I'll start with a bit of back story so you get the gist. I have a severe allergy to dairy and eggs. They are poison to my body. No, I'm not lactose intolerant. No, wheat/gluten is not something I am allergic to. Wheat/gluten are in no way associated with dairy and eggs. (You'd be surprised by how often I get asked those questions.) I've had this allergy--it's called anaphylaxis that leads to anaphylactic shock--since I was born. My parents discovered this allergy by feeding me Gerber baby food that had egg noodles in it. I also have chronic asthma.
These two conditions (because I refuse to call them diseases, and please don't call them that to me because that's not what they are) have been with me for as long as I can remember. They are--for the most part--completely under control. They should be; I am twenty, after all. But when I was a kid, I was embarrassed by them. I still sometimes get embarrassed, and when I'm working out and need to take a puff of my inhaler, I always turn my back to people around me in case they see. (Inhalers aren't exactly quiet, so it might be kind of silly, but I do it anyway.) When my family goes out to dinner, if we're unsure if the restaurant/party we're going to will have what we call Katie-Safe Food, we'll pack something for me to eat. Or we'll have to make demands such as telling the waiter to tell the chef to clean the grill where he grills my plain chicken breast (I practically live off this stuff when we go out to restaurants). It was embarrassing. I didn't like it. I still don't really like it, but I'm getting better at making my voice heard when it comes to what I can and cannot eat. It's still embarrassing, especially when out with people not my family, but I deal with it. This allergy isn't going away, and if people are going to treat me differently for having conditions I did not ask for and cannot get rid of, then I don't need those people in my life.
I used to hate this. It made me stand out differently, and I did not like how kids looked at me when I pulled out my own special lunch at Chuck E Cheese instead of taking a plate of pizza. They would ask me why I did it, and to my best recollection, I told them the truth. Sometimes I was treated with pity (from parents, for the most part), sometimes I was treated differently (almost held at arm's length by the other kids), sometimes I was made fun of (I distinctly remember a girl I considered a best friend made fun of me for packing special food for me to eat at her birthday party), sometimes I was treated no differently. Sometimes people (and this happened more and more as I grew up) would even adopt my family's terms for what is deemed Katie-Safe and what isn't. Most of the guys I've dated have been awesome, willing to taste-test my food for any traces of butter, cheese, etc. I have it almost completely under control, both my asthma and my dairy and egg allergies.
But then Tuesday happened. I ate a protein bar I had had before, but they had evidently changed the recipe and I didn't notice until my throat began to itch and I had a horrifying sense of foreboding. I don't know how else to describe it other than a strange sense of knowing something isn't right within my body. So I checked the package. Then I ran to my dad and brother and told them I had to throw up because I had just eaten something with whey protein (a form of dairy). Immediately, my dad made an eight-ounce cup of warm water with two tablespoons of salt (a good thing to remember if you ever need to throw up; chug it as fast as you possibly can, and if it doesn't work right away like it didn't for me, make another cup). For some reason, it didn't make me throw up until ten minutes later, and by then the whey protein had already begun to affect me. I was shaking uncontrollably, huddled over the toilet as I finally threw up. My lungs began constricting as my esophagus tightened so it felt as if cement had been poured down my throat. I could not breathe beyond tiny gasps that did nothing to fill my lungs with much-needed air. My hands began itching incessantly. My lips were tingling. My vision had gone black, blue, and sparkly, and I could see no more than a tiny sliver probably no more than a centimeter thick out of the top of my left eye. My mom gave me a shot with an epi-pen in my left thigh. It didn't work enough. She shot me with another in my right thigh. It also felt as if it didn't work right away. I could not move my body; my arms and legs had turned into noodles. I remember my brother saying, "She's gone blue." I couldn't keep my eyes open, and I kept saying over and over again, "I am going to die. I am going to die."
It was, hands down, the scariest thing to ever happen in my twenty years of life that I can recall. Luckily, my mom had called 911 and so my dad had to carry me downstairs because I couldn't walk for myself. I vaguely remember there were two paramedics who launched into action. My brother says that we were in my living room for no more than two or three minutes, but it felt like an hour to me. I couldn't sit up, couldn't breathe, couldn't see anything but in spurts of clarity. My lower abdomen hurt in a way I can only describe as reminiscent of giving birth. Granted, I've never given birth, so maybe I'm completely wrong, but my mom and the paramedics said it was a good gauge. I was able to rate my pain on a scale of 1 to 10. In the ambulance, it was a 7. By the time we got to the hospital (maybe a five minute drive from my house) it had reached 11.
That was a little after noon. I remember the ambulance pulled into a gray garage where several nurses were waiting for me. I must have blacked out because the next thing I knew I was in the ER room. There were perhaps eight doctors (again, my vision was splotchy, so I couldn't see for certain). They asked if I could help them lift me onto the hospital bed. I said something resembling "no" according to my mom, and so they had to lift me onto the bed (I'm a small person, so it was easy) and got to work. I remember a flurry of arms and voices and an overwhelming sense of calm because I knew I was going to be okay now that I was in the hospital. I didn't know that when we arrived, I was three minutes away from death. I found this out later. But by then, breathing had become only marginally easier (I was put on oxygen the instant the paramedics arrived at my house and got to work on me in my living room). However, I was shaking so uncontrollably they had to puncture my arm with the IV several times before it hit the vein. I still couldn't see. I still couldn't breathe. My entire body had turned red; I later learned this was a systemic response, something I'm still not quite clear on.
I don't remember much else of what happened after that. I know my mom was there because I kept hearing her say my name and telling me, "I'm right here. I'm not leaving." I heard them say my blood pressure, heart rate, and oxygen levels, but I don't recall what they were. Most likely very low, considering I couldn't see, move, or breathe for a very long time in the scheme of things. The hours blurred together. Sometime later, the ER room was occupied by just me, my dad, and my mom. My chest began tightening again, so my mom called the nurse in around 2:00 PM to give me another shot of epinephrine. After that, breathing became easier. I could see a little clearer. I was still shaking, but not so I was my own personal earthquake. I still couldn't keep my eyes open beyond tiny slits because the light hurt. I'm still in pain, particularly my muscles from spasming and my throat from vomiting.
I stayed there until 5:45 PM, when at last I was discharged and prescribed drugs in case there are still traces of whey in my system. I was taken home, where I lay on my parents' bed for hours watching I Love Lucy and drinking Ginger Ale. Later, I ate a piece of toast. But I cannot stomach the thought of chocolate, peanut butter, the textures of those two, or salt. To think about those things makes me feel sick to my stomach.
It's now a little after midnight on the 14th. I'm honestly a little terrified of going to sleep, because there is a tiny whisper in the back of my mind that I might not wake up in the morning. Tuesday was the second day of classes, and I had to miss them because I was taken to the ER. But I am so thankful something intervened (I believe it was God, because I believe in Him, but I'm not here to convert anyone, so please leave religion out of this) and had me eat the protein bar at home instead of at school between classes as I had planned. My school is 35 minutes away from my house, down a highway, and I did not have an epi-pen in my backpack or any readily available salt and water to chug. If I had eaten it there, I would not be here right now. I would, most likely, be dead.
So that's how I kicked death in the face. Start to finish, you now know the whole story. I'm still not sure why I'm writing this post, but I felt inspired, so I wanted to share it. Allergies are something that have to be taken so seriously because they truly can lead to death. Educate yourself on allergies, the symptoms, the steps you must take to ensure the survival of whoever is suffering. Educate your kids, so they don't make fun of anyone who is different--who doesn't eat the pizza, or has to leave the room when peanut butter is within the vicinity, or who can't run in gym class because her asthma is too severe. If you have allergies, educate the people you see every day: coworkers, friends, roommates, etc. I can say firsthand it's hard to think clearly when it's happening to you, so the more the people around you know, the safer you'll be. If someone says they are going to die and they are huddled over a toilet turning blue, sobbing so hard their ribs hurt, with a shaking body and black vision, believe them. They are probably right, and you only have a few minutes to react before brain damage can occur if they can't breathe.
I'm so thankful for everyone who helped me yesterday. Without them, I wouldn't be here. My allergy is so severe that I know within two minutes if something is not safe for me. I simply scratch my arm with my fingernails and rub the food we're unsure about on that area. If it's fine, nothing happens. If it's not, welts and a rash and itching occurs quickly. But this is a harsh reminder that I still have to be 100% certain something is okay for me by reading the ingredients, not simply because I've had it before.
If anything, the thought that is clearest to me now is that it's not my time to die. I know I have so much more to offer this world, through the books I write and the job I hope to one day have (and the plans I hope to achieve through the job). I am so thankful I have the opportunity to keep pursuing my dreams. I could almost consider myself grateful for this experience, because it taught me a hard lesson: tomorrow is never guaranteed. I'd heard that so many times and understood it, but I had never really applied it to my personal life. From now on, I plan on doing nothing else.