Sunday, February 16, 2014

When you have allergies…

When you have allergies, life is and becomes more challenging. Mine happen to be drug allergies. Most stuff I’m just plain old allergic to. Then there’s extra special stuff that really does a number on me.

I have life-threatening (anaphylaxis) allergies to latex (not uncommon), all local anaesthetics (a bit more out there) and tetracycline. The second and third items are a huge problem. Can you get stitches or dental work done without a local? Nope. They have to use a general anaesthetic. Put you to sleep. Maybe never wake up again. And you won’t know because you’re “under”. No more “I love you”. No goodbyes. Super scary stuff. More in a bit.

Tetracycline is another one. In addition to the Hanta virus I had contracted in September of 1993, this stuff damn near killed me. It was a reaction the staff at the Foothills had never seen before. The guys from Infectious Diseases got called in. Let that one sink in. Doctors from Infectious Diseases in a hospital called to see you because no one understands what’s happening. Had I been travelling anywhere? No. Just visiting near Medicine Hat with my boyfriend – seeing his family. No, I hadn't eaten any exotic fruits or vegetables brought in from who-knows-where. Haven’t met anyone new from out of the country, as of late. Endless questions. They were as equally baffled as I was. My body was shutting down.

OMG I hurt so bad. I can’t think properly. My head is pounding. I’m freezing. Please get me another blanket. Only to be told “Sorry sweetie, we can’t do that. We have to bring your temperature down.” I didn’t get it. I was absolutely frozen. How were they supposed to bring my temperature down when I was so damn cold? What I didn’t understand is my temperature was spiking again. 106F to be precise. And it had been doing this for two days already. Or was it three. I honestly can’t remember. A lot of brain cells died during that time. Plus I had a migraine I didn’t know was a migraine. Right side of my face was really swollen. Eye half swollen shut. Really threw them off. Did a CT scan and was inconclusive for intra-cranial swelling. Confusing. But back to the treatment I was about to receive.

They had to cool me down. And quickly. It started with a wash cloth and cold water. It was excruciating. Then came the ice. I thought I knew what pain was because I've had broken bones before. It has nothing on having a high-grade fever and needing to bring it down by being packed in ice. Surrounded by it. Piled on top. I’m sure other patients and their loved ones thought someone was being murdered. I felt like it.

After an hour of this, they gave it a rest. It wasn't getting it down as far as they would like and was hurting me massively. They had to let it cycle down on it’s own. But my temperature was at least down to about 102F now. Not so life-threatening. A couple hours later I was admitted and moved to a room upstairs. The head of internal medicine and his entourage eventually saw me and declared there was nothing wrong with me. In spite of having to have repeated nodules of Ventolen and having to wear an oxygen mask constantly. Yeah, bright one. Not sure if he’s still working or not.

It came to light a few months later what the problem was. Because the two other family members that had gotten ill had their blood work sent to the CDC in Atlanta, it was confirmed as Hanta virus. Why couldn’t I have doctors like they did? There were about 13 cases of Hanta in Alberta that year and I was one of a handful of survivors. I believe eight or nine died that year. I count my blessings. Even having my immune system buggered for years and losing 1/3 of my lung capacity. I develop pneumonia easily. But, I’m still alive to tell this. I’ll take it.

Another brush with death came in the form of lidocaine in 1999. Nope. The 90’s were most definitely not good to me. I had been diagnosed with cancer (cervical) for the first time in January. After a few doctors appointments and me explaining to the doctor doing the “procedure” (it’s called a cone biopsy) I was allergic to novocaine, she called the pharmacy at the hospital and the pharmacist told her lidocaine should be just fine. I had serious doubts. They were not unfounded.

She proceeded to inject my cervix with the monster needle carrying the lidocaine. After several seconds I mentioned my lips and tongue were feeling really numb. I was told it should be fine. Then after several more seconds I told her I really wasn't feeling very well. Then about five or seven seconds after that, everything started closing in. Going grey. My heart was slowing down rapidly. I could barely breathe. My autonomic system was shutting down. It was being paralysed. Then I started having a massive seizure. My heart rate has dropped to about 35 beats per minute and I couldn't even tell you how many breaths I was able to take as I was heading into respirator arrest/paralysis. I was trying to focus on my heartbeat as that's what was pounding in my head amidst the grey.

Super. I’m being paralysed by the local, my body’s reacting badly and the doctor is still injecting me with the stuff! The nurse gets a hold of the situation by pushing the doctor out of the way, removes the syringe and takes off out of the room to get – what I can only guess – is a large dose of Benadryl. This is not going well. Not at all. I can see the doctor out of the corner of my eye and she’s hanging onto the counter she’s backed into like she’s holding the whole building up. The nurse comes back in and snaps at her to help roll me onto my side so she can inject me. With that done it takes several minutes for the seizure to subside. It’s a further 45 minutes before they can move me to a “recovery” room. They wanted me out of there sooner but I couldn't walk and they sure didn't want to call reinforcements in.

I managed to walk out about an hour and a half after this whole episode. That doctor is now in an administrative position.

Latex. Well, that one stems from a furniture manufacturer that used it on the arms and legs of their chairs and being exposed to it like that, becomes a toxic substance your body can’t deal with. I go bright red & can’t breathe – anaphylactic shock. My former doctor diagnosed me as having whooping cough even though I hadn’t been in contact with anyone or place where I could have contracted it and no cases had been reported that year. Brilliant. So, lesson learned. Stay away from latex. This includes balloons which I happen to love.

Fortunately for me these are the worst of it – that I know of. I’m just plain old allergic to almost every antibiotic out there and an antidepressant. I try like hell to take care of myself for obvious reasons. When I have to fill a new prescription at the pharmacy, I always get a long, sideways look from the staff and the third degree from the pharmacist on duty. Yeah, no kidding.

So if you think you’re having a rough day, just remember there’s someone out there fighting for their life in ways we can’t even begin to imagine. And count your lucky stars. I do. Every. Damn. Day.

Peace, Love & Health

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