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I work in law firm communications and live in Poughkeepsie, New York.

Anaphylaxis of the Mind

Azurhino / Getty, Illustration by Homestead Studio

Alyson Pomerantz | Longreads | September 2019 | 21 minutes (5,316 words)

About 12 years ago, at my law firm’s holiday lunch, something strange happened when I took a bite of the crab appetizer. There was a tickling sensation in my throat. I say tickle, which makes it sound playful, but it was uncomfortable. I tried to clear it with a sip of wine, but the tickle stayed put. I went to the bathroom because the privacy of a small toilet seemed a better place for me to investigate what was wrong, despite the fact that it was poorly lit and I couldn’t open the door without it hitting the sink.

Of course, I could divine nothing in the tiny bathroom about what was causing the tickle deep in my throat. I sat on the toilet and tried to breathe, but my breathing only grew more labored.

I decided to call my doctor, who also happens to be my father. Though he worries about his children, he has that doctor way of being calm and cool in an emergency. Reciting some figures about anaphylaxis, he told me I should get to a hospital right away.

One of my co-workers helped me find a cab. The driver reminded me that he was not an ambulance, but I didn’t have a lot of experience with emergencies, and so I pleaded with him to take me to the hospital. At New York Presbyterian I stumbled toward the front desk, gesturing at my throat. I could barely whisper my name when the attendant asked.

They ushered me to a curtained-off space where I was given a huge dose of Benadryl. I was examined, but the doctor saw and felt nothing, which she said didn’t necessarily mean anything one way or the other. She implored me to breathe and told me she would be back to check on me. This was in 2007, before smartphones could entertain us, and so I eavesdropped. The curtains were thin, and apparently everyone else there knew enough not to come to the emergency room by themselves. A woman on the other side of the curtain pleaded with the person she was with to stop touching “it.”

Eventually the doctor told me I was stable and could leave. My orders were to get an allergy test as soon as possible to sort out what had happened. I didn’t yet know that the allergy test was going to raise more questions than it would answer.

After the doctor left, I weighed whether I should splurge on another cab. The thought of riding the subway seemed daunting after what I had just been through, but I was fine, wasn’t I? The woman next to me urge her loved one to stop doing whatever he was doing again. The attentive badgering made me suddenly desperate for my own mother, who had been gone six years at that point. My mother was the one who always told my sister and me to treat ourselves after we’d been through something hard, but my father’s voice, the practical one, also loomed large in my head. I was 30 years old, wishing my mother were alive to give me permission to take a cab.

At that moment, nothing seemed sadder to me than sitting in that hospital, alone, convinced that but for a dose of Benadryl, I would be dead.

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