As somebody who has a pretty strong allergy to something – in this case, tree nuts (but not all of them — my body is complicated like that) – I speak from experience when I say the attack I had last week was the worst one yet. Before I moved to America from Australia I had to go to the (free) hospital several times after incidents. Once I ate a slice of chocolate cake at a radio station I worked at and once the recording was over had to throw the headphones off and hightail it to the hospital. It was the first time that it was bad enough to have to go there, but before that there had been minor incidents including one where I kissed a partner who, unbeknownst to me, had eaten a Ferrero Rocher and wasn’t aware of my issue.
But this time was definitely the worst. I’d never been in that much pain because of a freakin’ allergy. Gall stones were worse, but this was still pretty bad. And it was a reaction to a salad dressing of all things that, as it so turns out, had pecans in it and in a moment of weakness (I’d had a particularly bad day, at that point) didn’t think to ask about. I can’t speak for everybody, but if you’re not allergic to anything like that, then this is kind of how a particularly nasty case of anaphylactic shock goes.
There are initial tingles around the mouth where first contact with the allergen was made. Kind of like how you can feel a cold sore coming though before you see it. Lumps and bumps begin to form on the inside of the mouth and you try desperately to feel with your tongue how fast they’re appearing in a rather pointless attempt at judging how bad this is going to be.
By this stage, I had left the restaurant I had been eating at, and a friend and I decided that visiting the hospital was the best bet. I wasn’t feeling particularly bad, and thought maybe a quick jab of epinephrine might help it be over with sooner rather than later. Within minutes of reaching the emergency room and finding my place at the triage window, my body broke out in hives. My skin turning a flushed red and the nerve-ticking pins and needles spread across my body as if I was rolling around on one of those pin0art toys. All of a sudden my stomach started to convulse, spasm and twist. Obviously the offending food had made its way down, and my stomach was not happy. Not one bit.
The triage nurse saw my almost instantaneous attack and wanted to help. Naturally, he had to hold up a sign asking if I had been out of the country recently. Even though I’d been to Sweden a few weeks prior, I knew what this was and that it was no Ebola. They rushed me through, my stomach reacting to the interloping allergen in tummy-shredding ways that I can only best describe as if a pair of invisible hands were wringing my stomach out like a wet rag. The pain was excruciating. So much so that after somehow giving them my personal information, I all but blacked out on a bed as they attempted to put in an IV. I came to very quickly, but there was indeed blood-stained sheets due to a mix of my convulsing and the hospital’s needles.
My hands were bunched tight into stiff, odd shapes due to my racing heart rate, body heat and excited, flustered panic. Crouched over, my body seemingly unable to bend into a horizontal position needed of me due to the intense pains in my gut. The hospital staff – ever vigilant and wonderfully, rapidly accommodating – attempted to get me to lay down and take one pill, two pills, three pills. The stomach pains soon dissipated, my hands returned to their normal level of bendiness, and the pins and needles evaporated like waves. My heart rate eventually returned to normal and my body, weak from over-stimulation, all but gave way and I fell in and out of exhausted sleep. My mouth still swollen, the enlarged uvula hanging on the back of my tongue like a gag-inducing piece of low-hanging fruit.
That night I slept about 12 hours. In the end, my brief (three and a half hours) sojourn into the American hospital system wasn’t as bad as I had feared (also: blessed insurance!), but I have no desire to do it again. Hopefully, now when somebody says they have a nut allergy you’ll know they mean business. It isn’t the best way to spend an evening tending to somebody who’s ingested something that they’re allergic to. It’s no fun for anybody.