To the editor:
One morning about 2:30 a.m. I awoke abruptly from deep sleep acutely aware something was terribly wrong.
My tongue was the size of my fist, the floor of my mouth swollen upward over an inch, and my ability to breathe severely limited. It was anaphylactic shock, which can kill in minutes, and was worsening.
Anaphylactic shock, an emergency allergy reaction, has become more common in the last few years, partly due to food allergies, but also due to medications. In my case the culprit was tiny doses of a medication I'd been taking for months.
A person in anaphylactic shock MUST get to a hospital quickly. Doses of epinephrine can usually control the reaction.
However, don't panic. If you move too quickly your need for oxygen will surpass your ability to breathe, bringing unconsciousness and possible death.
Knowing this, I slowly pulled on clothes, walked slowly to my car, and sped to a hospital not knowing if I'd make it. I felt I hadn't time to wait for an ambulance, a fact verified by the ER doc. Inserting an emergency airway for me was impossible. There simply wasn't room for it. The reaction was too advanced.
I had an IV in my hand in seconds through which was pumped large vials of epinephrine, and potent antihistamines. As an ER nurse crept near with what I knew to be an emergency tracheotomy kit, the young doc paced about watching me like a cat ready to pounce.
My reaction stopped worsening just before the tracheotomy kit was used. I was lucky.
I know another fellow in town with the same experience, a narrowly avoided midnight tracheotomy, also caused by a medication taken for months prior.
Many medications now carry warnings about severe reactions. They MUST be taken seriously. Some won't cause a reaction for a long time, and then hit like a tsunami.
Don't panic and move fast if anaphylactic shock occurs, but get to a hospital quickly as possible. Don't ignore symtoms of anaphylactic shock, and be aware some medications may not cause a reaction for many months of exposure, and then do so. These points could save your life.
Those who know they have an anaphylactic shock risk should obtain a prescription for self-injecting epinephrine. Having it can give you vital time to get to a hospital if anaphylactic shock hits. Seconds count.
A self injector is a device you simply pound to your upper leg and it injects epinephrine automatically, exactly like the ones in military chemical warfare kits do. They can be life savers. Anaphylaxis is a truly awful experience to be avoided. Believe me, I know.