Nuts, Allergies & A New Perspective – An Anaphylactic Adventure

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Allergies. Always a fun thing, and something which I have lived with all my life. I mean I am allergic to pretty much everything: apart from having bad asthma and being lactose intolerant I am also allergic to tree pollen, grass pollen, dust mites, strawberries, kiwis, pineapple, cats, dogs, horses, rabbits etc etc…..and NUTS.

Up until fairly recently I’ve always been pretty ‘lax about it all. I mean, sure, it’s annoying having to chug down antihistamines by the bucket load all year round, and being all itchy and stuff is not much fun, but all in all I have been pretty unconcerned about it. In spite of having been rushed to hospital a number of times, I’ve just never really taken any of my allergies particularly seriously, never thought of them as something potentially life-threatening. That is until a little while ago, when, having inadvertently eaten something which contained nuts at a seder meal, I went into anaphylaxis.

It was a delayed reaction, so I was already on the bus on the way home, when it struck, and when it did, boy did it strike hard and fast. Even though I could instantly feel that this was very different to an ordinary reaction or to an asthma attack, I of course got my inhaler out and started puffing away. Only it wasn’t helping. At all. And this is when I got really scared. My tongue was swelling up and my throat was closing, and I really didn’t know what to do. Thankfully the guy who was sitting next to me [who didn’t know me at all] must have also realised that something was very seriously wrong, because – without even asking me if I needed help – he got his phone out and called 999 while at the same time [incredibly impressively] had the presence of mind to call out to the driver to stop the bus so he could tell the emergency service where we were. Within only a few minutes the paramedics arrived [one of the definite advantages of living in a big city], gave me a shot of adrenaline, transferred me to the ambulance, hooked me up to an IV drip and took me to the hospital. They gave me another shot of adrenaline and added some sort of steroid – I think – to the drip. To be honest, even though they told me exactly what they were doing, I wasn’t really with it enough to properly take it in. All I know is that by the time I got to the hospital I was breathing fine, and so as soon as the doc came to see me I was like “Can I go now?”

Not knowing all that much about anaphylaxis I figured that all was fine and well; the adventure was over, I was exhausted and just wanted to get home and to bed. But the doctor insisted on me hanging around. By the time I finally got discharged it was just gone 2 a.m. Had I known at the time about the high risk of anaphylactic relapse once the adrenaline stops working, I probably would not have badgered the doc to discharge me ASAP.

I was clearly in shock, because while waiting for the doctor to agree to discharge me I updated my Facebook status with a comment about being at A&E of Hospital X, when in fact, it later turned out I was actually at Hospital Y. Just as well that I turned down my friends’ very kind offers of coming out to see me, ‘cause I would have sent them to the wrong hospital.

The day after, I was still pretty blasé about the whole thing, joking about it with some friends I was meeting up with. Even their telling me off for not ringing them had much of an effect. It wasn’t until later that evening that it finally hit home: I could have died. In fact, had the stranger on the bus not acted as quickly as he did, I most likely would have.

As a consequence I have now been to see my GP and have been issued with an EpiPen and strict instructions to never ever take any risks with nuts. I have trained friends and house mates alike on how to administer the injection, should I be unable to do so myself, and I read food labels religiously.

This experience really has jolted me into action, into taking my allergies seriously. And it has also highlighted something quite important: that although I in an odd way feel almost OK with the idea of suicide, should life get me to that point, I would not want to die without feeling that I was ready for it.

I’ve spent a number of sessions with A. talking about this. About the difference between choosing to die and just dying. I know it’s a bit of an odd concept, but in many ways it makes sense. It’s not the dying I’m necessarily afraid of, it’s the not being ready, the fear of not being given the chance to say goodbye to those I love.

This, by the way, should not be interpreted as me saying that I am going to kill myself tomorrow, or even the day after that; it’s just a way for me to explain why, suddenly, I feel almost paranoid about eating things. It’s that unpredictability factor, the inability to control things. I can check and double-check food labels, but there are no guarantees. And it really scares me.

So, from now on, my EpiPen and I are joint at the hip.

xx

PS. Why oh why is word check telling me I mean ‘profylaxis’ every time I type anaphylaxis..?

