For a few years in the 90's we lived out in Hamad Town. This is a govt housing complex that just seems to go on and on without end. There are 22 sections of housing, or neighborhood type settings, and we lived in the 19th section. We were among the first families in that particular area...and only second family on my street...we did not own a car at that time nor have a phone...and neither did our Syrian neighbors. It was a sort of new found freedom for me as I could actually go outside and enjoy the sunshine etc...something I couldnt do in my MIL's house because of its design etc. I could take a chair and sit out in front of my house as very few cars even drove by. It had a sort of desolate and isolated feeling to it and because we didnt have a car...very very far from anywhere...it was during this period of time that I discovered I was allergic to ant bites...particularly the solid little (not so little) black ones that could be found everywhere. Picture this...
For most of my life (up til the time of this event) I had been a pretty healthy person. Never found myself in the hospital for anything more serious then delivering my babies. Oh I had a case of food poisoning now and then just like most everyone else...but nothing that ever left me feeling as if my very life was hanging in the balance. The interesting thing about discovering I was allergic to ant bites...was that I had been bitten by them many times before in the years I lived in Bahrain without nothing more then a red swollen bump and some mild pain to show for my suffering. All that changed one afternoon while I was taking a nap on a cushion on the floor.
I woke up feeling a sharp pain on my leg and when I investigated the source I
discovered some large swellings like in this picture...and a black ant smooshed
against my skin. Within just a few moments of waking I started experiencing one
of the worst sensations I have ever known....an
extremely intense and horrible itching feeling all over my body...it felt as if a million and one little creepy crawlies were under my skin and having a party of sorts. It was absolutely horrendous and there are hardly adequate words to describe the intense desire to actually scratch open your skin and get the "buggers" out.
Every part of my skin was alive with that crawly itchy feeling and it was then I realized those couple of small swellings had spread throughout my entire body. I had welts from top to bottom...which made it impossible to scratch as everything was tender to the touch. Having no idea exactly what was going on I shouted to my husband who came to see what I was fussing about.
He took one look at my face and nearly passed out. I didnt realize it but of course my face was busy swelling up too. He pulled me up and dragged me over to a wall mirror and the beast that was reflected back at me was the stuff that nightmares are made of. My eyes were swollen, my lips looked like I had botoxed the hell out of them and my entire face was just a mish mash of lumps and bumps...it was then I realized my tongue was swelling up to...along with my throat.
At this point Im fairly sure not more than 3 or 4 minutes had passed from the time I woke up from the sting...to when I was standing in front of the mirror...and yet I looked like something that belonged in a freak show....but none of that worried me half as much as the fact that I was finding it harder and harder to breath properly....my throat was closing up.
My husband went in search of a car (no neighbors remember and no phone) while I put some clothes on as best I could. By the time he came back having found a rare car passing through our neighborhood...my breath was literally whistling through my very small windpipe. It was here that I felt the stirrings of potential death looming over me...we all need to breath to live right...and my ability to breath was being seriously threatened...and we were far from anywhere...far from the nearest hospital. I was freaking out big time.
On the way to the hospital I was alternating between trying to concentrate on breathing...and not scratching myself to death. Everywhere on me was on fire and I wanted to tear my clothes off...and then my skin!!! By this time my tongue had swollen so much I actually could not close my mouth around it nor swallow very well. I had tears streaming down my swollen eyes that were nearly closed completely and even my hearing was affected so I assume inside my ears had swollen as well. It took around 20 min to reach the hosp and by this time I couldnt walk due to the swollen state of my feet...so my husband ran to find a wheelchair.
