Back in April of 2006 I had the opportunity to attend a health and wellness conference. The conference was down in Chicago and it was going to revolutionize my life. I was going to be smarter, thinner, happier, more confident, less insecure, healthier, wealthier, better with my husband's money, you name it this conference was going to fix it.
My friend Veronica told me I could spend the weekend at her place, after the conference we were going to go shopping. Her husband John said he would take us out to eat so Veronica wouldn’t have to cook. The weekend was supposed to be fun and kid free; we were all looking forward to spending some quality time together right up until I called to cancel. “Hey John, it’s Jess. Is Veronica around?”
“She’s in the kitchen right now. What’s going on?” My feet had been up on the coffee table. I pulled a throw blanket down off the back of the couch and tucked it around my freezing feet. “Not much. I hate to call and cancel on you guys but I haven’t been feeling well so I’m afraid you and Veronica are going to have to spend the weekend by yourselves.”
“What’s the matter?” In the background I could hear Veronica. Her voice carries amazingly well. “She just about died John, give me that phone.” John must have relinquished the phone because the next voice I heard was Veronica’s. “Thanks for calling and telling me you were sick. How have things been?”
I put my head back on a throw pillow. My mug of tea seemed so far away. I decided to watch it instead of drink it. “Better. I’m still really tired. How are you feeling?” Veronica was eight months pregnant at the time. John had told me that she was getting to the crabby stage again. The clatter of dishes in the background faded, the front door squeaked open, I heard Veronica sigh after calling for her dog. “This baby better be early. My mom said that you passed out at the doctor’s office. Did you hit your head again?”
“No. I never passed out either.”
“What exactly happened?”
“I had an allergic reaction to my allergy shot. If you have to have an allergic reaction I recommend having one at the clinic. As it was I was really lucky. In another five or ten minutes Jane and I would have been in the car and who knows what I would have crashed into.”
“The best thing you could do for yourself is to come down here for the weekend. Don’t argue with me either.”
”I said don’t argue chicky babe. If you stay at home you won’t get anything done and you’ll worry about the laundry piling up. I already told John that he needs to do everything when you’re down here. He’s going to take us out on Friday. He’s making breakfast on Saturday and we can do brunch after church. Forget about your conference and come hang out with me.”
“I really appreciate it Veronica but I don’t think I have the energy to drive down.”
“I’ll come and get you. I have to work at the Northbrook store on Friday. I’ll buzz up to Wisconsin and pick you up as soon as I get off of work. Maybe I’ll even sneak out early. It’ll be fun.” I knew the offer was good. Veronica is one of the best friends I have but I was so exhausted it seemed like getting up off the couch required an extreme energy expenditure. “I’ll think about it.”
“I’ll pick you up around seven. Be ready or I’ll pack for you.” She would too. Veronica is a force of nature. You don’t argue with her and come out ahead. “I’ll think about it.” I leaned back and yawned. It would be nice to get away. Veronica would organize everything. I could eat and sleep when I wanted to and that’s most of what you need after you have an anaphylactic reaction. Your body has worked so hard trying to keep you alive you don’t have reserves for anything else. “I’ll throw some things together. We can meet at the outlet mall.”
“Are you going to be okay to drive?”
“I’ll ask one of my sisters if they can drop me off. How’s that?”
“Perfect. I have to go. My other line is ringing and I still have to talk to John about this weekend. Take care honey. Love you.”
“I love you too.” I set the phone down on the coffee table, I must have fallen asleep again because the next thing I remember was my husband coming home from work three hours later. He asked me how I was feeling, I told him about Veronica's plan and he agreed it was a good idea to go as long as Veronica was willing to drive.
On Friday, April 7, Veronica pulled into the parking lot at the outlet mall. My intentions to try and stay awake were good but I slept most of the way down to John and Veronica’s. They have a really nice home. Veronica is one of those people who can pick up three things from Target, spend a couple hundred dollars at some kitsch decorating place and the end result is homey, eclectic and fun. I like it for her but every time I go into her office I feel claustrophobic. John is always complaining about the crap Veronica leaves lying around. It’s a hot topic between the two of them, I try and stay out of it when they start arguing but things don’t always go according to plan. Veronica was showing me a new mirror she had purchased for the guest bathroom when John walked in on us. He saw the mirror, right away he wanted to know how much Veronica had spent on it and that’s when I suggested we all go out for a drink.
I knew John was mad at me for stepping in when I did. Veronica drives a sporty little Mercedes, John doesn’t like her car largely because it hasn’t been the most reliable of vehicles. He drives a sport utility vehicle, Veronica doesn’t like driving it when she’s pregnant because it’s hard to get up and behind the wheel. That night John insisted on driving, my idea was to call and order take-out but John had already made reservations. I didn't want John and Veronica to start arguing, I had the beginning of a headache forming so I put on my coat and grabbed my purse hoping we could go out to eat and come back early. Veronica made a face at me but in the end she decided she would go out with us. It was either that or sit at home alone and Veronica loves to go out.
