The Education of Anaphylaxis.

Last week, the kids and I went to Greenville to visit Not-Crazy-Renee. We make it there a couple times a year to see our former neighbors, and to take their Christmas card pictures. My kids love going up there, but Noah especially was excited about this year because he was really looking forward to visiting with Snakey Butters Buttercup, Loulie’s Pet Python. Noah’s love, nay obsession with snakes being new, we haven’t visited our only Reptile-Owning friends since his glorious realization. So he’s been counting down the days for a month.

As if he and Loulie weren’t already precious together… (this shot from 2017 is one of my favorite pictures I’ve ever taken) …

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She was waiting in front of their house for us with a Python wrapped around her ankle.

There are a lot of signs pointing to their future romance, but if they could have a double wedding alongside Loulie’s snake and Noah’s future snake, that would just be fantastic.

joshua and sbb IMG_2512I did not get a picture of Loulie with the snake around her leg, but here’s Joshua demonstrating later in the weekend.

We arrived on Wednesday, got settled in, played with Snakey, and chatted as Renee made us delicious, fresh, hot cookies. I may have eaten three. They were gooey, chocolate chip, cashew butter cookies that melted in your mouth.

The cookies had even won a Major Award – Not a Leg Lamp, but close to it – a spray-painted beer bottle that said “Best Side Dish.”

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I was told, in fact, that according to neighborhood regulations I was somehow supposed to incorporate said beer bottle into their family Christmas photos. I wasn’t so sure about all that. Maybe if the snake was wrapped around the beer bottle? Hm. But the snake looked so much better wrapped around her three-year-old.

Joshua-and-SBB-IMG_7822This would be the Best. Christmas Card. Ever.

Anyway.

We wiled away the afternoon eating cookies and fending off children wanting to eat ALL the cookies.

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As it came to pass, right around bedtime, Noah came and asked if he could have a cookie. That kid is amazing at causing delays to bedtime, but this one might have been his crowning achievement in life.

I asked the question we’d been asking our children all day. “How many cookies have you already had?”

“Zero.”

Oh – I hadn’t noticed that Noah had been so overwhelmed with his love for Snakey that he’d missed The Cookie Train.

Close to bedtime though it was, I said sure – have a cookie. Why not. We’re on vacation.

As he took his first bite, he started gagging and coughing.

I said “Did you BREATHE the cookie or eat it?”

“I didn’t breathe it, Mom.”

“Are you okay?”

“Yes.”

He disappeared for a few minutes (later he admitted that he snuck off to throw the rest of the cookie away because it tasted terrible to him), then came back and sat down beside me, rather disturbed. “I feel like I need to sneeze but I can’t quit coughing.”

That’s weird.

This was the moment I first wondered if he was having an allergic reaction. No one has ever been seriously allergic to something in our family, so I’d never seen it before.

Then his voice started fading, he got hoarse, and gagged a couple times. Then his lips started swelling on one side.

Okay. This is an allergic reaction. He had never had cashews before that I was aware of (he’s a the most unadventurous eater), so I was positive that it was the cashew butter in the cookies.

Pass the Benadryl, please!

I was texting with a Pediatrist friend, Adolfo, at this point, along with another friend, Ashley, whose kid has allergies.

The Benadryl immediately made his lip swelling go down, and Noah kept insisting that he felt fine, his voice was getting better, and he didn’t need to cough anymore.

But he needed to go to the bathroom.

I waited anxiously outside the bathroom door…and when he came out, he was rubbing his eyes, saying they itched. They were bloodshot and swelling.

That, combined with the sudden need to go to the bathroom and accompanying the stomachache constituted enough systems involved in the reaction – he was in for a visit to the ER. Doctor Adolfo declared it. It was time…for The Shot.

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I told Ali goodnight and not to worry, and packed her brother off for the ten minute drive to the Children’s ER. He said he was hot when we left the house, but was shaking when we got to the ER. As we went through security and the security guard extra thoroughly scanned Noah with his wand (8 year old boys are a clear and present danger to society), I looked at Noah in the light for the first time in fifteen minutes. His face was now swollen, splotchy, and covered in hives.

