The sun was out for the first time all day. My boss had just called to see if I could work next week (in my favourite building, no less!). My roommate and I were eating freshly baked cake. I was whiling away the last hour or so before I needed to leave for a pool party. Life was pretty good.
“Whoa. What’s wrong with my hands?”
Small, flattish red bumps covered the backs of my hands. They seemed to spread as I watched, covering more and more space, though not really venturing past my wrists. I checked my feet, and found a few around my toes.
“Hives,” was Gemma’s diagnosis. In general, she’s not the type to accept much nonsense. As her boyfriend and mother both have epi-pens, she is even less inclined to do so with allergies—especially when you don’t know what’s causing them. And so, I was quickly dosed up with Benedryl, given copious amounts of water, and, when the hives refused to fade and my throat started tightening, bundled off to the emergency room.
Here’s an effective way of getting attention in a hospital: state, “I have hives, my throat feels tight, and we have no idea what’s causing it.”
We moved quickly through triage (I could only laugh at the question, “Have you travelled outside of North America in the past thirty days?”) and into a curtained-off corner of another room. For the next while, I answered questions, while Gemma provided additional details.
Yes, I thought I might be allergic to wasps, but have never actually had that tested. No, I hadn’t been stung by a wasp. No, I hadn’t used any new detergents or soap. No, I hadn’t gone walking barefoot through any parks. No, I’ve lived in this house for a year. Yes, I had started drinking almond milk instead of regular milk, but I’d been doing it for over a week and hadn’t had any since that morning.
“Well,” one doctor said, observing the new splotches on my feet. “I think you’re having an allergic reaction.”
Apparently at a loss, they decided to give me more Benedryl, this time via an injection into my muscle. Here’s an effective way of getting hospital staff to treat you like you’re six: stare at the giant, pokey needle, clutch your friend’s hand, and stammer, “Will it hurt?”
I still maintain that a fear of needles is perfectly rational.
They left us a while longer while the antihistamines did their work. The spots faded, but all the combined Benedryl took its toll as reality felt increasingly dreamlike and I drowned beneath a wave of drowsiness. I tried to chat with Gemma, but I think my side of the conversation stopped making sense. However, I do remember that we both decided it might be a bad idea to take a picture of myself looking sad in a hospital bed, post it online, and caption it, “In ER. Just got a huge shot. Doctors have no idea what’s wrong with me.”
But, eventually, the doctors decided the hives had calmed enough to let me go. They wrote me a prescription for an epi-pen, gave me instructions to come back immediately if I experienced any facial swelling or throat closing, and sent me on my way.
As soon as we got home, I hit my bed, slept for an hour, woke up for a brief conversation with Gemma, and fell asleep again until just now.
I’ve been told that hives recur, and since we don’t know what caused them in the first place, they may come back. So, just a general announcement: if you see me with bumpy, angry-looking hands and feet, don’t worry. I probably don’t have the plague.