Monday, August 4, 2008

Anaphylaxis Adventure: Part 2

Sunday (7/27)

I was eating a burrito left over from a restaurant dinner the night before.   I boiled some carrots to eat with it (gotta be healthy) and was looking forward to a nutritious meal.  I ate about a tablespoon full of the burrito, some of the carrots... then stopped.  and felt like something was wrong. This was at 9pm.  My lips and mouth felt tingly and my throat felt like it was beginning to swell.  I tried to shake it off and convince myself that I was probably just anxious, but the symptoms got worse and it began to feel like I was running into sheets of pins and needles in my chest and all down my arms and legs.    I took a packet of pills left over from a reaction I had had earlier in the week and tried to calm down.   

I called a friend at 1:20am.  "I'm wondering if I'm just freaking myself out here or if there's really something wrong." I asked her.  "Go for a walk," she advised.  "Clear your head.  If it gets to the point where you feel like you've been running on a treadmill and you can't catch your breath, then I'd be concerned." 

At 3:55am, when my lungs started to itch and breathing was clearly becoming a problem, I felt like I would have to do the inevitable.  I prepared myself and the plan was to shoot the Epi and then call 119 (the Korean 911) immediately after.  I found the numbers of two major university hospitals, as well as a translation service and the Daegu emergency line (#1339) I backed myself into a corner, uncapped the Epi pen, counted to three, and then "swung and jabbed" into my thigh.  I heard a click, felt a pinch in my leg, and then counted to ten (and then to ten again) to make good and sure that all the medicine had been deployed.  I finally pulled my hand away from my leg and felt a trickle of fluid run down my thigh.  "OH great," I thought.  "The epi wasn't finished going in."  Not so, as the metallic tang filled the air and a dark line of blood appeared beneath the hem of my pants and pooled into my shoe.  The epi pen needle is about an inch long and I later discovered that I had scratched myself as I pulled it out of my leg. 

Next up, I dialed 119 and got someone one the phone.  Had no idea what he was saying, and it took a few call backs, (with me repeating "EMERGENCY!" and "ENGLISH!" they were finally able to put an English speaker on the phone who was able to understand my apartment address.  According to the Seoul national government website, 119 is equipped with global positioning satellite tracking technology, but I'm not sure how reliable that technology is with cell phones.  To anyone who may have to dial 119, don't stop calling until someone repeats your address back to you. 

Once they confirmed my location, the ambulance was flashing down my side street within 10 minutes.  In the meantime, I called a co-worker who has similar allergies and asked her to come meet me with her epi pen, just in case I required another dose.  I had no idea if this ambulance carried on-board adrenaline or if the hospital would be equipped to handle me.  These stouthearted co-workers set off to meet me at my apartment, but the ambulance beat them to it.  "We just saw your ambulance go the other direction," she said.  "I'm not sure where they're taking me," I answered.  "It sounded like Chilgok Catholic something..." which it was, but I had no idea how to get there.  So the stouthearted co-workers were awakened for nothing, but I am forever grateful for their offer of aid. 

The ambulance dropped me off at the Chilgok Catholic University ER and the attending Doc spoke English well enough to ask me about my symptoms.  I first asked him in a panic if they had Epinephrine.  "Yes," he said.  "We have Epinephrine.  Do you want Epinephrine?"  "I'm not sure."  I told him I was having an episode of anaphylaxis and he prescribed a shot of Dexamethasone (an anti-histamine), Prednisolone (a steroid), and put me on a Prednisone drip.  It still felt as though someone had tied a rubber band around my neck and I had to ask again for another shot of Epi.  My chest felt better, but my throat was still tight and it took a good five hours for that feeling to ease even a little.   

Total bill (including the ambulance and drugs) $32.14

Walked home, slept for two hours, then woke up and went to work.

That evening, exhausted, I came home and took one of the pill packs the ER doc had prescribed (containing the oral bronchodilator, Formoterol).  Not twenty minutes later I started to feel that same tingling around my mouth and lips.  "What the heck?!?" I thought, in fury.  "I haven't eaten anything today!"  The tingling got worse and my tongue started to swell. Again.    

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