphy’s Law began to roll (if I may be so whimsical in my usage of that theory).
I sat on the hospital bed, legs crossed, reading my book…the curtains suddenly fluttered and I lifted my head, expecting my parents to be present. Instead, there was a wiry lady gesturing that I should follow her.
“We’ll get your ultrasound done now. Just bring your valuables with you. Maybe leave your book here so people know you’ll be back.”
I glanced down at my book for a moment and then warily looked back up at the stranger. Slowly, I set my book on the bed, then I slipped into my shoes and snatched up my bag and tightened my jacket around me.
“Are you ok to walk or do you want a chair?”
I nearly burst out laughing, but I managed to control myself as I emphatically replied, “Oh no no, I’m totally fine.”
She raised an eyebrow, then we set out.
The ultrasound went well. It was an odd experience. The wiry technician lady first poured this really hot gel onto my abdomen, then she smothered it around using the sensory device, all the while picking up images of my internal organs. She clicked away, snapping pictures for about 15 minutes, before she handed me a towel and told me to wipe off the gel.
It was kinda gross but very cool at the same time.
I left the room and found my mom waiting outside with my book looking slightly anxious.
“Dad says come get a coffee and sure enough we return and you’re gone. Every single time. I shouldn’t listen to him anymore.” She sipped her coffee and handed me my book, which I tucked away inside my bag.
“Ah well, everything is fine.” I replied, looking hard at her coffee.
“No you can’t have any. Not until everything is done.” She said, throwing out a little smirk.
Dad soon appeared with another doctor in tow. I’ll just call him Dr. White; I don’t remember his real name, but he had very white hair. After being introduced, dad led Dr. White to the ultrasound room and had him help interpret the results. Both men returned after a little while and dad said,
“She’ll have to have a CT scan. There’s a little bit of fluid around her spleen and it needs a closer look.”
It wasn’t more than 10 minutes before I was led to another room. Mom was told to wait outside. The female technician was very nice. She had me lie down on this large moving bed/table contraption, the tracks of which would pull and push the bed through this round, skinny donut object.
“Now we have to put in an IV because we’ll be administering some contrast to you. Which arm would you prefer?”
I indicated my right arm and we proceeded to talk about skiing (since that was most likely the cause of my spleen injury) and made other small talk. After everything was set and a lead sheet had been placed over my legs and waist, she told me,
“Now I’m going to move the bed in and I want you to put your arms up on the top of this here [indicating the donut]. When you hear the instructions to breathe, just follow them. I’ll come out and tell you when we start the contrast.”
The first bit went just fine. I followed the automated voice instructions and grinned as I heard my dad’s voice in the background, laughing and talking to the technician.
The lady then came out and fumbled around with some lines on my left side.
“Ok, so we’re going to start the contrast in a moment. Once it gets going you’ll feel like you’re peeing your pants and you might get a metallic taste in your mouth.”
I raised my eyebrow at this while she clipped in the line to my IV and then told me she was starting the contrast.
It took about twenty seconds before I began to feel the symptoms she warned me of; I notified her and she said,
“Ok, now we’re going to take a few more runs of this thing then we’ll be done.”
I nodded and then she left. The sensation of burning began to take over the metallic taste in my mouth; every cell felt as though it was super-heating. I touched my tongue to my palate and my eyes widened at the heat. My brain began to feel very warm.
The bed slowly moved through the donut and the automated voice came back on, telling me to breathe in and hold it.
This time, I was unable to hold it. I felt a sneeze coming on, however I became a little confused when it didn’t just stop after one. I began sneezing rapidly in succession and my eyes started watering. My legs were now burning with heat and my abdomen felt unnaturally warm.
The technician came out and stood over me; she looked at me and said,
“Are you ok?”
I nodded my head and laughed between sneezes, “Yeah I’m fine, just have to really sneeze. I’m not sure why.”
The lady’s face took on a concerned look and before I knew it a kindly looking doctor joined her on my right side and my dad appeared on my left.
“Her face is going really red.” They noted, “and she’s starting to shake.”
Dad’s face became somewhat unreadable. I was trying to answer their questions but my face felt like it was on fire and I was burning from the inside out, my body began to itch.
“Can you still swallow?” dad asked me
“Yes, I can.” I said, sneezing again. Now tears were pouring down my face, despite the fact that I wasn’t really crying. I was trying to laugh but my breath began to come out in shallow gasps as I tried to hold back the sneezes.
