True story: I’m allergic to peanuts. Here is a story I wrote about the first time I was hospitalized for it.
Finally, I was calm and as the Benadryl took its effect, I became more aware of my surroundings. The air was sterile with the taste of fragrant-less anti-bacterial products. The sheets I laid in had a cheap paper feeling that was only accentuated by the thin layer of padding that was my hospital bed. To my left, my parents sat quietly waiting for me to fall asleep. Their faces were tired from worry and betrayed the feeling of relief that they probably felt. To my right, a nurse penciled in some notes and checked the steady flow of drugs being fed into my body intravenously via the horrifically long needle protruding from my arm.
“I hope I can miss school tomorrow,” I thought.
Not because of the hospital visit or my dangerous dance with a major food allergy. No, it was because of the embarrassment that any awkward teen feels when he is carted off to the ER in the middle of a school day. Especially considering the reason for which that teenager needed medical attention. I began to think back to my stupidity for that day in order to piece together how I ended up in the current predicament….
I remember every bite of the cookie was less satisfying than the one before it. I could feel an itch creeping around the inside of my mouth and intensifying with each mastication. Blood was filling the cells that lined my gums and making my face feel warm.“I need to finish this cookie fast and wash away the taste with my orange juice,” I recalled saying to myself. “The last thing she needs to see is my face swelling up like a balloon.”
Yes, that was my most brilliant teenage moment. Katie Rix- a beautiful girl who had never looked at me twice before- gave me a peanut butter cookie without knowing that I was the proud owner of one of the most common food allergies in the United States. And I- the floundering teen who rarely gets the chance to talk to any girl for more than two minutes- had continued eating the peanut butter cookie like normal even after discovering its main ingredient so that I could talk to her just a little longer during lunch. To make matters worse, we were having lunch in the room of our next class. For some crazy reason I needed to hide my inner struggle from her and now, that concealment would be even harder.
The thick, cool refreshing citrus coated my mouth and esophagus just in time to quell the horrible itch that was restricting me from swallowing. My plan worked and I was temporarily cured except for the fact that my stomach now had to deal with the aggressive invader. My unease and cold sweat subsided to normal teenage levels while Katie continued to talk in what seemed like slow motion. Not the painful ‘when will this end’ slow motion, but the kind found in movies that highlighted her every feature. Her long burnette hair danced around her long neck. Her lush blue eyes focused on me, watching for signs of interest- there were plenty. She was pretty, no doubt about it; but her outer beauty was only the tip of the iceberg. She talked to me of her dreams and ambitions for law school. She liked doing volunteer work in the community. She was a dancer, a lacrosse player, and a ‘straight A’ student. I was completely entranced by this teenage beauty and I hung on every word she said. Despite the raging conflict going on in my body, it was still one of the best lunch periods I can recollect.
In the class that followed, I managed to quietly excuse myself to the clinic during an in-class quiz. A lifetime reputation of being a good student paid off as the teacher didn’t think twice about giving me the hall pass at such an opportune time. I floated past Katie’s desk, making no disturbance to give me notice, and ninja-vanished right out the door to the clinic down the hall.
The clinic was a small office painted in a soft blue with chairs that were always filled with some ailing hypochondriac students trying to get out of schoolwork. A room in the back with a few beds was reserved for the truly sick kids. This room, devoid of any human life besides my own, would be my home for a little while. I could suffer in solitude; it was a dream come true.
My stomach was now on fire. Gurgles and sloshes from my insides were giving away the sad state I had put myself into when the nurse suggested I try to purge my system. It was a brilliant idea except for the fact that my throat, nose, and mouth were now once again coated with my immortal enemy. My stomach was only slightly relieved and as an added bonus my whole face was swelling. A brief glance in the mirror of the clinic bathroom revealed my terrible alter ego. My skinny boney face was now rounder and shinier. With half swollen-shut eyes, I could see the beginnings of a rash forming around my lips and nose. Even my ears were larger and red. My transformation from Dr. Jekyll to Mr. Halfwit was complete.
All the while, my discomfort and pain took a backseat to my embarrassment. The peace I felt from knowing that I was suffering quietly was more than any shot of morphine at those moments. All that would come to a horrible, fiery end.
“It’s school policy,” the nurse stated. “I have to call an ambulance, there’s nothing more I can do for you and you’re getting worse.”
The sound of the ambulance siren cut through my brain like a knife. Was it really necessary to announce their arrival? I could just envision my peers in my class clamoring at the window to see what horrid event warranted the ambulance’s visit. The thought of Katie seeing me in such a shape through the class window sent a chill down my spine. Just then, the paramedic came in to assess me.
“This has happened before, it’s no big deal.” The paramedic didn’t seem too convinced. “This is just going to fade away in an hour or so,” I continued. “Are you going to take me to the hospital in that?” I pointed to the ambulance.
He nodded yes, and I sadly began to stand up. I was ready for my death march. The paramedic stopped me and told me they were going to get the stretcher for me.
“No, really, I’m okay to walk,” I pleaded.
“No, son, it’s hospital policy. We have to take you in the stretcher. I’m also going to need you to breathe into this,” he said while positioning a cold plastic breathing mask over my face.
I was on a roll with this policy stuff.
Of course, the bell to change classes was ringing while I laid onto the stretcher. It didn’t take long for a crowd of students to gather around the clinic door. The clamoring I imagined was replaced by a scene of calm packed sardines waiting to see who would come out of the room. As I rolled out and down the hall I was glad to not recognize too many of the students that saw me. And right on queue entered Katie. The slow motion was back, but this time it was a train wreck instead of a love scene. Her sharp intake of breath echoed in my ear and her beautiful face scrunched into one of shock. She covered her mouth with her hands and stared in disbelief. My failure as a human being was complete. As I was being wheeled around the corner I managed to pull aside my breathing mask, wave, smile, and say “Hey Katie.”
Back in the hospital room my heartbeat spiked while my final exit scene replayed in my head one last time. I parroted my previous thought in my head.
“I really hope I can miss school tomorrow.”