I ate a cupcake. I went into anaphylaxis. The emergency room doctor followed protocol, gave me a prescription for epi-pens, and told me to keep them on me. I stumbled out the door, thinking (among other things) “great, wonderful. Another med to keep on me. How?!?”
[Notably, that ER doctor did not go over when I should use said epi-pens. That was something I had to work out with a lot of messaging to support groups, talking to pharmacists, phone calls to nurses, trial and error, and eventually, finally, chatting with an allergist.]
I wouldn’t say I lead an active life, but I eventually realized I needed some way to carry the ungainly epi-pens with me. My normal method of transporting big things (ok, any things) was to dump them into my backpack. But, contrary to popular belief at my university, I do not actually take my backpack and hiking boots everywhere. I especially don’t take a purse everywhere. The asymmetrical weight usually leads to aches, and I have always been exceptionally talented at losing that little fashionable brick, too. For most of my life, I have preferred to grab what I need, shove it into my pockets, and walk out the door.
The epi-pens didn’t fit into my dress pant pockets well. Despite the relative freedom of dress granted by teaching at a school of the arts, I couldn’t get away with wearing cargo pants to my 9am class, either. The increased pain and laxity in my joints were also an issue — whatever solution I chose needed to not pull, push, drag on, or otherwise harm my joints.
Thank goodness I’m not the only one out there who carries epi-pens everywhere! There are dozens of wonderful websites, from custom Etsy shops to more standard companies, that produce gear for allergy sufferers. The option I eventually picked wasn’t actually designed for epi-pens, however. I decided on a Spi-belt, which was designed for runners and other active people to carry ID, cell phones, keys, etc. with them. It just so happens to be the perfect size for 2 epi-pens in their carrying case and some tabs of Benadryl. I can also shove my keys or an ID in (although not my whole wallet). The entire package can be belted on, cinched up, and hidden beneath my clothes in no time.
In a rare display of restraint and common sense, I got the basic black option. I thought it would probably be less visible under (or over) my clothes than, say, florescent pink. So far this has been true.
My biggest concern when going for a Spi-belt over an insulated epi-pen case was temperature. I didn’t want to have the pens freeze if I wore them outside of my clothes in cold weather, but I didn’t want them to bake by being strapped to my skin, either. The Spi-Belt isn’t insulated, so any temperature changes were going to start to affect my epi-pens rapidly. I dug around, asked questions, and came up with a Reuters news article about an experiment done into frozen epi-pens. The study showed that after 7 days of thaw-freeze cycles to -13 F, the epinephrine actually had become ever so slightly more concentrated, although still well within the United States Pharmocopeia guidelines. It seems from other studies that epinephrine handles cold better than hot. So in winter, when it gets really cold, I might strap it below my top layer but not put my Spi-Belt right against my skin. (Even if it won’t harm the epi, for obvious reasons you probably don’t want to have your potentially life-saving medication frozen solid when you might need it! So I wouldn’t recommend belting it completely outside your cold weather gear.) For walks in warmer weather or when I wanted to keep my meds hidden but close at hand, I would slip one of the gel ice packs from my purple freezer case into the Spi-belt pocket. Those little packs aren’t enough to freeze the epinephrine, and if the belt is flush against my skin the gel packs also thaw fairly rapidly. But those little blue pouches keep my epi-pens cool long enough for me to teach, go for a quick walk (or more accurately a slow and amusing stagger), attend some of a concert, or take some pictures.