Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Yesterday was the Day I Almost Died.

All I could think was, "Please, do not let me die like this." Curled in the fetal position of my bathroom floor, covered in my own vomit and feces and sweat while some faceless EMT or Paramedic, or both, worked on me. I could hear John's voice in the background, telling them to "please, just hurry. She's had these reactions before. She knows what they are."

Everything had been fine about 20 minutes ago. I had awakened from a nap after working all night. I had a sore throat that had persisited through the last half of my shift, and was still there when I woke up. I took a sample of the Avelox my family doctor had given me the day before I was hospitalized for pneumonia. A couple of minutes later,I ate a candy bar from Evan's school fundraiser. I started having this intense itching all over my back, and I made John scratch all over. Then I had these stomach cramps that were bad enough that I went and sat on the toilet. It was there that I started to feel lightheaded, felt the thickening in my throat, the tightening in my chest. I yelled for John to call 911 as I fell to the floor in front of the toilet and began to vomit. while clear drainage poured from my nose.

I got the terrifying feeling of taking a deep breath, but the air wasn't getting anywhere. In between gasps, I would shout "Please hurry!" to anyone who could hear me. John kept trying to reassure me : "Baby, I hear the sirens. They're closer." I remember telling him I was going to die.

EMS arrived, and I was assaulted with the questions I ask my patients: "Ma'am, what's your name, allergies, date of birth. What happened today, what's your health history, are you on illegal drugs?" I don't know if the words were coming out. I tried to tell him to hurry while trying to answer his questions. Did he really just ask me if was on heroin? John's response: "Dude! She's a registered respiratory therapist!" I smelledthe new plastic of the nasal cannula, asked fo the nonrebreaher instead. "My sat's okay. For my comfort," I croaked. I begged for the Epinephrine I knew was in his bag. The miracle drug that would stop me from having to have an emergency cricothyroidotomy when what little left of my airway was long gone and the only way to get air to my lungs would be through the whole they made in my neck right there on my bathroom floor. More importantly, the miracle drug that would ensure I would be alive when Evan got out of school in just a few short hours. Ahhhh, Evan. Funny how I can be in hell, knowing my life hangs on how many more seconds it takes this EMT to give me the epi when he appars to not be grasping what is going on, to focus on the sound of John's voice somewhere behind me, and through it all, only be able to see Evan's face.

I don't know where it was in the progression of things when the image of my surroundings began to fade and blur around the edges, when I collapsed the rest of the way, still begging for epi, and thinking of my mom and how I didn't want to, but it would be okay to just go ahead and die. That John and Evan would be okay, that my life insurance was adequate. And I just let go.

Then I felt a pinch in my arm. When I realized I could beathe just a tiny bit better, I realized it was epi, then the EMT said it was epi. That is when I started to vomit again, and someone thrusted my own bathroom garbage can under my face. When my bowels completely released. They were asking me to sit up, to help them help me to stand. I have no idea how I got on the stretcher. But then I heard the clacking of the wheels, saw daylight and the flashing lights in front of the house. Then I was at the hospital, and there was more epi, more Benadryl. More oxygen and questions. And IV, followed by even more Benadryl, Pepcid, steroids. The cold washcloth as the nurses cleaned me up. I begged hem to close the curtain. "I work with these people", I wailed. And sleep. A sleep deeper than I have ever known. And you wake up and it is all over. "Mrs. F, we are going to send you home on a medrol dose pack and I want you to take Benadryl every 4 hours for tonight. And you must get an Epi-Pen. You need to have one with you at all times, do you understand?"

Once home, more sleep. But this time, I would wake to John and Evan's faces. Feel my son kiss me on the cheek, and hear John tell him that Mommy had been sick while he was at school.

And I thought to myself that, though the hours/ days/ weeks/ months/ years of my life have been or will be consumed by images of scrubs and stethoscopes, textbooks and classes, hopes and goals and ambition, isn't it funny that when the edges started to fade, it wasn't any of that that floated with me just beneath the surface as I resigned to my death. It was John's voice and Evan's face.

I have had anaphylactic reactions before. Only none of them were so memorable. I woke up intubated after one of these episodes, but my only memory of that was feeling nauseous and waking up fighting against the tube. Other times, I sought help before it got to that point. I never felt myself slipping away like I did this past week. A later recounting of the experience to my doctor confirmed that I was dying that day, that I was almost gone. Now there are just a few reminders of it left: bad memories, a bruise on my arm from the EMT's rough injection technique, and fear. Fear that my body can react so violently to something to which I have been exposed my whole life without incident.

Now, because I feel like I need to, here are some links for more info:

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