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Submission #2: Unfortunately, the Milk

Walking towards the mirror I was sure I had a stray lash or speck of dust in my eye. But my face paled at the sight of my lower eyelid, swollen, red, and throbbing. Next was my lower lip (why the lowers?) on the same side. The interior buzzing with irritation and puffing up against my teeth. I thought of the bread I ate less than 2 minutes prior, and how it sent a tingling feeling through my gums that I thought nothing of. I began to panic.

“We’re leaving now – we have to go – having a reaction”, I stuttered a stricken command at my brother. Feeling my throat closing in quicker than reactions past I downed two Benadryl almost unconsciously, muscle memory on autopilot survival mode. He ran out of his room looking confused but alert. “you don’t have any shoes on!”. I stuffed my feet into my boots, threw my coat on and began to flee the apartment with him in tow. Panic, panicking, flailing, fleeing, mind set on the hospital. Shit was getting real, fast. Throat was closing. Body puffing up inside. Fearing suffocation.

For some reason I slowed down and smiled politely at the concierge, “Good morning,” and walked past with a nod.

No sooner had my foot crossed the threshold that I was back to running out into the street, jacket blowing open and makeup smeared like a mad woman. Nothing was happening fast enough; cab too slow, traffic too thick, breath too heavy, hands like balloons, lips like bad botox. “I need the Epi Pen!!!”. “Are you sure, let me see your face?”, “Now, I need it NOW”. No doubt, my body was craving a shot of epinephrine as if I were a traveler stuck in the desert for 2 weeks with no water. Luckily I was wearing unseasonably thin pants (the pursuit of fashion!) and my brother was able to inject the needle without any time-wasting clothing adjustments. He counted down from 3, stabbed, and then counted down from ten before removing it. I laid my head back on the seat while he held my hand and tried to calm me.

People often ask me if the needle hurts or leaves a scar. It can leave a scar if you wiggle around (I have one to prove it), but the truth is that in that moment your body is craving the cure so intensely that pain is irrelevant and barely noticed. What’s a pin prick when you’re suffocating?

The cab driver missed his turn, then said he had to circle back around because he couldn’t turn left. Seriously? @#*$! I yelled an immediate STOP, John threw 10 bucks over the seat and we sprung out onto the sidewalk. I was practically running down hospital row, med students and nurses gawking at me as I flew past, ears and hands and face beat red and pulsing.

“So that’s what that looks like, disastrous” I imagined them saying while shaking their heads.

Once reaching the emergency entrance of Toronto General I was ushered straight in, asked a couple hurried questions, and then shepherded into a room. They worked impressively fast. A group of nurses and one doctor were on me within minutes. As if by magic I was undressed and had all sorts of needles and monitors pinned to me, like that guy from the Operation game minus the phony smile. As the walls of my throat continued to close and my world started to go black, I asked the nurse if I was going to be okay.  “Don’t worry, you’re right where you need to be,” she said.

As I blacked out I remember thinking of the irony. What if I died from anaphylaxis, just as my allergen-free cookbook is about to come out? The irony!! It’s almost like I asked the universe for this to happen! Why did I have to put myself out there? Why did it have to be caused by a piece of bread? Of all the things, couldn’t it have been a big bowl of ice cream or a wedge of aged cheese? Something a bit more monumental than a piece of bread.

I won’t go into the gory details of the rest of that day partially because they involve gross bodily fluids, but also because as I write this I feel like it would be crossing a personal boundary. Once you throw something out into the internet you can’t take it back. Instead I’d prefer to reflect on what I learned from this experience, one that hadn’t happened to me to this degree in a decade. I learned that I can move incredibly fast. That my survival instincts can carry me. That my brother can remain remarkably calm under pressure. To always be aware of my body and what is happening to it. That you can scare the crap out of a cab driver if you cause a scene, whip out a huge needle, and speckle the drive with random yelling and expletives.

For a handful of days after the incident I felt physically ill constantly. My stomach wasn’t right and my head couldn’t focus. I would fall asleep just by batting my eyes and eating was for the most part out of the question. I’m finally on the upswing physically, but am working on controlling my anxiety about food. I haven’t enjoyed one meal since that day and have limited myself to bland boiled foods, only eaten in small quantities in the presence of other people. Restaurants… no thanks. I check my purse to make sure my Benadryl and Epi Pen haven’t vanished about 50 times a day and wash my hands compulsively. Eating even a small bowl of plain rice at this point takes at least an hour and 10 trips to the mirror to check my face for hives. Following each meal is a wave of nausea and internal mind games. These are all things that I need to work on for myself, and which I will continue to deal with each day.

Oh, and one other thing I learned is that the question on everyone’s mind is, “did they have to stick a needle in your butt?”