On the way to the restaurant John and Veronica started fighting again. I love Chinese food which is why John chose the restaurant he did. Veronica knows how allergic I am to shellfish and I suppose that my recent incident at the doctor’s office reminded her of the times we’ve been in the emergency room together. Veronica has chronic asthma. She’s been hospitalized for it and now she works at an upscale children’s clothing boutique but she was a phlebotomist when she was in college so she has some medical training and plenty of experience with not being able to breathe.
At the restaurant I was introduced to a friend of John’s who owned the restaurant. John told us to order what we wanted and Veronica made sure the server knew exactly what would happen if there was cross-contamination in the kitchen. I once ruined a birthday party by biting into a fried clam strip. Veronica was one of the people who came with me to the emergency room. I have a medic alert bracelet I wear. I never leave home without that or my Epi-pen. The more allergic reactions you have the more severe they become and my recent experience at the clinic was still fresh in my mind.
The food was good and once we got into a conversation about people we knew the time flew by. John asked about the allergic reaction I had had. I told him as much as I could. I remember people telling me that they asked me what was wrong and this is what’s so dangerous about anaphylactic shock. You think you’re fine and you’re not. Apparently I had argued with the receptionist about being able to drive home. I'm sure John regretted asking about my experience because I went off on a ten minute tangent about what had happened at the clinic.
Veronica has been with me on other occasions when I’ve been in the emergency room so she added an amusing anecdote about the time a bee stung the back of my upper thigh and I had to drop my pants in front of a doctor we both thought was super hot. That was my cue to ask where the ladies' room was. Veronica came with me because it’s an unwritten rule that women can’t go to the bathroom by themselves. In this case I didn’t mind because as soon as I opened the door I knew I was going to vomit.
Fortunately nothing fazes Veronica, not even one of her friends throwing up in the bathroom sink of a very nice Chinese restaurant. She pulled her cell-phone out, called John and told him that we needed to leave. She asked me if I was okay. I don’t remember any of this but she tells me that I said I was fine. Veronica made John carry me out of the bathroom. Like I said, I don’t remember any of this but I’m sure people were wondering why John was carrying me and not his wife who was eight months pregnant.
When we arrived at the hospital people assumed Veronica was the patient. John said she handled things like a pro. Veronica is bossy but she also takes charge in power vacuums. John and Veronica spent the night hanging out with me. I faded in and out of consciousness. I have memories but none of them are very clear. Needless to say I ruined the entire weekend. After I was released from the hospital John and Veronica were afraid to let me out of their sight. Veronica, John and I all slept in the same bed together. Veronica made me stay in her room while she took a shower. I must have fallen back asleep after talking to her. Later on she gave me a framed picture of John and I sleeping together. Veronica had to go to work for a few hours so John and I woke up to the pictures she had printed off.
I tried to talk to John about what had happened but I was still tired, confused and not making much sense. He said I had scared the heck out of him. He still wasn’t sure how I went from talking about how nice it was to get away to throwing up in the bathroom and the back seat of his car. I know I joke around about a lot of things and it’s probably because of experiences like this. I’ll never be able to repay John and Veronica for helping me out that night. You can argue that anyone would have done what they did but others wouldn’t have been as nice about it and if Veronica wouldn’t have realized what was going on, keep in mind I told her I was “just fine”, I probably wouldn’t be around to relate this story to you.
John admitted that he thought Veronica was being paranoid. He thought I’d be fine. I have a tendency to be dramatic and he has since apologized for thinking that I had embellished stories of what it’s like to go through a near-death experience. The funny thing is I never realized how close to death I was. I didn’t see any bright flashes of light or have an out of body experience. When your body goes into shock your venous reserves are activated. Blood shunts away from your outer extremities to try and save your brain which is why your hands and feet start turning blue. Along with mass vaso-constriction your air passages start swelling. Within minutes you are fighting for every breath you take but you don’t realize that anything bad is happening because your brain isn’t processing sensory information. The only thing it’s trying to do is keep the blood flowing.
In my mind I was cold, unwell and coherent. To other people I was incoherent, pale and eventually non-responsive. If you ask other people who were there Veronica did everything she could have and then some but when you talk to her about it she said she was scared out of her mind, frantic and sure I was going to die. She said she should have called 911 and that is what she should have done. In the end things turned out okay but 911 would have been the smarter call to make. Veronica didn’t want to call because of the expense but if it truly is a life-threatening emergency the money doesn’t matter.
The punch line to this story is my insurance company wouldn’t cover my trip to the emergency room. Dinner and drinks were free because of the circumstances and everyone who works at Stir Crazy found out first-hand what happens when you use a utensil for one thing and inadvertently use it on something else. The writeup shaogo has done about food related allergies, intolerances and sensitivities is something I feel everyone should read. Food allergies can be deadly and if you want to know what real horror is like think about being in a restaurant and watching someone else fight for their life because of a mistake you made in the kitchen. Take food allergies and sensitivities seriously. As John and Veronica can explain at length and in great detail, you never know when someone else's life may depend on it.