The first time is always the most painful
Sunday, June 9th was a pretty good day. I woke up early, went swimming, made myself bacon and eggs for lunch and spent the rest of my day watching documentaries and doing some sports.
Dinner rolled around, I cooked myself some honey-lemon chicken with green beans and popped in a Zumba DVD. Half way between booty-shakes and chest pumps, my scalp started itching. The workout was intense and caused me to sweat quite profusely, I attributed the itching to sweat. After not more than a minute, the itching intensified and started to travel down my body. At this point I stopped the DVD and ran to the mirror. My body had covered itself with hives and my face was throbbing and swelling rapidly.
I quickly realized that I was experiencing an anaphylactic shock. My brother has severe food allergies, so the experience runs in my family. I grabbed my phone and dialed 112 (emergency services).
“Hello, I think I need urgent medical attention”
“What seems to be the problem?”
“I was just exercising, and my body has started itching all over and my face is swelling rapidly and extremely. I think I’m having an allergic shock”
“Where do you live?”
“Which part of the city is that?”
“I… I’m sorry I’m having trouble breathing. I think it’s in Eimsbüttel”
(I was lightheaded and confused at this point. Stresemannstrasse is not in Eimsbüttel)
“How long has this been happening?”
“It started happening no more than five minutes ago. It’s getting worse very fast”
“Are you having difficulty swallowing?”
* tries to swallow *
“Ma’am, I’m sorry but I cannot send you an ambulance in this case. Please call the emergency doctor on duty”
I cannot believe my ears – I’m rapidly descending into physical shock and the emergency operator has just refused me an ambulance (perhaps I was more coherent than I felt?). Instead, he dictates a phone number to me (which i have trouble putting down, considering my condition) and bids me farewell.
“Yes, hello, I need urgent medical attention. My body is covered in itchy welts and my face is rapidly swelling. I am having difficulty breathing. Can you send me help?”
“Are you alone?”
“We’ll be there in under ten minutes.”
I guess that unlike the 112 operator, they were professional enough to realize something might be going on.
After five minutes, an emergency doctor and his team found me in a pretty bad state – after letting them in, I could no longer walk. My blood pressure had plummeted and I was extremely frightened. I laid down on the sofa and was immediately hooked up to an IV and administered epinephrine (adrenalin) and atropine. After about 20 minutes of monitoring me and trying to keep me from passing out, I was stable enough to be transferred to the hospital, so I was put onto a stretcher, moved into the ambulance parked out front and treated the neighbors to a bit of a light show.
I was shaking violently the entire way to the hospital in Altona – a side effect of the roller coaster my heart rate was taking, the doctor explained to me. He was aware of how scared I must have been, he put his hand on me in reassurance for most of the ride over. I was strangely calm, but that might have been the drugs.
Hours went by like minutes in the hospital as they waited for me to become stable. I kept glancing at the clock – and each glance advanced the clock by at least half an hour. I remembered my last visit to the emergency room with a sprained ankle, where an hour felt like four. This time, in the emergency room, I blinked and half the night was over. The nurse came by to take my blood, the doctor went over the day’s events with me to try and determine what caused the allergic reaction. We didn’t come up with any likely suspects. An orderly saw my blood pressure and asked if I was diabetic – the doctor laughed and told him I had been given adrenaline.
I was released at 03:30 after my blood pressure returned to normal and I was finally capable of sitting up. I felt strangely calm, detached and distant. This feeling, which was probably a side-effect of the various drugs that they had administered, followed me into the next day along with tingling in my hands and general weakness. The swelling in my face went away completely on the evening of that day.
I feel perfectly fine now – just as I did five minutes before that itchy scalp. I’m shaken by the fact that I suffered from a severe, life-threatening anaphylactic shock without knowing what had caused it. I’m currently going through a series of tests to try to determine the culprit so I don’t need to go through this again. I’m also painfully aware that if I was too weak or unable to have dialed the number for the emergency doctor (which was unfortunately not as simple to bash out in a panic as “112″), I may have ultimately been left brain damaged or dead. Emergency services in Hamburg did not deem my situation serious enough to warrant sending an ambulance as I was going into anaphylactic shock – they’re going to be getting a very firm letter from me.
The evening was saved by an extremely professional, friendly emergency doctor who took great care of me and tried to comfort me as best he could. I don’t know your name – but you saved my life. Thank you.