This is a little story about dealing with venom…literally. Two years ago a wasp stung me as I was trimming an overgrown azalea bush in my front yard. I was trimming (really, hacking is a better word for what I was doing) so far deep into the bush that I disturbed some wasps who had been chilling beneath the cover of the branches, poised to ruin people’s lives. One flew into my sunglasses, bounced off and then stung my hand at the base of my thumb.
So, no biggie. I was startled, as one would be under the circumstances. This was my second wasp sting; the previous had been about eight years before when an unsuspecting wasp got trapped between my sandal and my foot as I was descending the deck staircase to my backyard. I felt something in my sandal and jostled my foot to free the object. I didn’t realize it was a wasp until the “object” couldn’t get free, and it stung me.
Nothing of consequence occurred that time, other than the area where I had been stung felt itchy but eventually went away.
This time around, however, the floodgates of hell opened up. I went inside the house and told my husband I had been stung. I took some children’s Benadryl (it’s all we had) and sat down for a moment in the cool of the house. Was I feeling woozy or was I imagining it? Just a few days earlier my friend Elizabeth had told me how she had recently been stung mowing under one of her azalea bushes, then regaled me with a separate and terrifying story of a local woman who had been stung by a hornet, experienced an unexpected allergic reaction, went upstairs to rest and died. This story came immediately to my mind. In fact, I thought it had been a hornet that had stung me. Was I seeing stars?
Sure enough, yes, the edges of my vision became blurry. I knew that I wasn’t imagining it. I told my husband to call 911; I was having an allergic reaction to the sting. I was definitely reacting but not swelling–not my throat, the site of the sting, or any other parts that might be reacting to the venom. Weird.
Then I thought, we live so close to the hospital. We will just drive to the ER. No need for an ambulance.
I said as much to my husband. He called 911 back to cancel the ambulance and started the car. I got into the passenger seat. He jumped out to grab something from inside. When he was gone, I decided to run inside to pee before we went to the hospital, and left the car door open behind me. Then I passed out in the bathroom.
My husband came back outside, saw the open car door and rushed inside to find me. He had to shove the bathroom door open since I was inadvertently blocking it from the inside. With my unconscious body. He put me on the couch.
I woke up and greeted him. “I’m woozy,” I said, “and I’m going to vomit.” My hubby quickly found a bucket just in time and called 911 (again) while I was revisiting the Benadryl. It was still pink. (You’re welcome.) He also sent the kids who were heretofore oblivious, playing video games in the basement, to our neighbors’ house.
I passed out again after vomiting, and a few minutes later the EMTs came to the house to hook me up to an IV. It’s nice to be in a stressful situation in your own house, if you happen to find yourself in a stressful situation. The fan slowly spun overhead as the friendly EMTs knelt down to question me. I understood everything they said but it took me a long time to respond, and instead I just blinked at them from the floor while jokes and quips raced through my mind. I didn’t have so many words willing to come out. One asked me, “Did you drink any water today?” I replied, “I should drink more water.”
They strapped me in to a gurney and wheeled me out of the house. I managed to utter the words, “Tell someone to feed the dog,” by the time they loaded me into the ambulance. I imagine they thought whatever my problem was had affected my brain, based on the things I was telling them.
After a 90-second ride to the ER during which I stared at an analog clock that read five minutes to six, a few moments later I was resting in a jungle-decorated hospital room. There were tall grasses, leafy trees, and giraffes adorning the walls. Cool, I thought. I spotted a clock in my room. I stared at it, trying to read the time. “Hey, its 5:15, not 5:55. The clock in that ambulance was wrong.” I might not have been able to communicate but in my mind I had solved a little puzzle. Not bad, eh?
Long story short, in the ER I learned that I had an anaphylactic reaction to the wasp sting. I was allergic, just like that. Bam. I took some of their medicines, plus some of my own to help smother a killer migraine as my bonus post-shock gift (we cleared it with the doctor), and after napping with some nice medicine flowing into my IV line, I was able to go home that night, a prescription for an EpiPen in hand.
I learned that low blood pressure is the other type of anaphylaxis. Swelling gets all the press, but passing out was my jam. So now I carry an EpiPen and every year springtime dawns with its own special buzzing horrors to scare the crap out of me.
Oh, I also get venom shots regularly as part of immunotherapy. Another fresh hell–year-round venom injections–on purpose injecting me with the very venom that laid me low. But hey, I lived to tell. And for that I’m grateful.
Thank you for reading my story. Here is where you can read more about Anaphylaxis on WebMD.
Do you have your own story about an unexpected trip to the ER? I’d love to hear your tale.