I stagger down the sidewalk at 3:30 in the morning, nodding casually at the scrubbed and white-coated people stumbling along like I was. I cross six lanes of traffic against the light. There aren’t any cars and it feels like a ghost town out here. It’s cool and the drizzle, stuck somewhere between a heavy mist and a genuine rain, feels marvelous against my face. I cut through gap in the fence and walked down the middle of a tiny lane, startling a rabbit whose bounding white tail rapidly disappears into cloud and shadow.
I walk a few steps past my building’s entrance before doubling back to the door. I fish for keys, finally simply kneeling on the concrete to dig through my bag. I don’t realize that I don’t need my keys to my apartment. I hadn’t locked the door behind me when I’d left to find the firefighters and EMS earlier. They’d been pounding through the building in their heavy boots trying to get to me, and no doubt waking my fellow students. Or perhaps not; most had learned to sleep through sirens and screams a long time ago. I don’t realize that the door was unlocked until nearly 18 hours later. Instead, I burrow through the accumulated backpack rubbish until I found something that seemed close enough to keys to count, and I go through the motions of unlocking my door. They may have been the keys for my classroom for all I know.
Inside, the bit of me used to tracking over stone and sand could trace my evening easily enough. First I pass scattered Kleenex on the floor, strangely enough. Then a spent epi-pen cartridge on the floor just around the bend in the hall. The empty Spi-belt that normally carried my epi-pens is just inside the bedroom. Pages of a notebook ruffle gently in the breeze from the air filter, the emergency on-call number for the local student health center a spiky black uneven scrawl across one page. Over the bedroom’s worn brown carpet is almost-festive tinsel: the foil backs of Benadryl dye-free capsules. I can see all of it, trace it, know it — but in some strange way I can’t really feel or understand it. It could have happened to a completely different person.
There was a mostly empty cup of water on the floor too, but I drop my pack and head into the kitchen instead for a fresh glass. The trail continues. A medicine case, unzipped but only partially emptied. Empty vials for cromolyn sodium. Finally, the real culprit, sitting innocently on the kitchen counter: a plastic container of vanilla coconut milk yogurt. I don’t even touch it. I just get my glass of water and curl up on my bed to get warm and read a book.
Anaphylaxis. A severe, multi-system allergic reaction. My anaphylaxis is a little bit different than the usual: it’s thought to be the result of a condition that affects the responsiveness of mast cells. Those are the cells that actually release the histamine and other marvelous chemicals responsible for making you sneeze around your great-aunt’s cats or your brother’s cologne. Mine are about as stable as old dynamite… in other words, not very.
It was my first time handling it completely on my own.
That night, I had slumped in defeat on the floor, struggling to keep my eyes open despite my fear. I’d realized I needed to do what the poor resident on the other end of the phone was starting to recommend — use an epi-pen and call for the loud, disrupting, embarrassing help. By the time they made it there, I was mostly stable. I’d fought a lot to get to that point. If I hadn’t had such good medications and information from sites run by other mast cell sufferers, I probably wouldn’t have fared so well.
So a well-deserved shout-out to all of the other masties out there, especially to Lisa Klimas at Mast Attack, whose information has been accessible, understandable, and invaluable. Thank you. 🙂