Write Your Own Adventure
I have allergies. Of the life-threatening sort. Not like hay fever or food intolerances or skin rashes (although I do appreciate how frustrating and painful they can be). Nope, my allergies are of the anaphylactic variety.
Sometimes this includes a tingling of the lips, an itchiness near the wrists or a loss of sensation on my face. Invariably, it results in the swelling and closure of my airways. Inevitably this means I lose consciousness. The amount of time that this process takes can vary depending on which of the various allergens that trigger my anaphylaxis have rudely chosen to pop up in my presence.
Sometimes it is instantaneous. One minute I am fine. The next, I am unconscious.
Sometimes I have a minute or two. Then I lose consciousness.
Occasionally, I have several minutes before I – surprise!- lose consciousness.
These interim spaces are always blanks in my memory. People who have been with me tell me that I become vague, spacey. My eyes start to roll. My lips turn blue. If I am incredibly lucky (this is sarcasm) I get red blotches on my skin.
When I reach the stage of being unconscious, this means that oxygen has been cut from the brain. It can take as little as eight seconds without oxygen for brain cells to die.
The first time I had a reaction, I slipped in and out of consciousness for thirty minutes. Oxygen deprivation was severe. My pulse was threading. For periods it was imperceptible to the doctor in attendance. I was very lucky. My brain cells didn’t die and neither did I. Even luckier, medical science has come up with a way to stop anaphylactic reactions once they get under way. Epinephrine. Delivered in the form of epi pens. I carry two with me at all times. I can’t go anywhere without them.
Every time that I have had anaphylactic attacks since being equipped with Epi pens, I have been lucky. The after effects may leave me debilitated and with chest pain that takes days to abate but I am alive. And not brain damaged. Good things, both.
It goes without saying that these kind of shenanigans can be quite alarming. Having an otherwise healthy twenty-five year old girl drop unconscious would be scary enough if you didn’t know her. For my family, it’s a nightmare. I wear one of these pretty things. It’s a MedicAlert and on the back of the oval are instructions for anyone who finds me unconscious.
Loved ones aside, these attacks are kind of scary for me. Quite forcefully, they remind me that I am mortal and that a rather large number of everyday items and substances could be responsible for my premature death. Unfortunately, the things that trigger my anaphylaxis are not always avoidable. Peanuts, for one, would seem easy to avoid consuming. The only thing is, I don’t actually need to consume them myself for a reaction to occur. The person next to me could be eating a peanut. Other allergens (and the list is boringly long) include such irritatingly ubiquitous things as pesticide, mould, soy milk, tea and uncooked tomatoes.
Short of running around in a bubble, there is absolutely nothing I can do about this.
Nothing. Nada. Zilch. Zip. Zero.
It’s the ultimate in having no control. It’s a perfectionist’s worst nightmare.
But it’s life. Anaphylaxis is a pretty extreme example but, at the end of the day, we’re all going to come across things in our life that we have no control over but which impact us in big ways. Hopefully these things will be mostly positive. Sometimes, they won’t be. We don’t get to choose that. What we do get to choose is how we deal with them.
I refuse to be defined by anaphylaxis. Sometimes it slows me down. I intend to keep getting back up. Winston Churchill was onto something when he said: ‘Never never never give up.’ It’s a motto worth living by.