I am heading into the last leg of a quick run around campus drive on a misty, drizzly night. Oh how I love to run. So simple, so carefree. The air is cool and smells like the ocean or at least something fishy.
As I pick up the pce over the hill, I notice my hands feel a little tight. Swollen, almost. I stretch them out and my palms begin to itch. Strange. I scratch at them but it doesn’t help and I don’t see anything on them to explain it. Must be the sweat. At the same time my lips are starting to tingle and feel thick. I finish the run, arriving at my house. Immediately on stopping, my legs begin to feel warm, particularly the front of my thighs. I go inside and start up the stairs. Now the warmth is on my arms.
I enter my room and the warmth is joined by itching, mild at first but becoming more intense every moment. More scratching, still no difference. My eyes begin to feel funny and my nose warm and tingly. I go to rub at my eyes and note that what were once fingers are now plump sausages, blanched white. Hmm.
I look at my arms and legs that are red and still itching, dammit. And now my scalp. I better take a shower. Wash off this sweat. Jump in, water nice and hot…but what’s this? What should be relaxing, what should wash away the redness and swelling and itching adn burning only makes all of it worse. I scrub and scrub and scratch but it all just intensifies. What is going on?
I get out and towel off. Oh god. Now…it is…everywhere. My skin is stretched thin over my body and it is curdling (what does that even mean but I can’t think of a better word). I look and SEE it curdling and dimpling and blanching. I scrape and scrape as hard as I can. I draw blood. No use. And my lips, they are about to burst. My nose is large and warm. My face on fire. My ears – someone give me an ice pick! I go to the mirror and see…a monster. Who – what – is that? An ape, a freak of nature with a clown nose and clown lips and slits for eyes. What is happening to me?
Oh the itching and burning. I march around the room, crying and scratching and pulling my hair. Undoubtedly the worst feeling of my life. I would sooner shave my skin off with a paring knife at this point than suffer this agony. I would go to the kitchen and get one if I didn’t look like an alien. What could have done this? That smell outside during my run, that must have been it – acid rain or nerve gas or radioactive something or another. I’m clearly going to die. And in this horribly disfigured state is how they will find me.
So I do the only obvious and intelligent thing and call my mother at home several states away to bemoan my horror. “…the HELL are you doing – GET TO THE HOSPITAL! It’s on campus for chrissake! Go get Alex to take you! Don’t make me call the campus police, because I will, and they’ll bust down that door of yours.” Fine, I tell her, I’ll do it right now.
I hang up with no intention of following her instrucitons. I look like an ogre and if she could see me she would understand. But this itching is so awful, unrelenting. And now as I stand up I am lightheaded and my throat starts to feel funny – scratchy, dry, swollen?
A knock at my door: “Sonia?”
I whimper, “Yeah?”
“Are you okay? Let me in,” Alex says. Although I continue to itch and weaken, I am proud. After a few minutes of arguing, I concede and let her in, only because I am beginning to feel short of breath. “What the…what happened to you?” Moments later we leave my room, she leading me as I insist on wearing a bag over my head, scratching and scraping the whole way.
We arrive at the hospital ER and I enter tentatively, shielding my face from view of those in the waiting rom. I do not wish to frighten the little children. I may be dying but all the time I am thinking of others. Alex ushers me to a triage desk. A nurse takes my vitals and my story and calls to someone in the back for a bed. She too can see that I have not much time left.
I am brought to the back, helped onto a gurney and draw a crowd of medical attendants to my area. Clothes are removed, I am poked and prodded, EKG leads and an IV are placed, and some mention of Benadryl and “epi” is made. My patient area is a flurry of important medical activity, with me at the center.
“Has this ever happened to you before?” God, no.
“Are you on any medications? Do you have any medical problems?” You’re looking at it.
“What did you eat today, this week, anything out of the ordinary?” I don’t remember, nothing special.
“Do you have any allergies?” I don’t know, I don’t think so. Does hay fever count?
Wait. What is all this? Here I am, dying, and they’re asking about allergies. Silly doctors. What I need is for someone to deflate my face. Instead they leave me alone (!) after they finish their barrage of questions.
Several minutes later, however, I must admit I am beginning to feel better. A little less bulbous and quite a bit less itchy. The burning is gone and I am breathing much more easily. When they return, I ask what they think caused this. “Probably something you ate, an allergic reaction, we may never figure out what exactly.” Something I ate! Try some sort of invisible poison gas to which I was exposed during my run.
“How do you feel?” A lot better, fine I guess. A little shaken up.
“Oh good. We’re going to discharge you then. You can go ahead and get dressed.” What! Surely you mean discharged from ER to the ICU. I’ve just been brought back from the brink of death or at least a certain future of permanent disfigurement.
“You should be fine. If this ever starts again, just take some Benadryl. You should go see your regular doctor and check out those allergies.” Okay, fine. Whatever.
* * * * *
It is only now, after several repeated similar incidents sometimes in association with a certain kind of food, that I have come to appreciate the true nature of my affliction. I also now understand that in order for me to avoid forever or at least decrease the frequency of such episodes, I have to either give up running and/or Indian cuisine. Both of which are unlikely to happen in my lifetime.