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Because Tomorrow Might Be Good For Something

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“..I’m not crazy, I’m just a little unwell
I know, right now you can’t tell
But stay awhile and maybe then you’ll see
A different side of me..”

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I guess there are no easy ways to talk or write about this, but as this is supposed to be an honesty-focused blog I’ll just tell it to you straight: last week I accidentally on purpose overdosed on my medication. It really wasn’t a bid to end my life, at least I don’t think it was [although I accept that others may disagree]; I didn’t even take all the tablets I had, but it was still a significant enough dose to potentially do some damage. I know my meds pretty well, and I would like to think that I know what would and wouldn’t kill me, but, the truth is – of course – that there is no way to know for sure just how much a of a medication would be lethal for a specific individual; what’s safe for one person may well be fatal for another. In some weird and rather irrational way, it was more like I was testing if it would be possible to swallow enough tablets in one sitting to get to a lethal dose. I think that was my confused logic, anyway, [which, obviously, isn’t logic at all].

I did frighteningly well in terms of establishing that it would indeed be possible, had I wanted to take more pills than I did. But, the second I had swallowed the first lot I instantly regretted it, and I decided I should go to A&E, since the meds I’m on [Amitriptyline] are known to be very toxic. In fact, the highest therapeutic dose is not that far off a dose that would be classified as toxic, and that is the precise reason why Amitriptyline is only prescribed as a last resort, when all other types of anti-depressants have failed.

Again, entirely irrationally, I decided that rather than calling for an ambulance I would get on a night bus to my local A&E, so I got myself out, started walking to the bus stop and only just missed the bus, so I carried on walking in the general direction of the hospital. After a while I began to get really unsteady on my feet, but was still clear enough to realise that passing out on the streets of London on a Saturday night would not be a great idea, especially with a lot of drunk people out and about. So I went back home, got on my bed and blacked out before I could call for an ambulance.

When I woke up it was all dark, so I thought that it was still night, but when I looked at the time on my mobile I realised that it was in fact the next evening, and I’d been out cold for nearly 24 hours and had missed several calls and texts from worried friends. This really freaked me out, since I normally wake from even the quietest of noises.

That evening I again attempted to get to A&E, but was simply still too wobbly and I had to give up and go home again. On Thursday I had an appointment with my GP, and I told her honestly what I had done, and that since I don’t even really know why I did it, or at least, the logic in the moment really wasn’t logic at all, I really needed some extra support. She heard me and then asked whether I wanted to call the mental health crisis resolution team myself, or if I wanted her to do it. I opted for the latter, because I know I would most likely have gone home and talked myself out of ringing them.

So, at the moment I am seeing the crisis team every other day. I’m not suicidal, at least not on a conscious level, but I also think that having some extra support over the next few days is a good idea, wherever that support comes from.

The crisis team, being tied to the NHS, have, as they always do, questioned both my therapy and my therapist on the grounds that they are not NHS and must therefore automatically be harmful to me.

That really makes me angry, since I am a big believer in psychotherapy in general, and in my therapy in particular. For me, psychotherapy is the most appropriate way of disentangling my thoughts and emotions, and to ultimately get away from the intrusive flashbacks and nightmares which push me to act out in this rather extreme way.

That said, what with my therapist being on maternity leave, I do feel that as much as the crisis team and I have very different ways of understanding psychotherapy and the effect it has, I am still glad to be seen by them, because it means that, should I act out again, or miss a scheduled appointment [whatever the reason] they would send the police and ambulance round to check on me, as I am in effect an out-patient and they have a duty of care. Also, they are available to talk to 24/7, should I find myself struggling with thoughts of self-harm or suicide. I can’t promise I would definitely call them if that happened – in fact – I’m fairly certain that I wouldn’t, but at least the option is there.

Hopefully things will improve soon, so I can start looking forward rather than backward, because, who knows..

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“..tomorrow might be good for something..”

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xx

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Heading, and quotes at the beginning and end of this entry are from Matchbox 20‘s track Unwell. © Rob Thomas