Once he had me inside he left me with a nurse while he dashed off to sign me in and get my paperwork. Up till this point in my life I had never seen anyone suffering from an allergic reaction other than the comedic routines you might see on tv that make fun of the face swellings etc...none of those had ever shown the really dangerous side of allergic reactions...the potential fatal aspect of it due to anaphylatic shock (the result of your body fighting against the allergen by flooding the body with histamine..which results in the extreme swelling of all soft tissues etc)...for many people, from the onset of the allergen entering the body to the inability to breath etc it can take mere moments and if immediate medical attention is not sought and an adrenalin and anti histamine injection given to reduce the swelling and other symptoms...the reaction can be fatal. Up to this point in my very short life as an allergy patient suffering from anaphylatic shock...I assumed the nurse standing before me would immediately understand what had happened, what was happening, and what needed doing about it...instead she looked at me with one of the most curious and puzzled looks Ive ever seen on a human face before and said...
"can you tell me whats wrong with you?"
Uh what? Isnt that your job...Im just the helpless victim here who cant answer you even if I wanted too because my tongue has swollen so much there is no room for adequate speech. My hands flying up to my face indicating my inability to speak did not apparently register properly with her as she asked me the same question several times. Ditto with the hangs clasped around my throat indicating I couldnt breath propely....nothing.
Now I dont want to make light of this situation (all though now I can almost laugh about it...almost) but it really just seemed like something out of an In Living Color episode. Something Jim Carey would have been doing some crazy skit over...you know...nearly dying patient...crazy mixed up doctor (nurse) and hilarity had by all...except nobody was laughing...least of all me.
My husband thankfully showed up at this time and gave the nurse her much sought after answer then asked her if she was sure she was a nurse? Again with the confused look on her face...ok whatever...just wheel me to the REAL medical expert so I can get some actual medical aid for Gods sake!!
Thankfully the doctor took one look at me and immediately ordered the anti histamine and adrenalin shots and an IV etc and I spent the next 2 hours under observation to make sure my airway didnt close completely and all was fine. It didnt and I was so I went home. All though all the swelling had pretty much gone down by this time the bitten area on my leg was extremely tender and painful and would remain so for about a week.
I had never been so scared in my life as I was that day. Not being able to draw a breath has got to be one of the most frightening experiences for anyone to go through and I wouldnt want anyone to find out the truth of that statement. I immediately went and researched all I could about allergic reactions and what I could do if it happened again.
One of the best lines of defense against allergic reactions is to have one of these Epi-pens. Immediately upon realization that you have been bitten you can self
inject (or have someone else do it if you cant) and it gives you a dose of adrenalin which will help fight against the massive swelling etc. until you can get to the hospital. I went to the doctor in order
to be prescribed one and discovered they dont have them in Bahrain. Considering how fast someone could die from anaphylatic shock....and the odds that there must be lots of people in Bahrain that are allergic to something...I was surprised and rather angry that this life saving medical aid wasnt made available here. I did find out it was available in Saudi but had no way to get it personally (husband wasnt the sort to go out of his way to save my life...going to Saudi was out of his way).
This meant of course that every time I have been bitten in Bahrain by one of those black ants I have had to suffer varying degrees of an allergic reaction. Sometimes its fairly mild...with maybe just intense itching etc..or other times just some mild swelling (Ive gotten pretty good at determining just how strong or mild a reaction will be as my body lets me know literally withing 20 to 30 seconds whether or not I need to seriously hustle to the nearest hospital) but at least 4 times I have had to be rushed to the hospital with full blown anaphylatic shock in progress and count myself lucky that I made it in time..each time.
This last visit to the states I actually remembered to go see a local doc and he prescribed me the Epi Pen...two of them actually since its not available here...but Ive only got one as they are expensive and I couldnt afford both at the time...but I count myself lucky to have that one...it could be the difference between life and death for me...now all I have to do is wonder if I will have the nerve to jab my thigh with it when and if the time comes...Im thinking not!!! Ouch!
*side note* after that first harrowing encounter with anaphylatic shock...I went home exhausted and scared out of my mind praying that I never had to go through that again...as fate would have it (oh you fickle fate)...the VERY NEXT DAY I was back in the hospital having been bitten on the arm while sitting on the couch. At least that time the nurse I saw took immediate action and I was able to avoid the comedic routine...sigh.