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Thankfully, the word “anaphylaxis” gets you a room really quickly at a Children’s emergency room.

The newbie resident came in, checked Noah out, lifted his shirt to find out that Noah was now covered in red swelling hives,

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then announced casually, “Well, I think we’ll observe him for a while, maybe give him some Zyrtec later…”

Dear Newbie. Have you ever had a rotation in a children’s ER before??

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UM, NO.

I said in my most humble voice, “All of these hives came on since we got to the hospital. Isn’t there anything we can do for him now?”

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Meanwhile Noah is violently shaking, freezing cold, and itchy all over.

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Resident was clearly offended at me questioning his Medical Qualifications.

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Doc Casual mumbled something and left the room.

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A few minutes later he was back, this time with his “supervisor” (aren’t they called Attendings? It felt very factory-like for him to introduce me to his supervisor), who immediately said “Actually, this kid needs an injection of epinephrine. Then we will need to observe him for four hours to make sure he doesn’t need more.”

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That’s better.

A few minutes after the shot, he quit shaking. And started talking. His EpiHappiness was off the charts. He spent the next three hours jabbering continuously as his hives faded slowly, starting around his injection site and radiating outward.

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“I can’t believe I get to stay up so late. Thanks for bringing me to the ER. Look at these superheroes on the wall! Thanks for staying with me. This is a fun TV show! I don’t think I like Cashews. That shot wasn’t so bad! Once Ali got a shot she didn’t even feel. I can’t believe a cookie sent me to the emergency room! Not everyone can say that, huh??”

Finally I said, “So is the emergency room fun?”

“Well I’m getting to drink GATORADE and eat GOLDFISH and watch TV and play IPAD WAAAAAY after my bedtime so yeah I’d say this is really really fun!!!”

Of course, he finally got sleepy about half an hour before it was our turn to be sent home. He fell asleep at 1:15am.

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At 1:45am, the original resident came in and told us we could go home. I roused Noah and he returned to his EpiHappyChattiness.

“Thanks for taking me to the ER, mom. Thanks for staying with me, Mom. And hey – I’m really glad I didn’t eat a cookie until bedtime because that way I got to play with my friends until it was time for them to go to bed!”

Definitely his best bedtime stall ever.

His swelling took a couple days to go down fully, and he and I spent a day walking around Greenville as complete zombies.

And of course, Noah also made sure to spend lots of time with his Personal Emotional Support Therapy Snake to help recover from his adventures. 
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So, I get it. You would think that five children playing with a Python for three days would be the danger.

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But no – Snakey Butters Buttercup was the perfect hostess. In this story, it was the Gourmet, Prize-Winning Cookies that were the real predator.

Epilogue: We’re doing all the things now – toting EpiPens, prepping for allergy testing, reading labels…all the things. And as Noah sees it, this is the Best News Ever because it means that he can continue being a picky eater. Chicken fingers and fries it is – from here to forever. 

The Definition of Mild Soreness.

“You might feel some mild soreness for the rest of the day. Resume your normal activities tomorrow.”

That’s what I was told on Wednesday, after having my Endoscopy with multiple biopsies and double dilation of my throat. Before the procedure, I wasn’t told anything – I just assumed that surely such a procedure would make me sore and planned accordingly for “mild soreness.”

I did not, however, plan for such extreme throat and chest pain as to leave me speechless, breathless, and trying all the old labor positions to find some relief for pain.

(Note: I’ve had a tonsillectomy,  well known as the most painful surgery for an adult on the planet, and found it to be not as bad as I’d been told. So when I say this pain was bad, know I’m saying it was worse than my tonsillectomy and bordering on Noah’s adventurous labor and delivery.)

Apparently they left an extra special amount of air in my stomach, air that they were supposed to suck out when they finished the procedure. Somebody forgot to suck on that straw. So I had an intensely bursting chest full of air – that pain was a 9.

And then there was my throat, which felt like it had been ravaged by killer wasps, and was burning and swollen beyond belief – to the point that I could not swallow my own spit, let alone water or medicine. I did attempt to swallow half a lortab, but it got stuck in my throat and just had to dissolve there.

