“Breathe! Look at me! Just Breathe!” I tried but there was no air. No matter how deep into my lungs I went, I couldn’t find even the smallest pocket of air. It was like dragging a bucket through a dry well. There was nothing but sand.
I looked to the nurses on my left who all huddled around my IV, as they pushed syringes of adrenaline and Benadryl into me. Watching for any sign of reaction, praying they would get one.
The day had started normally. Since I was going to be stuck there for five or six hours they put me in one of the beds in the back of the Day Hospital at USC. Parked me right next to the one of those old guys who thinks he’s still doing Vaudeville at the Copa.
This went on all day.
“Blood transfusion? Only if it comes in a martini glass. Three olives.”
His banter was only broken up by constant naps and periodically waking to bellow that he needed his “damn pee bottle.” Yeah, day couldn’t get any worse, right?
After two or three hours of IV fluids, and anti-nausea drugs, antibiotics and then more anti-nausea drugs, it was time for the nasty stuff.
The first chemo drug was one I was very familiar with; they put it on a slow drip for a couple of hours, no sweat. I read a magazine, drank some juice, cranberry by the way… with ice. I sipped from a straw careful not to spill because everybody knows cranberry is a bitch to get out of a white t-shirt. Kate came back from getting some lunch. We talked, I said something incredibly witty, I do that a lot. She rolled her eyes, she does that a lot and suddenly… someone kicked me in the stomach.
I turned to the nurse and asked if she just started a new drug. Her finger was still on the button. “Yes, but there’s no way you would feel that yet.” My chest tightened, I started to black out, I found myself immediately gasping for breath.
“Wait.” I managed to get out. “Something is wrong.”
I was having a severe allergic reaction to the drug. She shut it off immediately. As I turned bright red, Kate jumped over and grabbed my hand. Told me not to panic. Somebody called for a Doctor. Over Kate’s shoulder I saw all three nurses run over to the drug locker. I heard one of them ask for the emergency code to open all the drawers. One of the other nurses took control and calmly typed in her code, grabbed what they needed and headed back to the IV stand and started calling out the drugs as they pushed them in.
I knew this was bad and that I was in real trouble. My chest was killing me, my windpipe was closing and everything was going black.
“Breathe. Look at me. Just breathe.”
Slowly the drugs kicked in, the air came back and the world stopped spinning. The nurses had acted fast and probably saved my life. My wife had somehow set aside her own overwhelming fear to keep me from panicking, knowing it would only make an already bad situation so very much worse.
It was all over in minutes. I started to shake, my wife hugged me and then I heard Vaudeville in the bed next to me…. Snoring. The man had slept through my entire near death experience.
He woke up a few minutes later and called for his pee bottle. I couldn’t help but laugh.