It finally happened.
I’ve been away at college now for over 5 months. I’ve gotten into a routine at my student restaurant. I may not have much variety, but it has always been safe. Grilled Chicken, french fries, and salad. Turkey burger, french fries, and salad. Grilled chicken, gluten free pasta, and salad. Occasionally a BLT sandwich. My food is always prepared on a separate pan. It isn’t a riveting diet, but I’m fed. For me, eating a meal has never been about the food, but about the social experience, and I’ve created so many positive friendships during meals at CUA. But it finally happened. I should have predicted that it would happen eventually, but I always try to hope for the best.
February 4, 2017. 1:15pm. Turkey burger, french fries, and salad. Location: Student Restaurant.
February 4, 2017. 1:45pm. Itchy tongue. Location: Walking down the street to the school swim meet.
February 4, 2017. 1:55pm. Determined that I’m having an allergic reaction. Itchy tongue, single hive on my chest. A sense of panic comes over me, but outwardly I stay calm. Location: School swim meet.
February 4, 2017. 2:00pm. Itchy tongue, slightly itchy throat, minimal hives, ears are hot, and I’m having trouble hearing. Location: I have left the swim meet and am now walking down the sidewalk. My friend comes with me to retrieve my Benadryl, which should have been in my backpack with my Epi-pen and inhaler, but must have fallen out.
February 4, 2017. 2:10pm. Itchy tongue, slightly itchy throat, minimal hives, ears are hot, muffled hearing, sudden congestion, wheezing. I take my inhaler. Location: Sidewalk. My friend runs ahead to meet another friend who got Benadryl from my dorm room.
February 4, 2017. 2:15pm. Itchy tongue, slightly itchy throat, hives, ears are hot, muffled hearing, sudden congestion, no longer wheezing, tears have arrived. Location: Sitting on the corner of the street as I take the Benadryl.
February 4, 2017. 2:17pm. My mom is on the phone with my friend because I couldn’t talk to her through my tears. Simultaneously, my friend calls the campus health center, but they’re closed because it’s Saturday. We decide to call campus police who in turn call for an ambulance. Location: En route to my dorm room.
February 4, 2017. 2:30pm. My mom is back on the phone, jumping between me and two of my friends. My symptoms are still relatively minimal. I’m conscious and have no trouble breathing. I now have full-on hives on the back of my neck. I’m terrified at the possibility of having to use my Epi-pen for the first time. Location: Dorm room with a campus police officer as we wait for the ambulance.
February 4, 2017. 2:40pm. Ambulance has arrived. Location: Lobby of my dorm building. EMS team takes my vitals. My heart rate and blood pressure are way above normal, my hives are now running down my back and arms, and I’m starting to get the chills. I watch in awe as my friend recites all of my food allergies perfectly so EMS can write them down. I am calm, but scared. My past allergic reactions have always just resulted in me throwing up. I’ve never experienced anything like this.
February 4, 2017. 2:45pm. EMS determine that I am more than likely having an allergic reaction but I am not in critical condition. They call for a different ambulance that has the ability to take me to the hospital of my choice. They tell me that they haven’t seen a reaction like this in a long time. Location: Lobby of my dorm building. Someone has brought me a chair. I watch as people walk by my building, curious as to why there is an ambulance outside and what is happening. They turn and see me through the glass doors. Some are friends that look on in concern, but respectfully walk past, scared to interrupt the crowd of people around me.
February 4, 2017. 3:00pm. Most of my symptoms seem to be decreasing with the Benadryl starting to kick in, though I’m still a little itchy and still can’t hear well. Location: I am in transport to the hospital. This new EMS team notices that my cheeks seem to be slightly swollen and flushed.
February 4, 2017. 3:05pm. I just got off the phone with my mom, who has now offered to drive 4 hours to come to me. I tell her no; by the time she arrives my reaction will be long over. But I can hear in her voice that she’s still scared. This was definitely one of her biggest fears about sending me to college. Location: We have arrived at the hospital. I’m glad it’s so close to my campus.
At the hospital as I sit in the waiting room, a wave of exhaustion rolls over me. I don’t feel like I have any obvious symptoms left, except difficulty hearing. At around 4:00pm a nurse checks my vitals. My heart rate and blood pressure are back to normal. They tell me while I wait for a doctor that if I think my symptoms are starting to reappear in the common “Second Wave” to go to the front desk immediately. Fortunately, that never happens. Around 4:30pm I am given a room. When I finally see a doctor around 5:30pm, he examines the remnants of my no-longer-itchy hives, determines that my throat is not swollen, and that the only issue with my ears is a build up of ear wax that probably occurred from swelling. He tells me that it was definitely an allergic reaction but that I took all the right steps. I am given a few prescriptions and told that I’m safe to return to campus, but if any symptoms start to reappear at all, at any point, I should return to them immediately. Fortunately, that doesn’t happen either.
Now I know all of you who have experience with food allergies might be asking, “Why didn’t you use your Epi-pen?” I can tell you why: I was scared. I’ve never had to use it before. But more importantly than that, I was quickly under the surveillance of a campus police officer trained to handle these situations, and soon after that, EMS arrived. They told me that if my symptoms did not recede by the time I arrived at the hospital, the doctors there might have to inject me. But my symptoms did go away. I was surrounded by trained adults that I trusted, and I never felt that I reached the point where an Epi-pen was necessary. However, I can predict that if I didn’t get that Benadryl in my system so quickly, there’s a very good chance that I would have had to use it. But I fully believe that everyone followed the right protocol yesterday. The most important thing is that I am safe and feel better.
February 4, 2017. I had my first allergic reaction at college. I spent the rest of my night in bed as people came in and out of my room to check up on me. I feel blessed that I have such amazing friends that not only helped me when I needed it most but took care of the situation calmly.