Furthermore, due to the extreme swelling and narrowing of my throat (ironic since I had this procedure because my throat was too narrow and I choked a lot), the air trapped in my chest could not find any way out. I could feel giant painful bubbles make their way up, knock heavily on the door, then turn around and go back down, elbowing and grumbling as they reversed course. Every time I felt one of those bubbles approaching the doorbell, I braced myself for the worst pain of all.

So here I was, for hours, a spit spitting, doubled over, full of unwanted air, in horrific pain mess of a human.

I texted Chris at 12:30 and told him of my extreme pain (he’d dropped me off at home after the procedure and had gone to work, as I was only supposed to experience a little discomfort.) I told him I couldn’t talk to call the doctor. I needed him to do it.

He called, he left a message. He got irate and called again, then left another message. He got more irate and called and pressed all the buttons until he got the wrong human, explained my emergency situation to her, and she promised to contact the right human for him and tell her to call. Three hours in, no one had called back and he was sure his wife was dying.

So he called back, got the wrong human again, and said “I’m bringing my wife back right now.” 

“Um, hold on sir. Let me see if I can get Right Human on the phone.”

She found Right Human.

Right Human told him in no uncertain terms that you can’t go back. If you have a problem, go to the ER. Once you leave the Endoscopy center, you are dead to them. (Which was nearly true in my case.)

So my steamingly furious husband came and got me and took me to the ER.

We got to the waiting room, noting the four police cars surrounding it (comforting), and entered into a quiet place of moroseness.

One lady was holding her chest to make sure the front desk realized she was having chest pains.

Another woman had a big nasty looking bandage covering up part of her leg, but not the entirety of the purple swelling.

They shortly wheeled a wheelchair from the back with a hoarsely, phlegmily, and continuously hacking woman in it – and parked it directly across from me.

The Chest Pain woman’s husband inquired as to how long it would be.

“Well, they have an emergency back there, so it may be a while.”

The entire room murmured at the same time… “Of course they do because this is the…emergency room.”

An officer came through the door. His hat said SBI – assumably State Bureau of Investigation. He had a gun on his hip and rubber gloves and an empty paper sack in his hands. She nodded him back.

I whispered to Chris between air bubbles, “What do you think he’s going to put in the sack??”

“A gun? A hand? Lunch?”

They came to get Chest Pains lady. She tried to stand up.

“Do you need a wheelchair?”

“Well yes, I’ve been having chest pains for two hours.”

“Oh. Hmm. I’m not sure if we have one available.”

Phlegmy lady offered, “You can have mine, honey.”

She hacked a few more times and removed herself to the chair six inches away from me. I wouldn’t have sat in her wheelchair without a thorough Lysol dousing, but Chest Pains Lady must have been desperate because she gladly plopped in her sweet new ride, a late model Germ10x 4WD. I could feel the phlegm definitely reaching my airspace now.

Chris whispered, “I’m sorry. I know this is miserable. But it was our only option.”

They called me back to triage. Asked me what was going on. I explained that I couldn’t even swallow my own spit. The observant nurse chuckled and said “Sounds like exactly what you went in to get help for.” 

Pithy.

We walked down the hallway. SBI Guy was headed back our way – except that now, his sack was decidedly not empty. The room on the end of the hall was being guarded by three policemen. But I was still processing what all could be housed inside that paper sack.

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At least it wasn’t dripping. 

They put me in a room. I got all the usual visits. Questions. Repeating of my information to half a dozen people. Finally, their biggest shot of morphine mixed with Zofran, because morphine and I don’t get along. Then a CT scan to make sure I hadn’t had a perforation that allowed air into my chest cavity. They wheeled me and my gurney out of the scan room, down a hallway, and into a dark, abandoned hallway and put on the brakes. 

“They’ll come back and get you when they’re ready for you.”

I hope the police are guarding that doorway well. 

The morphine was really starting to kick in and the room definitely had an eerie horror movie glow. The lights were surely flickering. I expected the paper bag to come tip-toeing toward me at any minute, a dismembered thumb looking for its body.

A few minutes and/or a morphine nightmare nap later, someone was asking me, “Do you belong in the ER?”

“Yes.”

“Then I’ll get you back to your room.”

Thankfully, it wasn’t the murdurous criminal posing as a nurse. 