“Where’s the medical kit?” said the kindly doctor in a very stern tone, “Why don’t we have the medical kit?”
“Can you still breathe?” my dad asked me firmly
“Kind of.” I felt more tears flow down my face. The heat was becoming unbearable now. I tried to breathe in but I couldn’t exhale. I started struggling for breath; I looked up at dad and shook my head, this time I began to cry for real.
“Get me the atropine!! Where’s the epinephrine!! She’s having an allergic reaction!” my dad spoke in a commanding voice that I’ve only ever heard him use in serious situations.
The mention of atropine seriously freaked me out. I’d studied about it in cell physiology. It was used to counteract the effects of fatal nerve gases like sarin. The fact that dad was calling for it now meant that I was in danger.
The kindly looking doctor grabbed my hand and squeezed, “It’s going to be ok, just keep breathing and stay calm.”
His face looked anything but calm.
By now, my hands were trembling, my face was (apparently) redder than a tomato, my throat had constricted, I was sneezing, and everything either felt like it was burning or buzzing.
Dad swiftly returned to my side with a long syringe.
“Epinephrine. Where do I administer it? Does she have an IV?”
“She has an IV.” The technician raised my arm towards my chest.
“0.4 ccs.” Dad said, then he began depressing the syringe, “That’ll make you feel better.”
“0.2ccs came back out the tube.” He said calmly, “I’m giving her another 0.2.”
I began to feel the effects of the epinephrine very quickly as it was directly injected into my blood stream. Every single cell inside my mouth began to buzz. My arms and upper body began to shake, nearly progressing into convulsions. It felt as though my heart was on a joy ride; it galloped along at such a ridiculously fast speed I felt like passing out.
Even my mere words cannot describe how utterly horrible this experience was…and it still wasn’t over.
“You’re pretty red there, girl.” My dad grinned down at me, his face still taunt.
The buzzing and trembling sensation carried on. I laid my head back on the bed/table. Soon, noise from the hallway arrested my interest. The doors flew open and a stretcher was wheeled in; I saw my mom outside looking very concerned, which only worried me further.
“Ok sweetie, when you’re ready you’ll need to shift over onto this bed.” The technician had strung my IV up to a bag of fluid after they'd injected a shot of saline to clean the tubing. I nodded and took a few more seconds before I crawled over onto the bed. They wasted no time in covering me with a blanket and wheeling me out of the CT room. I began to feel very cold. My hands turned to ice.
The bed raced through the hallway into emergency where they were met by younger doctor who also grabbed a-hold of the bed. They then wheeled me into the trauma room and slapped round, sticky sensors to my chest and upper abdomen, connecting them to a heart machine. One nurse pulled out a blanket from a boxy machine and smiled at me,
“See, it’s been kept warm just for you. Here let’s put this on ya now.” She draped it over my body while another individual strapped a gas mask to my face.
“The mask will administer --- [I don’t remember the name of the gas] which will help open up your respiratory tract. You should be able to breathe better soon.”
“Wow, is she ever red.” Someone commented
Mom wrapped my feet under the blanket and then said, “Her nose is really white but her face is red.”
“It’s weird isn’t it.” Dad smiled, “How’re you feeling now?”
I grinned back, wishing I could blow my nose, “Much better.” I said.
My hands were still shaking violently, but over time this subsided.
Within a few minutes, though, my eyes began to swell up and my skin started breaking out in hives. Quite uncomfortable, I dare say.
After my shaking had decreased, they quickly wheeled me back to the CT room and finished the scans without administering any contrast, as it was already in my system.
After that ordeal, I stayed in the hospital for a good 4 hours; my dad and several other physicians monitored me before releasing me and sending mom and I home with a prepared shot of epinephrine.
I turned out that my spleen had about 3 mL of blood around it, but it wasn't torn, only bruised. That was great, because it meant I didn't have to have a surgery.
Mom told me afterwards that dad had talked to her and said that if he hadn’t been there to give me the epinephrine, the other physician and the technician would have called a code blue (essentially that alerts the hospital that a patient’s life is in danger). Apparently they were unprepared for such a severe allergic reaction that they had nearly nothing present to counteract anaphylaxis.
So that was my brush with death. And it’s crazy to think that only 1 in 100,000 people experience a severe, life threating reaction to contrast…and I happened to be one of them. I’m just so thankful to God that I am still around today :)