Saturday, August 26, 2006

Adventures in Anaphylaxis

Well, so I'd stopped at the grocery store on the way home this past Thursday evening to pick up a couple of things. Walked down the Candy/Gum/Nuts aisle, looking for some dry roasted almonds. No such thing was to be had for love nor money, at least not in that store. So, in the first of several regrettable decisions I made that night, I grabbed some hazelnuts.

I hadn't eaten dinner before going off to my evening appointment (which come to think of it was I guess the zeroth regrettable decision of the night), and I was hungry. I used to get the smallest jar of macadamia nuts and eat them on the way home, but in a curious piece of real-world foreshadowing I started to have some slight swelling of the mouth after eating them, so I decided to avoid them.

Now I've eaten hazelnuts before. As recently as May, I made a delicious nutbread with hazelnut flour, and ate it with no ill effects whatsoever. I certainly had no reason to expect what came next.

I tossed a hazelnut into my mouth and chewed it. Yuck, I said to myself, that isn't as good as I remember. But, having nothing else and a bit of a walk home ahead, I kept eating them. When I'd eaten no more than a handful total (I expect it was about 12-15 nuts) the right side my mouth, and the inner cheek on that side started to swell. Oh well, says I to meself, says I. Looks like hazelnuts are off the list, too. And I stopped eating them. When I got home, I threw away the rest of the package.

Savor those. They're two of the only smart things I did all night.

I also rinsed out my mouth. But over the next hour or so, my mouth, then my entire face, continued to swell more and more. And lopsidedly, too: I tend to chew nuts more on the right, because I used to have a bad tooth on the left (since fixed, but the habit remains). I started to have trouble swallowing. My tongue was a little swollen too; talking wasn't working that well either. I texted my boyfriend, saying "My mouth is so swollen I can't really talk. Let's chat online." (Yeah, I really capitalize and punctuate in cellphone text messages. So?)

Did I mention that I decided that since I had swelling, and aspirin is an anti-inflammatory, I should take aspirin? Two 500-mg tablets. Just bloody brilliant, really.

Despite my stated preference, my boyfriend called me and said "You should go to the emergency room." I pooh-poohed this idea, saying I'd just wait for it to go away. Besides, I informed him, if it gets bad I can call my friend who lives downstairs and we can always go to the ER then. "Call her now," he said, and his tone added "just in case." Reluctantly, I agreed. I mean, just to make him happy; he worries. At this point the swelling on the right side of my face was the size of a grapefruit, but I knew (I mean, I just knew) it was nothing serious.

As is generally the case when you just know something, I was wrong. Did I mention that my boyfriend is the best boyfriend in the world, and not only this one, but all possible other ones? Don't think I did. Now you know.

So I called Susan (my friend downstairs) and told her what was going on, and said "just in case I need to go to the ER later, I thought I'd give you some advance warning."

"Are you breathing OK?" she asked, knowing that I have a history of asthma.

"Oh, yeah, I'm fine. Wheezing a little, that's all."

"We're going to the ER right now. I'll be right there." Now I listen to Susan when she says things like that, because I've learned over the twenty-plus years of our friendship that, while I sometimes can be sensible when she isn't, the balance is very heavily in the opposite direction. In addition, neither of us is any good at being sensible about our OWN stuff.

So we walked to the ER. (What? It's only five blocks.) Got there, and after a little initial trouble finding anyone at all to talk to, got down to business. Susan knew to use the magic words "trouble breathing" to jump any queue, but we didn't have to; there was really nobody there. Thursday just not a big knife-fight night in Hoboken, not Hoboken actually has big knife-fight nights.

At this point I was still expecting them to say "OK, so you've got a little swelling. Sit over there until it goes away, and if you keel over we're here." Nope. They frogmarched me straight into the back, and one of them inserted an IV while another gave me a sub-cute of epinephrine. They hooked me up to a blood-oxygen monitor, and the reassuring "100%" it displayed calmed things down a bit. (Working out really pays off; I can stop breathing for a while, as I used to when I had sleep apnea, without my blood-oxy going down at all.)

