Admitted

I drove into one of those industrial parks that sit out beyond the suburbs. Buildings lined the street in various stages of construction, off-white concrete, nondescript. Gravel parking lots surrounded by ten-inch-high curbs still awaited macadam and white lines. Yellow construction vehicles, all types—backhoes, dump trucks, bull dozers, steam rollers—scattered throughout the complex. Wide, desolate streets, void of customers, branched out at traffic lights into road-stubs, ending nowhere at the edge of a brown and green field. A scene of promise, or sprawl.

At the end of the street stood a building surrounded by cars. Not many, but some, a half-rented building.

Friday afternoon, a necessary allergist appointment, trying to get a handle on what ailed me. Spring ended; it was hell. Sneezing, hocking, blowing, and that scratchy noise people make behind their sinuses. The only relief for itchy post nasal drip. The doctor planned a scratch test, a dozen allergens to scrape under my skin and see if I reacted. Pollens, molds, pet dander, dust mites, foods and grass.  He scraped the substances over my forearms in neat lines, a couple inches apart. Over each scratch, a bubble formed—some miniscule like a BB, some the size of a dime or a quarter. With these sizes, he could gauge the severity of each allergy.

In the center of my left arm, one scratch bubble grew and grew. “Ho boy, are you ever allergic to grass!” The bubble began to take over the other scratches; it swelled and itched. The doctor left the office and returned with a syringe. “We’re just going to give you a shot of Benadryl to stop the reaction. Before I left the office, my entire forearm bloated an extra twenty to thirty percent into an itchy mess that lasted throughout the weekend. This happened thirty years ago.

Yesterday, I went for a run. My favorite destination for running is the horse trails on the Gettysburg Battlefield. These trails pass through woods and across historic farms. I rarely see anyone, and I get a quiet meditative dose of solitude.

Last week, I put together a new loop. It’s a bit shorter than my regular loop, more appropriate for a work night. A drawback of this run is that thigh-high flowering grass hangs over the trail in places. As you might expect from my ancient allergy test, contact with this grass causes a breakout. When I finished my run last week, hives covered my legs. It’s a mild annoyance and easily fixed with a dab of cortisone cream after my shower.

I repeated that loop last night. I hoped the park crew might have mowed the edges of the trail, I sent them an email last week pointing out that all that grass probably harbors ticks. No luck, same grass. I developed identical hives as last week. But yesterday, after my shower, my eyes began to swell up.

Twenty minutes later, my right eye swelled shut, my lips and cheek puffed up and loosened, and breathing and swallowing became labored. I couldn’t pronounce words. My voice had an echo-y quality to it. “Dad, why does stuff like this always happen to you?” Eli has a point. An appendectomy on a family beach vacation; an obstructed bowel one night after dinner; a jaw infection that caused a large flat piece of bone to work its way out through my gums; a bike crash that damaged my leg; a bike crash that bruised my ribs; a bike crash that dislocated my shoulder; a bike crash that scrambled my brain… you get the idea.

Susan ran to the store to buy Benadryl. I took two pills, and we sat on the couch waiting for my symptoms to clear up. Instead, my eyes closed, my lips grew, breathing became a chore and I had to really concentrate to swallow. I made the call “OK, let’s go.”

When Susan got stung by twenty-five bees, we didn’t spend more than ninety minutes in the emergency room. They gave her a shot of steroids, they gave her a shot of antihistamine, and they sent us home. Last night, after ten minutes of intake questions, the nurse said “We’re going to admit you.”

Now I carry an EpiPen®. It’s essentially a rugged syringe with a dose of epinephrine loaded and ready to go. According to the ER nurse, the EpiPen is an emergency medication measure to keep your airway from swelling shut until you can get a doctor’s care. Escaping from the emergency room this morning took far longer than I expected. My uvula enlarged considerably and they didn’t want to release me in case it grew more and cut off my breathing.

As he finally discharged me from the ER, my doctor sat me down and told me how dangerous my event was. He thinks I could have gone into anaphylactic* shock. “Keep that EpiPen with you always. Don’t go anywhere without it.”

Some of the kids on my mountain bike team ride with EpiPens in their packs. I never gave that much thought. It’s just something that the kids with bee allergies do. Suddenly I understand the seriousness of a potential allergic reaction in the wilderness. It seems unlikely that a kid will ride a few miles out of the woods with their eyes swollen shut and their breathing constricted by an enlarged uvula. I intend to learn more about allergic reactions—mine and the kids’ on my team so we can mitigate the risk. And unfortunately, it now looks like I’m trail running and mountain biking through those brutal summer months in long pants.

