‘Okay, nobody feel under any pressure to say anything interesting’ I said as I glanced nervously sideways to my two friends. We were at my Swansea garden bench with kitchen table sat haphazardly next to it on the bumpy grass. Two of my outgoing, energetic friends sat to the side of me in silence, each with a pint glass of wine in front of them.
Nobody had seen each other for months. ‘So, anything interesting happening in your life?’ I would be asked. ‘No, nothing. Literally nothing. I was thinking about hand-washing this really annoying hand-wash only dress yesterday, but then it didn’t happen.’ Thankfully, most of our stories were boring ones. Lockdown has meant something different for everyone, and for me it’s left me understanding that I am in fact quite lazy, I enjoy taking my time to do things and we can rush to do boring things when we’re dead.
But I did also have my own unique experience this weekend, which I’ll share with you now partly because it’s medically interesting, and partly because it scared the absolute shite out of me.
I was sat having a tasty breakfast of yoghurt, granola, banana and nuts in the Dorset sunshine, chatting away to my boyfriend and his mum. Trying to defend my somewhat snobby notion that it’s ‘easy to get into Cambridge’, which I should never say in front of anyone, which makes everyone instantly hate me and I’m not sure why I’m writing it here. I felt myself become dopey. I couldn’t think straight. Maybe my dopiness was why I even mentioned this totally offensive ‘opinion’ of mine.
I felt a familiar sensation, overwhelming heat, darkness swirling in from the sides of my vision. ‘I’m going to pass out’ I suddenly announced, and half-stacked, half-fell as I flung myself desperately onto the rug in the back room. Pain started to build in my abdomen unlike anything I’d ever felt before, agonising twisting and tugging. And this is coming from coeliac with IBS whose spleen has exploded in the past.
Fuck, I thought. I’m going to shit myself. I’m going to pass out, and then shit myself whilst passed out, in front of my boyfriend and his parents. So for the second time in my life, I experienced the process of desperately trying to drag myself to a toilet, and expel a turd before losing consciousness and sliding back onto the floor. I did manage to wipe, I did not manage to flush.
When I came round, my boyfriend was with me. The pain was building. I couldn’t bear it. I started to wildly wonder what on earth was happening to me. Sweat ran down my body as I shook with agony and the stabbing and twisting in my guts intensified. As numbness started to spread up my hands and feet, they turned white and my nails turned purple. My boyfriend pressed down on my nail and released it, a crude measure of blood supply to the peripheries. ‘Is it less than 2 seconds’? I squeaked, remembering my medical textbook definition of a normal capillary refill time. He only looked at me sadly. ‘What’s happening to me?’
I knew I was going into shock.
My brain searched through the options. Burst stomach ulcer? I did have gastritis and had been overeating somewhat lately… ‘Rona? Holy mother of shite, did I have ‘rona? …. Or could this be allergic?
I couldn’t really sit up without passing out again. But I did for enough time for my boyfriend to pass me an antihistamine, on the off-chance this was some extremely strange allergic reaction. Incredibly, within minutes, my abdo pain eased. It still hurt, but it wasn’t dominating my every fibre of my existence anymore. I felt I could sit up, and as a result was transferred from the bathroom floor to the sofa. I weakly leaned back and tried to process what had just happened as the pain eased.
At the same time, I noticed loads of really annoying rock-hard crap stuck at the back of my throat, and wildly started trying to pick it out, occasionally retching revoltingly. My ear canals became insanely unbearably itchy. And then all of me was itchy. As I leaned forward, my boyfriend saw huge welts had appeared on my back. And then on my stomach. And then around my lips and up my arms. The boy rang 111, then looked back at me. ‘No’, he said. ‘This is ridiculous. We’re going to A&E.’
The breathlessness had returned, my throat was tightening, the rash was spreading. My boyfriend sat next to me in the car, as a veteran of anaphylaxis, he had two epi-pens ready to fire. They didn’t mess around in A&E, sending me straight to majors.
Of course, as soon as I got there I decided I was fine. Bored, I wanted to leave. Was the rash really that bad? I mean, the worst of it had been the painful collapse and the abdo pain. Yes I suppose, I thought to myself, the throat constricting was probably concerning. My lovely friend who works in the department visited me with some words of comfort. Of course, no visitors allowed. She nudged three starburst towards me which I devoured with delight.
A&E were incredibly efficient. My nurse was fantastic. After being given the all clear to go home, she noticed that I couldn’t sit or stand without passing out, something the doctor had failed to notice. So the cannula went back in, and I watched impatiently as hydrocortisone was squirted into me and saline drip drip dripped into my veins.
I was sent home with a goody bag of prednisolone. I felt completely wiped.
I feel strange after this experience. It happened so fast. It was fucking weird. It was scary. And now I’m scared of food. Not enough to stop me eating, but enough to make me think. Things can change so quickly.
Going back to my garden party in Swansea, we of course all had a wonderful time, danced on tables, yelled profanities at each other, and a small amount of wine-induced vomiting took place. I’m so grateful for what I have, and I’m so sorry for those who have lost so much over these past few months. I’m taking the positives forward from my atypical anaphylaxis. I’ve learned just how much an allergic reaction can cause your blood pressure to plummet leading to collapse, and also that anaphylaxis can cause a rise in neutrophil count (who knew, right!?). The abdominal pain remains a mystery.
Anyway, if you’ve got this far in my rant, I hope you’re happy and healthy and enjoying the company of those around you. And if they randomly collapse, consider anaphylaxis.
**** There are lots of stories of the different ways anaphylaxis can present online. Mostly posted by parents about their children, and many of which describe how odd the symptoms can be. I recommend a read of them. An example is here: