What I Learned Last Night

Here’s something you probably don’t know about me: I am deathly allergic to tree nuts. I found this out when I was three years old after eating one of the walnut cookies my mother made for Christmas. Only a few moments after eating the first bite, my whole mouth, tongue, and throat were extremely itchy, and I found it incredibly hard to swallow. I was given ibuprofen (which I quickly found out I am also allergic to) and then Benadryl, and the doctors said I would be okay. And I was. But I would have to carry an Epi Pen (epinephrine injector) with me for forever, for the next ingestion would mean anaphylaxis, the instantaneous and severe swelling of my tongue and throat and thus the immediate death of me via asphyxiation.

Sounds fun, eh?

For the past fifteen years, I have lived my life never having eaten a tree nut out of fear of death by anaphylaxis, despite the Epi Pen. I’ve come close to eating one a few times, but I’m ridiculously careful (emphasis on the ridiculous) when it comes to my food, from checking and rechecking ingredient labels to breaking what I’m eating to pieces just to make sure nothing slipped in, so I’ve always caught any tree nuts before I’ve put them into my mouth, chewed, and swallowed–thus initiating the reaction.

The things that I’m most cautious about are baked goods and chocolates, for Americans just really like to put nuts in stuff that’s sweet. Which seems disgusting to me, but, hey, I’m biased.

Anyways, I’ve never eaten any baked goods or chocolates that I cannot know all of the ingredients of, whatever the reason may be. If someone made it at home or if the bakery’s master chocolatier isn’t there, I simply don’t eat it; no offense to the cooking, I just don’t want to die. And nuts aren’t always a very obvious thing in baked goods, especially to someone who has no idea what they even taste like.

As I found out last night.

It was a cookie/brownie combo thing my mother had picked up for Christmas. There were no nuts or nut warnings in the ingredients. Chocolate and goodness and love were what I was promised, but that wasn’t all that I got. As I sat there eating it, I noticed it had a different kind of taste to it, something other than chocolate that was salty and made the cookie taste more like a chocolate pretzel than a half-brownie.

Is that what nuts in chocolate taste like? Cause I both had and still have no idea.

Nonetheless, thinking it was caramel or something (since nothing was crunchy) I ate all but two bites in about thirty seconds.

While eating it, it was delicious–not so much in retrospect, though.

Going into the second to last bite, it hit me, a distant memory that I had either blocked out or simply forgotten with time but that was nonetheless instantly recognizable to the dessert-scarred Leah: My whole mouth was itchy.

I looked down at the cookie, and, holy crap, there was a nut. I was in my mom’s room with my sister wrapping up gifts last minute. I didn’t want to worry anyone, so I started taking some quiet, deep breaths and then left to get a glass of water in the kitchen where my dad was. As the water filled my mug, the itchiness moved from my tongue to the roof of my mouth to my gums to my uvula to the back of my throat. The more time passed, the more severe and far out the itchiness became. I started drinking lots of water, trying to maybe flush it out of my system. But it was doing nothing more than keeping me from screaming out in terror.

I chugged one mug-full, filled it again, and then took another drink only to find that it was getting hard to swallow.

That’s when I screwed the whole “don’t scare your family right before Christmas” thing and told them what was going on. Because I had never had a reaction to nuts post finding out it could kill me, we kind of sat around waiting to see what would happen, Epi Pen in hand and ready to plunge into my thigh at any second. I kept updating my parents with how it was changing, where the itchiness and “lump” had moved to in my throat, if I could still breathe, if I felt faint or queasy (which I did), etc. It wasn’t until I could no longer swallow even my own saliva that we went to the hospital. I didn’t let any one inject me at home out of fear, though. Could the epinephrine hurt me if I didn’t really need it but used it anyways?

By the time we got to the hospital, it was starting to get hard for me to talk. To put this all on a sort of timeline, we left ten minutes or so after I ate the cookie, and the hospital is five minutes from my house.

In other words, it wouldn’t have been much longer until my airway was compromised.

Luckily, the ER wasn’t busy and was therefore very good at getting me back to be treated immediately. After one minute of telling the nurse what happened, I was told to strip to my underwear, put on a gown, and wait for them to come back.

It was lovely to hear–especially because I have a huge fear of hospitals and doctors but mostly because I hadn’t shaved my legs in three weeks.

Yes. Three. Count ’em.

My excuse, however, is legitimate, I’d say. My eczema has been acting up very badly this month, and when you have raw patches of skin all over your legs, shaving just isn’t an option.

And don’t even suggest Nair. That stuff should not be put on open wounds!

So I guess you can say that they just put the icing on the cake that was last night by forcing me to put on a gown. Whatever, though. Five strangers bent over a scantily clad Leah with hairy legs injecting her with a couple different drugs, drug cocktails, and, yes, an Epi Pen right in the thigh (which surprisingly didn’t hurt one bit) is nothing atypical for me luck-wise.

It was all worth it, though. I think it was less than five minutes later when the reaction was completely over and done with.

Miraculous! How could I go from slowly choking to death to being completely okay in that short of a time?

Well, with huge side effects on my body, of course!

They warned me, but it didn’t help. The lightheadedness and shaking and weakness and fatigue caused by the epinephrine rushing through my every artery, vein, and capillary was horrible. Sure, my mouth was normal again, but I couldn’t even lift my head! I felt like I got hit by a bus and then lain on the road in the freezing cold without sleeping for two whole weeks.

It was a trade off, indeed.

But after two more hours in the hospital, a nice hot shower, and the deepest sleep I’ve ever had, I can say it was worth it. I’m okay. Sure, my throat is sore, like I just got over a really bad cold, and my body aches, but I’m alive, it is Christmas Eve, and everything is alright.

While I find myself praying a lot, I’ve been praying literally nonstop since the reaction first happened. I just wanted everything to be okay, to have the holiday not be ruined for my family because I was too careless with the stupid brownie cookie. I was freaked out and freaking out and crying on and off and unsure of what was going to happen next, so I just kept praying and praying for help, guidance, calm, and patience so that it could get over with as quickly as possible and so that I could just keep breathing.

He did all of the above, and here I am on the day before He brought His glory back to earth alive and almost as good as new. And I just honestly can’t believe it. Last night, I truly thought I was going to die, which may seem silly now but was totally legitimate then, especially for my first experience with anaphylaxis. But I didn’t. I’m alive, and I think I owe it all to God.

Prayer works, man. It scares me every day when I think about it just how much God does for us. The tiniest to the biggest of prayers all come true. No matter who you are, if you just ask, you will receive. It’s incredible.

So, needless to say, this Christmas I am going to be extra thankful and happy. It’s the least I can do after last night.

Everything is in perspective now, and it’s incredible. So what if I’m afraid to eat dessert now that I’ve been betrayed by a food label? So what if I still feel a little blah from the meds? None of that matters! I’m alive and okay, and it’s all thanks to God, the Guy in the Sky who kept me breathing.

It’s a miracle!

And I don’t know if it’s the shock of the situation or the fact that it’s the simple truth, but I have a bit of a different outlook on life now.

As I was leaving for the hospital, my sister said, “Don’t worry. God’s not gonna let you die. He has bigger things in store for you than a stupid little walnut.”

I thought about that one little mood-lightening phrase all last night, and it’s so true. God has great things in store for us all. He isn’t going to waste us by letting something dumb bring about our downfalls. So why worry? Why hold back? Why not trust and run into life full speed ahead?

Sure, I may be a bit more hesitant now to eat cookies, but since life is so chock full of opportunities, I’m done holding back. Why worry about the little things that God will never let get in the way?

So go forth and conquer.

(But make sure you shave your legs first!)

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