Epilogue:

…I didn’t have a perforation. I stayed in significant pain for the next 72 hours. My doctor said that my throat was the narrowest ever, and was narrow all the way down (the pain taught me how long esophoguses actually are), so he’d had to use some heavy duty tools on me. (Read: It’s all my fault. #ThroatShaming) 

…My diagnosis is EoE, an allergic sensitivity that creates a rigid and constantly narrowing throat due to food allergies that I didn’t know I have. So now I get to do food allergy testing and eliminate all the things from my diet. 

…After I finally quit hurting, I of course got an infection from all the medications he put me on post-procedure. Ironically, as that happened on Sunday, I called the office, got the after-hours answering service, and they guaranteed me a callback from a *doctor* within 20 minutes. If only Wednesday’s issues had been after hours, they might have actually called us back.

…It is now Monday, 6 days post-procedure, and I am starting to feel nearly normal. Which means it’s time to get my back pricked with 80 allergens to see what my problem is.

…And finally, somebody always asks if they should or says they feel guilty for doing so, so let me clarify: if there is anything humorously worthwhile in this post, please laugh. It makes it have some value, and makes me happy.

Hashtag, Thunderhike.

I gave a speech this weekend to the AHTS (Alabama Hiking and Trail Society) about nurturing and encouraging children’s love of hiking. It’s way too long in its current format to share here (it was 45 minutes – perhaps the longest I’ve ever talked at one time ever), but in the process of writing it, and in particular in the process of writing the FAILS section, I found a story I wrote last fall but never shared here. And it really deserved sharing.

Our family stays at the Oak Mountain State Park cabins for a week every November, at that idyllic time of peak fall colors, crisp fall temperatures, and in general manic magic that happens when Alabama is no longer 100 degrees. This past year’s trip had been spectacular in every way. The weather couldn’t have been more lovely, we led hikes every day, we used the cabin canoes constantly, and we enjoyed every second.

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We had one last hike scheduled on our last day there, and it was to be our longest hike – a crescendo of perfection, if you will.

I never checked the weather. I had been lulled by the beautiful weather of the prior 6 days, and had also gotten used to life with one wobbly bar of cell service and no wi-fi in the cabins, and had very nearly become rustic in my addiction to information. The skies were blue! And the wind was so nonexistent that the lake was a gorgeous mirror! I vaguely remember Chris saying that it was supposed to rain that afternoon – late that afternoon – but that’s all I knew. 

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We gathered a few friends and drove up to the top trailhead so that we could one-way hike back to the cabins – because what could be a more delightful way to finish our week than a downhill one way hike on a lovely day. 

As we approached the trailhead, I noticed the sky looked awfully gray all of a sudden. I pulled up my radar. There was rain coming, but the storm was well to the west of Tuscaloosa. No way was it going to catch us. I checked the written forecasts again – they were still saying late afternoon. And it was only 10:15. We were FINE.

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We started hearing thunder about two miles in. 

“That was totally an airplane, right? There shouldn’t be thunder yet.”

I pulled up my radar again. “It’s still west of Tuscaloosa. Surely we’re okay.”

But I noticed that storm was moving much more quickly, as if it had an appointment with a group of people in the woods that it didn’t want to miss.

We have several kids that REALLY don’t like thunder. They immediately looked at me with accusing eyes, asking what have I gotten them into and should we head back?

I wasn’t exactly sure how long the one way hike was, but I was pretty sure that we had time to make it to the cabins. Why turn around? Then we’d lose our net downhill.

Ten minutes later, a long, loud peal of thunder. I pulled it up again. The storm was now through Tuscaloosa and bearing down on us. And this storm had all the colors. Green. Yellow. Orange. BRIGHT BRIGHT RED.

Holy. Crap.

What the…

I gathered and gently warned the kids. 

“Okay. Just so you know…we’re gonna get wet. But we’re going to get off this ridge trail sooner than we planned, and we’ll be okay.”

…Because we were basically the highest thing for miles. Except for the trees. It’s never a good place to see off a cliffside when there’s thunder in the area. 

We started picking up the pace. We kept on our ridge, nervously listening to thunder, trying to push through to the trail that would lead us downhill. 

