Charles: And I don’t know why I swallowed that ... maybe I’ll die

Alan Charles
Friday, August 10, 2018
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Last week, as the little car careened toward town and the emergency room, I lay in the back seat fighting for air and wondering whether or not I would live to see another sunrise, flinching from a potential 80-mile-per-hour deer-auto collision, impending heart attack or stroke, tire blowout, emergency tracheotomy — it was all so surreal. And yet, I thought, it is the little things that might get you.

While this particular incident did not take place during an outdoor outing, I write this from the perspective of the kind of things those of us who choose to recreate in the outdoors need to think about.

In this instance, I was at home. The girls were having a birthday party at the house, and I figured they didn’t need a rooster at the hens’ party, so I went to the cabin with the dog. I was sitting on the back deck, writing cards to friends, and since it was a hot afternoon, I opened a can of cold beer and set it on the table beside me.

After a bit, I took a sip of beer, and immediately felt a sharp pain at the back of my throat, about where my left tonsil would be had I not had them cut out years ago. I thought perhaps the beer tab had broken off, but upon inspection, it was still intact. So I took another tentative sip, swished it around in my mouth, and reached back with my finger to sweep out … a dead yellowjacket wasp.

Dang, I thought. I’ll bet that’s going to be sore. I worked another 15 minutes, feeling it getting a bit harder to swallow, talking out loud and hearing my voice getting hoarse, but overall, I felt OK. I took off on my evening walk with the dog, and walked a mile, coming back by the house, where I told my wife I’d been stung by a yellowjacket, but that I was OK.

And I thought I was OK. But after another 15 minutes, my throat was full of phlegm, and I was not feeling very good, so I started back up the hill to the house. Halfway there, I knew I was in trouble. I simply could not breathe. My airway was nearly swollen shut, and as my body fought for air, my mind started to panic, and I quickly lost control.

I made it up the stairs to the front door, and knowing one of the guests was a registered nurse, when I entered I quickly locked eyes with her and said, simply, “I need help.” Even though I had never had any clear diagnosis of any type of allergy, my doctor at the VA had recently ordered a couple Eppy Pens (doses of epinephrine), as “a last resort treatment for life-threatening allergic reactions.” Just in case.

Problem was, only I knew where they were. I made it to the cabinet where they were, and after that, other people took charge. The nurse quickly administered the first dose of epinephrine, along with doses of Benedryl, and another woman took the wheel and drove fast and hard to town, where the staff at the Holy Rosary emergency room took charge and helped stabilize me.

So, lessons learned, or reaffirmed: Take potential threats seriously. Do not ignore multiple symptoms. Don’t wait until things progress to a crisis stage. Don’t hesitate to ask for help. Share information.

And be proactive to prevent future similar situations. In this case, I intend to only drink cold beverages from clear containers if I’m outdoors. Think frosted mug. I really do want to see a lot more sunrises. Remember, it is potentially the little things that might get you.

( Alan Charles lives and writes in the Pine Hills.)