Anaphylaxis in Rome (part 2 of 2)

After one bite of the cashew-contaminated pasta sauce at our table in Rome in Summer 2010, Benjamin’s eyes were wide when he told us something was wrong. Joel and I both saw the look. The tsunami of emotions hit me again.  This time the symptoms were moving fast. Faster even than the second grade anaphylactic episode.

Hayley writes about the speed with which we recognized anaphylaxis, gave an epi pen, and got to the hospital. My own memory is that it felt like everything was moving in slow motion:  Watching the symptoms roll in, one after another. Throat closing, vomiting, hiving…  Joel holding Benjamin while I gave him the epi pen. My talking him through the whole event.  “I have to give you your epi now.  You are going to be fine. Let’s count together, 1,2,3,4…10”  “You are so brave.  We are going to take care of you.”  Joel grabbing all of the food bags and shoving them in a bag, lifting Benjamin up, and heading out the door. Me, checking in briefly with the law students that had come for dinner, and promising Natalie that we will take care of Benjamin.  Carrying Benjamin down the rampa (think of a LONG slow series of wide steps). Getting to the street, around the corner to the main road, and waving frantically to the first passing cab. He passed – and left us standing on the sidewalk. Joel keeping a constant eye on his watch.  The next cab coming by fast and me frantically waving again. Being passed by once more.  An Italian couple with a baby looking our way with puzzlement on their faces.  A third cab coming. This time I ran in the street waving and doing my best Italian dramatic beg. “Please, please, mi bambino, hospitale, anafalactico shock!!!” He stopped. He nodded. We climbed in. He took off fast. We later found out he wasn’t even on duty, just an angel along the way who helped us.

In the cab, talking to Benjamin. “Are you feeling okay? How is your throat?  We are almost there.” Holding Joel’s hand from the front seat of the cab to the backseat where he was still holding Benjamin.  Getting to the ER. Rushing in and trying to communicate in English and Italian with the triage nurses. Their confusion. Handing them the emergency sheet where we had listed his condition in Italian had had it translated, and having them read it and then immediately start to take Benjamin’s blood pressure – but still not moving with enough urgency. The next angel of the night walking up from the rows of people sitting in the waiting room and starting to talk to the triage nurses in Italian, and then to us in English.  Whatever she said, we were back with a doctor within seconds.  “I had a little English in my school,” she said.  Bless her.  I will always love this woman whose name I don’t even know.

More shots for Benjamin.  A young female doctor carefully reading a medical manual on food allergy protocol.  She looked carefully through the food items that we had gathered and brought with us. She found the cashew in the Romano sauce.  Another doctor coming in and listening to his blood pressure. Two doctors agreeing that he needed to spend the night.  Benjamin tucked into a bed with a small chair beside him in a room of about 10 beds. The nurse pulling the curtains around our bed. All of us working hard to cross the language barrier and fill out the necessary forms. Joel leaving the hospital and heading back to Natalie late at night. Sitting beside Benjamin through the long hours of the night, praying, exhausted, scared, and cold for the first time since I had been in Italy. Really cold. I asked for a blanket as best as I could. Someone came and tucked one around Benjamin.  Waiting. Waiting. Waiting.

It was in Rome that Benjamin really learned that life was fragile.  He knows now how quickly anaphylaxis can steal him from us. I can’t protect him from that knowledge anymore.  He felt it. He knows.  He chooses to live with grace and courage. He doesn’t take unnecessary risks with food, for which we are extremely grateful, even though he sometimes is in situations where other people don’t understand how medically fragile he can be might still introduce risks around him.  Do I regret going to Rome?  I don’t know. I don’t think so.  Benjamin doesn’t regret going to Rome.  Even after this happened in Rome, we talked honestly about leaving early – and he considered it but chose to stay.  I think it is really important to live a full life as best as you can.  We hope Tracy will be able to help Benjamin continue to live fully as he begins to learn to be more and more independent.

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  1. Italy (Guest Post by Amanda Fenolio) « Benjamin's BlogDog

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