Cumberland Times-News

Opinion

July 1, 2014

Anaphylaxis shock not to be taken lightly

— More than 40 million people in the U.S. may be at risk for a severe allergic reaction. I never dreamed I would be one of them or that the cause would be a tiny wasp. My first experience was when I was 14, and it was very frightening. The severe rash was so uncomfortable, but the throat constriction nearly claimed my life.

The doctor said I was within minutes of dying when my parents took me to his office. After a series of shots administered over a three-week period, the doctor assured me I would probably grow out of it. Boy, was he wrong!

Over the years, I was stung several times by other types of bees (even a bumblebee), but had no reaction. Just in case, my doctor prescribed an Epipen that I was to keep with me at all times. As the years moved on and nothing happened, I fell into a complacency about the whole ordeal, thinking it would never happen again. But, years later, after I was married and had my own home, it did.

I was using a string trimmer when a tiny, dark object zipped from a crack in the basement wall. It flew directly at me and landed on my right forearm. I felt the sharp stab of pain as the stinger went directly into a blue vein. Looking down, I saw my worst enemy — a wasp. My right arm quickly was bright red and twice its normal size. I could feel my throat swelling, and my breathing was coming in painful gasps.

I ran to the shed where I kept one of my Epipens for just such an emergency. Removing the pen from its plastic case, I placed my thumb over the end and stabbed the tip into my thigh. Within a few seconds I knew the medication would calm my racing heart, stop the itching, take away the hives, and allow me to breathe easily again.

Had I been calm enough to notice the expiration date on the carton, I would have realized my effort was useless. The medication had expired two years ago.

With the rash now covering most of my body, I started across the lawn toward the house. A quiet darkness enveloped me as I dropped to the ground.

I was not aware when my wife called 911, nor when the ambulance and crew arrived. In fact, I was halfway to the hospital before I responded to the shot of epinephrine and two shots of Benadryl. Upon arriving at the hospital, my heart was racing, and tests showed an abnormal heartbeat.

The doctors were not sure if it was a heart attack or a reaction to the bee sting and/or medication, so I spent the night in high level care. I left the hospital the next morning, but not before receiving some stern warnings from my doctor. I was given a new prescription for Epipens, which was filled on the way home. My family developed an anaphylaxis action plan. We also completed a registration card for the Epipens that would allow the manufacturer to remind us when the medication needed replaced. It’s also a good idea to mark it on your personal calendar.

Remember that in just a few minutes a tiny giant can take your breath and stop your heart. It may be a wasp, hornet, or any member of the bee family, peanuts, seafood, or any number of allergens.

Do the smart thing and discuss your allergy with your doctor and be prepared. There’s no time to waste.

The Rev. James Blubaugh

Wiley Ford, W.Va.

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