They put a couple of things into the IV, which they left inserted in case they had to put more stuff in in a hurry. Not messing around, these people. The doctor came in and listened to my lungs, and said he could hear the congestion. At this point my face was so swollen that I was tasting blood; my lip had split. Susan kindly informed me that I looked like a caricature of a stogie-chomping editor from a 1950s newspaper movie. I think I probably looked more like one of the misshapen mutants from 1970s post-holocaust horror movies. My left cheek was the size of a baseball; the least a cantaloupe, maybe a honeydew.

The boyfriend called me. (Did I mention...oh, yeah, I did. Best.) I wasn't going to answer the cell in a hospital, so I asked Susan to take my phone outside and call him back. (She told him the key points, yes Christopher is fine, no he can't talk on the phone, etc.; he said "yeah" a lot. He's kinda shy with total strangers when his boyfriend is in the ER; who knew?)

Anyway, to make a long story somewhat less tedious, after a couple of hours I was visibly improved, breathing clearly, less swollen. They gave me a scrip for the steroids I'm on now ("My Olympic hopes are dashed!" I said to the doctor, back of hand to brow), and sent me home.

See, I'm a hypochondriac. But since I know I'm a hypochondriac (I read the symptoms of hypochondriasis and immediately knew I had it), I tend to act like things are nothing until I can't ignore them any more. This has led to, for example, my letting an abcess on my arm grow from the size of a quarter to an angry red patch as big as my palm before going to the doctor about it. In this case that behavior could well have been fatal. If not for the good sense displayed by my boyfriend, and his cleverness in realizing I wasn't going to take his advice, and getting me to talk to someone I would listen to, and to Susan's no-nonsense approach, I might well have just gone to bed that night...and not awakened in the morning.

Let me take this opportunity to touch my forehead to the floor in honor of both of these people. It's good to be loved.

My face is still puffy. I look kinda jowly; I think I look ten years older. I'm hoping my face will spring back into shape soon. But I've learned some lessons: 1) Don't fuck around with nut allergies. Get thee to an ER. 2) Aspirin, far from being useful for allergic swelling, makes the reaction worse. 3) I have the bestest boyfriend in the world. 4) Susan's damn good too. 5) Don't fuck around with nut allergies.


Anonymous Leigh Witchel said...



Mazel tov!

2:17 AM  
Blogger Mitch said...

Sounds similar to the reaction that I have when I eat fish, although mine is also accompanied by hives and me doing an imitation of Mr. Creosote from Monty Python & the Meaning of Life.

Glad to hear you're doing better, though.

3:46 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very happy you have got a keeper of a sweetie! (And about time! You have deserved a good guy for a Long Time.)

In fact, it sounds like you have good friends and a good physical regimen that works for you!

Although, yeah, you'll have to stay away from the nuts.

Mazel tov, and thanks for the update!


1:44 PM  
Anonymous TexAnne said... and LAW know each other?

Oddly enough, I was just reading the AVPU thread on ML. I didn't know people got into "altered mental states" from nut allergies.

Good thing your boyfriend's the best one in the world, and that you have somebody like Susan to listen to.

5:11 PM  
Blogger Xopher said...

D., thanks. Perhaps you all will meet him someday, but I'm not going to hurry. I think you know why!

TexAnne, why yes, how do you know LAW? He and I used to go to the ballet together, and I'm a fan of his choreography.

11:07 AM  
Anonymous TexAnne said...

Xopher, I "met" LAW years ago on alt.arts.ballet. Small Internet, huh?

2:34 PM  
Anonymous Leigh Witchel said...


Wouldn't have to be "used to" if you'd get your calendar together d00d.

I'll give you a huge running start. Paul Taylor Dance Company, March 2-18, 2007. That's six months. I've been trying to get you to see their manly chests for years.

3:10 AM  
Blogger FSJL said...

Wow! It's good that you have a partner.

11:49 AM  

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