Three years have gone by since I coded in a Maryland hospital. I had been admitted three days prior, for biphasic anaphylaxis to an accidental shellfish exposure. Biphasic anaphylaxis is recurring anaphylaxis after appropriate treatment, without additional exposure to the allergen. My doctor was stumped, because anaphylactic shock was occurring well outside the 72-hour window for biphasic anaphylaxis to be the sole culprit.
Before coding, I remember the nurse administering the same IV cocktail from eight hours prior (Solu-Medrol, Benadryl and Famotidine). Moments after she left the room, my heart began to race, blood pressure skyrocketed, throat began to close and my right arm, with the IV, swelled to three times its normal size. My worst-case scenario was unfolding. The two main health conditions of my lifetime were preparing to battle it out: supraventricular tachycardia (heart) and asthma (lungs), while my body was initiating an allergic reaction.
I saw my nurse run in, immediately followed by the sound of a code being called for my room. As the space around my bed flooded with new faces, I remember saying, “no iodine” to anyone in earshot, while pointing to the allergy bracelet on my wrist (iodine is in one of the drugs used to treat an SVT episode). A tear streamed down my cheek. My body violently convulsed. And I was certain the moment my eyes closed, it would be for the final time. The last words I heard were, “she’s allergic to iodine,” “start a new line” and, “prepare to intubate.”
Drugs were pushed through a new IV, intubation was miraculously avoided and my eyes opened again. Initially, I was more relieved knowing my mom was not going to receive a phone call in the middle of the night (I made her go home to sleep in a bed), than to actually be alive. As it turned out, I unknowingly developed an allergy to Benadryl. One of the primary drugs pushed into my bloodstream, three times a day, for eight days straight.
Two days later, I was discharged. For the first three months, I basically slept and worked from bed. Initial recovery took six months, due to adverse side effects from all the medication used in the hospital. A full recovery was another year later, after adhering to a strict low histamine food diet.
Solo travel was exhausting. Moving to Portland, across the country from my entire family, felt reckless. And I needed to find a way to avoid my life-threatening food allergens (shellfish, fish, seaweed and eggs) at an extreme level. My brother suggested living in a bubble.
At the same time, I escaped death and had a surge of desire to live life to the fullest. Travel more. Live in my favorite places. Capture photographs daily. Spend time with the people I love most. Meet new people. Convince my family this was all a grand idea.
My life today is a true juxtaposition. On one side, there is the sense of freedom to travel and work wherever the wind blows. Fulfilling my greatest passions and living the life I am meant to live. On the other, the harsh reality that my allergens dictate every single move I make. I wear gloves in public spaces when touching anything. Eating out is a luxury I no longer enjoy. Air travel is a no go. Seaside towns during peak season terrify me. And I turn away hugs from people who recently ate seafood.
My life nearly ended three years ago, because I unknowingly touched a surface with shellfish residue, washed my hands, then ate cereal (with my hands) while cruising down I-95. The chain of events to follow served as a reminder of one simple truth. Life it short.
I chose to take this second chance and live freely, with an abundance of allergen caution.