Yellow Jacket Anaphylaxis

Today, I give thanks for my very life…literally. I came mere minutes from dying this summer. For once, I am not exaggerating.

On the last day of our summer vacation, I was walking back from the outhouse behind our cabin, Camp Kwitchabitchin, at Bad Beaver Farm when an angry stealth drone of an insect flew out from under the camp and stung me in the ankle. It burned like holy hell.

I said to Tom, “God! This really hurts!”

He rolled his eyes, “I don’t know how you ever gave birth.”

Weisenheimer. But his teasing ceased to be amusing when, ten minutes later, my lips swelled up and my hands and legs were numb and I became anxious and disoriented.

I said, “Honeeeey, I think I’m having an allergic reaction to this sting.”

He said, “OK, we’re all packed up and ready to go anyway. Let’s go look for some Benadryl.” So we hopped in the truck, intending to search for a pharmacy in downtown Ellsworth.

By the time we got to the end of our drive, however, and Tom got out to open the gate, I realized I was in MAJOR trouble—I was in true, full-blown anaphylactic shock. My throat was constricted, and I was suffocating. I couldn’t talk to tell Tom what was happening, so I dialed 911. But when the dispatcher answered, I couldn’t get any words out before I passed out and dropped the phone. Tom said later that when he got back to the truck; my eyes were rolled back in my skull. Tom frantically began driving like a bat out of hell to the hospital.

I was going in and out of consciousness. I was completely blind; all I could see was a searing white screen, even with my eyes open. Tom was yelling to the 911 dispatcher that he was going to blow through the traffic lights all the way up the hill on Main Street. Then he was yelling to me, “Stay with me! Stay with me!” I was sweating bullets. I started vomiting. Then I slid off the seat onto the floor.

A police car was waiting at the entrance to Maine Coast Memorial Hospital. Because we were pulling a long trailer, we had to park diagonally in the parking lot. Tom scooped me up off the floor and started running across the parking lot to the emergency room with me in his arms like a limp rag doll. He was screaming, “This is my wife! She’s in anaphylactic shock!”

When I arrived in the triage room, my blood pressure was 79/45. I overheard the ER nurse say to the MD, “This woman is going south fast.” I have never felt so crappy in all my life; all I could do was gasp for air. Oh my god. Oh my god. Is this really it? I truly thought it could be the end.

But then the ER people started shooting me up with every drug known to mankind for anaphylaxis—Epinephrine, Benadryl, Prednisone and a bunch of other stuff. In about ten minutes, my blazing white screen disappeared and I could see again. I started to rally. When I regained my vision, I looked over at a monitor and saw a blood pressure of 170/120.

Tom was standing next to my gurney. “Whose blood pressure is that?” I asked.

“Yours,” he answered.

Holy Mother of God, that was close.

It happened again about three hours later when the drugs wore off.  They told me it was called rebounding. Fortunately, I was still in the ER, so I got the same pharma cocktail all over again. At least there was no more airway swelling.  Then I got unbelievable hives. I was covered with an angry red rash all over my body. I looked like I had the Bubonic Plague. Hives in between my toes. Hives in my ears, itchy as hell. Nasty raised purple welts on my face. I had hives on top of my hives. Because of the severity of my reaction, I had to stay the night in the ICU for observation.

But miraculously, by the next morning I was fine. This was a serious case of “better living through chemistry.” The ER doctor came in to talk with me before I was discharged. We were discussing Tom’s epic run across the parking lot—which was now, apparently, the talk of the hospital. How Tom folded me in his arms and ran with my dead weight of 160 lbs. How he ran with my limp rag doll body as if it was nothing. How he ran with me in his arms all the way to safety.

The ER doctor said if I had been alone, if Tom hadn’t been there, I’d be dead. He said, “Your husband saved your life.”

I told Tom I was never going to use the outhouse ever again. But the next day, Tom found the culprits: a hive of yellow jackets living in an old galvanized watering can underneath the camp. He swiftly dispatched them with some wasp killing spray. He checked under the whole rest of the camp to make sure there weren’t any others. When he was sure it was safe, I went back to Camp Kwitchabitchin.

I was astounded to find that everything was the way it had been the day before. All was quiet. While I had been inches from the jaws of death, life went on its merry way at Bad Beaver. I sat under an oak tree, pleasant sunlight filtering through the leaves. A pileated woodpecker landed above me and started drumming for insects. Nothing had changed. Nothing, except that I now had a new appreciation for the insane capriciousness of life.

Much later, I had a conversation with a good friend of mine who is very interested in “near-death” experiences. He peppered me with questions, particularly about the brilliant blank white screen that I saw the entire time. Then he asked me if I thought I had a choice in the outcome. This question took me by surprise.

I considered this for a minute, but then I said, “No. I didn’t get the sense that I had a ‘choice’ about whether I would go or whether I would stay. But what I absolutely did get was an extreme sense of well-being and calmness, that everything was going to be all right either way—so I wasn’t committed to either outcome. I wasn’t terrified. I just felt very trusting and loved and cared for the whole time.”

But…I stayed. I was given the gift of life. I know that. I am a lucky woman and I lead a blessed existence, and for this I am truly grateful. I will savor every day to its fullest from now on.

carol author pixThe Hounds from Hell are chasing me down, but it ain’t my time…it ain’t my time.”

Coming on Monday!   “My Vagina Saves My Life”

Carol Leonard

About Carol Leonard

Carol Leonard is a midwife, a writer and a licensed beaver trapper. She was the first midwife licensed to practice legally in New Hampshire and has attended close to 1,200 babies born safely in their own homes. She was a co-founder of the Midwives Alliance of North America (MANA) representing all midwives in the US, Canada and Mexico. She was elected as the second president of MANA. Carol is the author of the best-selling memoir, Lady’s Hands, Lion’s Heart, A Midwife’s Saga, Bad Beaver Publishing, 2010. Carol is currently building a 400-acre farm in Ellsworth, Maine with her husband, Tom Lajoie. Her blog BAD BEAVER TALES: Love and Life in Downeast Maine, chronicles their informative and funny journey building their dream homestead on 400 acres of wilderness in Downeast Maine. Carol and Tom are also raising about a hundred beavers there that they argue about on a daily basis. These blog posts will be a collection of tales not just about Bad Beaver the place, but stories that meander around in her life, past and present—at the same time, Bad Beaver is where it all leads. As a writer friend says, “These stories from Bad Beaver are, at turns, brave, beautiful and just plain badass.”