The first thing I noticed was the pounding in my ears.
It wasn’t the dull throb of blood pumping into your brain like when you’re nervous or excited. I’ve experienced that pounding, and as deafening as it seemed at the time, it was nothing compared to the subwoofer that had been cranked up in my skull. I felt like one of those plastic dolls where you squeeze it to make its eyes and ears bug out.
I’m going to burst a vessel in my brain, I thought calmly. I think maybe all of the blood vessels in my brain are going to burst. I’ll have a stroke. I’ll be dead and they’ll say how I went just like my grandmother.
I was about twenty minutes into my second session of intravenous immunotherapy treatment when this started happening.
I think I’m having a reaction to something, I continued thinking.
No shit, dumbass.
But reacting to what?
Maybe the medication being pumped into your vein?
‘No, it can’t be my medication because I was fine for my last treatment two weeks ago. Maybe it was the peanut bar I’d just finished eating. It was probably that. Oh shit, I’m not going to be able to eat peanuts anymore. This sucks! I love peanut butter!’ I went to take a deep breath to sigh but found it difficult to accomplish this – which annoyed me. Scowling in concentration, I managed to suck a breath of oxygen into my protesting lungs.
I tried to say, “Ha!”, but all that came out in my exhalation was a cacophony of wheezing and whistling that sounded like a broken accordion. I registered this with surprise that I could still hear anything over the thundering in my ears, though it did make one thing apparent to me.
Well, ain’t this some shit, I thought. I’m pretty sure I’m going into anaphylactic shock. Great. I’m going to be the girl who had anaphylaxis. This is so embarrassing! Hmm. Maybe no one will notice.
I glanced around. Unlike my first visit two weeks ago, when nearly every chair had been filled with a person attached to an IV line, there were only about six other patients, and I was the only person in my row. None of the other patients were paying me any attention, and the lone nurse on duty was busying folding towels.
Good! I can bluff my way through this. If I don’t, then they’ll blame the medication and stop treatment. I heaved another painful breath into my lungs to sigh with relief except this time I had as much trouble getting the air out of my lungs as I did getting it into them.
Wait, am I still going to have a stroke? Can anaphylaxis give you a stroke? I noticed that the pounding in my ears was beginning to fade. I don’t think I’m going to have a stroke. If I can just breathe, then no one will ever know.
I arched my back in an effort to manually expand my lungs that were not cooperating at all.
“Are you okay?” The nurse was holding a towel up in mid-fold and staring at me.
Oh fuck! She noticed! Now she’ll tell everyone I had anaphylaxis. I’m going to be that anaphylactic chick. I’ll be that anaphylac-chick unless I think of something. Think, stupid!
“I think…I…just…need my…inhaler.” My tongue felt too thick around the words, so I clawed at my backpack and managed to pull out my inhaler to show the nurse what I meant.
“I think that’s a good idea,” the nurse told me as she dropped the towel and ran over to me.
Now if I can just get this in me, I looked at my inhaler, then she’ll think I just had an asthma attack. I leaned my head back, compressed the inhaler chamber, and breathed as hard as I could. A trickle of air managed to make it down my throat.
To my dismay, I watched as the nurse cut the IV line to my medication. I wanted to tell her to leave it run, that this was just an asthma attack, but I felt too tired to bother – and there she was already injecting my saline with something anyway. I fumbled to put my face mask back on to hide my irritation.
“No, leave that off,” the nurse told me putting an oxygen mask on my face instead. She wrapped a BP cuff around my arm and clipped a pulse ox to my finger. The reading flickered across the screen: 80.
I’d been in medicine for years, and I knew that number was a trip to the hospital if I didn’t do something…I just couldn’t remember what. Then I flashed to a memory of when my brother had anesthesia for the first time and his oxygen was fluctuating in recovery. “I know you’re woozy, brother, but take a deep breath or they’ll never let you out of here,” I’d told him. That’s when I remembered I just had to get in one good breath and they’ll let me go home.
I clenched my fists onto the arms of the chair and exerted everything I had to pull air into my chest. It burned like hell, and my lungs screamed at me stop torturing them but I kept inhaling until I thought I’d explode. Finally, I let it go and dropped forward as the rasping breath raced away from me. The pulse ox on my finger jumped to 90.
“I’m fine now,” I wheezed.
“If that number hadn’t just jumped up you wouldn’t have been fine,” the nurse told me. “You’re having anaphylaxis.”
“Yeah,” I gasped as I fell back into the chair. “She’s a real bitch.”
She’s also really fast. The time between the pounding starting to my chest constricting was about 90 seconds. I’m extremely thankful that the nurse wasn’t at her station like she usually was because if she hadn’t been on the floor and seen that I was going into shock, I’d most likely be dead.
As you probably guessed, I did react to my medication. Due to COVID-19 I had paused my treatment, and my body had used that time to make friggin’ antibodies to the medication. It’s not unheard of, in fact, at my first therapy session when I’d resumed treatment, they started giving me a histamine blocker before running my medication line in case this happened. I was fine at that first session, but at some point in the two weeks that followed, my body realized what was happening and went all not-in-my-house-mother-fucker at the next “invasion”.
My immune system is not backing down either because, despite increased measures to prevent it, I’ve gone into anaphylaxis during my immunotherapy ever since, because yes, I’m stupid to keep putting myself through this. And my doctor is fucked up enough to allow me to do it, but he’s a whole other ball of wax.
My family and friends are not enthusiastic about my decision, as I mentioned in my previous entry. A few of them have had a brush with anaphylaxis themselves and cannot understand why I’d put myself through such a terrifying experience, though as you can tell from my writing, I wasn’t scared at all. I don’t know if it was the lack of oxygen to my brain or if I’m just that cavalier about death anymore, but I was more annoyed than anything. To be honest though, I don’t have much choice. My treatment options are very limited due to my insurance, so it’s either suck it up or get sicker. It’s ironic, but in order to live I need to nearly kill myself every six weeks.
Yay, private healthcare.