It began to rain on us around mile three. Noah began to get angry. He hates storms. He hates thunder. And, as he is in an extreme rule-following place right now, he DEFINITELY doesn’t believe in being in the middle of the woods during both.

We finally made it to the intersection and began to head downhill. The rain picked up, but not too bad. Then we turned on red, which was great because it was nice and wide and not steep like orange, but was also awful because it was nice and wide and there was no tree umbrella coverage happening. 

The red trail is usually a boring wide road trail, but thanks to the exceptional fall colors and the full covering of fallen leaves on the road and the vibrance of color that the rain lended to said trees and leaves, it was SPECTACULAR. It didn’t matter that it was raining and there were now visible flashes of lightning and the thunder was most definitely getting louder. We had found ourselves in Fall Nirvana.

At least that’s how some of us felt.

Err, I felt.

Noah, not so much.

By now, he also had to pee. Badly. And he doesn’t believe in peeing in the woods, either. So now he was Rain-Angry and Pee-Angry and REALLY Thunder-angry. Soon he would be Sploshing-Shoes Angry as well but I didn’t tell him that.

We had a couple of miles to do before our next turn, which would then put us a little over one mile from the cabin. So, basically, a lot of miles in the increasing storm.

The thunder picked up considerably. There were deafening booms surrounding us, and we were sure lightning was going to strike in front of us at any moment. Noah was now crying with a ferocity that only hatred toward his over-adventurous mother could cause.

I checked the radar again.

Not only had the storm sped up, but it had tripled in width. AND THEN IT SLOWED DOWN. Now it was crawling along my radar, and just getting wider and wider and WIDER. There was no point in finding shelter – this storm was going to stick around for a while. So I just told the kids that the only way back was back, and the faster we went, the less of the storm that would reach us.

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By the time we got to the Red/Yellow connector, we had arrived into the middle of the storm. Rain was now sheeting at us sideways, and the trail had immediately transformed into a rushing river.

So not only were we being deluged from the top down, we were also being sloshed from the bottom up.

Levi, Noah’s best friend, slipped and fell under the tide. He was now muddied completely and bawling. 

But somehow, for just a minute, Noah miraculously rallied. I thought he’d found a new person inside of himself. He held up both his arms in weight-lifting pose, let out a primal scream, and yelled “ONE MORE MILE!! WE CAN DO THIS!! LET’S GOOOOOOO!!!”

Then half a minute later, he cried “THIS IS THE WORST DAY EVER!!!”

We scaled a couple narrow, high ridges with a long drop to the creek at only a slip of the foot. We made it to the half mile mark. To the quarter mile mark. 

And finally, we saw it. The clearing. The promise of a cabin. Of warmth and dryness and coffee and hot chocolate. We sprinted for it, only pausing under the pavilion to take a selfie that might as well have been underwater, as wet as we all were. 

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Then we made it in. Noah passed out clothes to Levi and Luke, and I passed out clothes to the mothers. We turned up the heat, made hot beverages, got everyone blankets, and sent the kids off to have some recovery iPad time. 

The mothers sat around reminiscing about our fabutastic adventure. Kelly was on the end of the spectrum of “THAT WAS AMAZING AND SO FUN!!!” Christen, who’s a little more cautious, had made fantastic progress since the last time we got caught in the rain. She was staring out the window, holding her coffee, saying, “I never panicked except that one time when… ——— !!! WHAT IN THE WORLD IS HAPPENING?? 

She squealed out in horror, the caught herself and started hysterically laughing. 

Kelly and I whirled around to see what was happening, and the big, oafy, old Ugly Duck of the lake (Rusty, as the kids had named him), was voraciously riding atop one of the tiny female mallard ducks, violently pecking at her neck and de-feathering her in the process.

The kids had heard Christen squeal and ran in to see what our next calamity was.

“MOM!! Rusty and that other duck are in a fight!! Oh! It’s over now. Rusty won, I think. Look at him strutting around!! His neck is so funny!!”

He was indeed walking the walk of the victorious, rhythmically gyrating his neck as he walked to show that he was absolutely The Stuff. 

Needless to say, Rusty finished off our day with a bang.