* Anaphylactic shock an extreme, often life-threatening allergic reaction to an antigen to which the body has become hypersensitive.

27 thoughts on “Admitted

  1. Jeff! I am so sorry to hear that you are dealing with this, and very relieved to know that you were treated in time. Glad to know that you will be prepared in the event of an emergency. It must be extremely hard for any dedicated runner to avoid grass. I hope that you are feeling better.

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  2. I can’t hit ‘Like’ for this for obvious reasons. But I can say that it’s very nicely controlled story telling for such a very personal cautionary tale.
    All the best.
    DD

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Oh my gosh! Firstly, glad you are OK. Second, do you know why the grass caused your airway to constrict and eyes to close, given that it only affected your legs the first time? And why the benadryl didn’t help (maybe made it worse?) I’m glad you have an epipen now at least.

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    • Well, there are several different theories (mine and the doctor’s about this). The most simple one is that when I finish running through a section like this I always stop and check my legs for ticks. Possibly I actually was touching my legs and I later wiped my eyes and face with my hands. The doctor said there’s a rare reaction to my blood pressure med that can mirror my symptoms. My allergies could be worsening? My favorite is that it was related to something completely outlying like a spider bite. Like everything else that happens to me, I’ll probably never see anything ever happen again. Which is fine with me. Hope your trip is going great. I’m envious that you get to see that Utah landscape.

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      • Wow, well I’d guess that your theory seems the most likely. Just odd it never happened before! And agree hope it never happens again.

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  4. Oh, goodness, Jeff! What an ordeal, and I can imagine a very frightening one for you too. I did click on like, but then, afterwards, thought, perhaps, that wasn’t the right thing to do. I didn’t want to unlike as that would have made the whole decision worse. I’m so sorry you went through such a horrible experience, but very glad you got appropriate help to avert what could have been something far worse. Thank goodness the hospital have now given you an EpiPen. Now, you’ve just to remember to take it everywhere with you. Can they not give you a spare one, one for at home and one for out and about? With a reaction like you had, I guess you’re not likely to go anywhere without it. Take good care of yourself, Jeff x

    Liked by 1 person

    • Instead of frightening, it was more astonishing. There’s a big joke in my house that if there’s a way to get into the emergency room, I’m going to find it. When the nurse said they were going to admit me, I looked over at Susan and she had a resigned “of course” look on her face. I do have a spare, and will probably actually carry two in certain situation. When they admitted me to the hospital, one of the first things they did was shoot me with an epipen. It didn’t really have any affect so they did another one. Sobering when I think how deep in the woods I could be with some sort of similar outbreak–miles from a paved road or cell service.

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  5. Wow. Glad you survived, Jeff, and will now have the EpiPens in case you have another severe reaction. I understand the fear and incredulity as the throat thickens, breathing gets harder, and there’s nothing you can do to stop the progression; been there once, years ago, in reaction (ironically) to the last dose of a months-long progression of allergy injection treatment.

    Here’s a thought as to why that reaction was worse than those you’ve had before: they can be cumulative to the same allergen. For me, one random bee sting causes mild swelling and itching, especially if it’s been a few years since the last sting. But if I get a second sting that same summer, all bets are off. So running through that particular type of grass as it was pollinating more than once in quick succession could have caused the excessive reaction. I always run with Benadryl. I used to carry an EpiPen (for bee stings) but they became horribly expensive ($300-600 per pen, and they supposedly expired within a year). I think they’ve come down in cost or are better covered by insurance these days. Your story is a good reminder that I should look into getting one for myself since I’m usually on my own.

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    • Happily, my 2 pack of epipens only cost a $20 copay. Much appreciated because the ER copay was jaw dropping and god knows what other bills are coming. I’m glad I survived too. I went for my first run since this evening and I had a bit of a panic attack in the middle. I kept thinking I was having another reaction. Fortunately, I have an old slim profile running vest that has just about enough room for the pen and my phone so it’s not really a hassle to carry. It looks like allergy testing may be delayed for months so for now, I think I’m a road runner again. Blah.

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    • Evidence notwithstanding my allergies really aren’t very bad. In fact I was bragging to a friend recently that I thought my grass allergy was about gone. My doctor says a relapse is common as I ween off the steroids, Hoping that doesn’t happen. Everyone is having a lot of fun with that photo at work. I sent it to my boss when I told her I was out sick.

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  6. Glad it worked out. I won’t say “why were you running in grass if you know you’re allergic?” I’m glad you got there before you stopped being able to breathe.

    I was admitted Saturday morning and as of Sunday night, I’m still in hospital. They’re throwing tests at me.🤷🏼‍♀️

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