What I Learned During My Experience in the ER

I couldn't breathe. I started a new medication in the evening and a few hours later my throat swelled up. It was after 10pm and no walk-in clinics were open, so I decided to go to the ER.

I had to wait over an hour to be seen while I felt as if I was gasping for air. I was finally taken in and I was given an IV with steroids, Benadryl and a few other medications. My whole body started immediately convulsing violently, my teeth were chattering intensely, I felt paralyzed and couldn’t move any part of my body, and I got very lightheaded, dizzy and nauseous. There were no doctors or nurses nearby and I couldn’t even talk or move to call for one. I was hysterical for a while, and when the doctor finally came over, she said she had never seen a reaction like mine. All my vitals were OK so she told me it would pass soon. Well, “soon” was an hour. 60 minutes feels like 60 hours when your body is out of control. A new nurse came over and reminded me to breathe and do visualizations, and calmly explained why I felt as if I couldn’t move (all of the blood was headed to my organs). She was patient, funny, led me in some deep breathing exercises, and had me visualize being on a beach (which felt like the furthest place from where I was.)

One of the scariest things about chronic illness is that you have no control over how your body reacts to certain medications, flare-ups, and situations. It’s unpredictable so you can’t always plan ahead. It’s super aggravating when your body doesn’t listen to you, or doesn’t act the way you want it to, but it’s in those moments that you need to listen to your body even more.

Here is what I learned during that time:

1) Focus on what you can control: I couldn’t control the convulsing, the numbness/paralyzing feeling, the teeth chattering, or the intense choking feeling in my throat. But I could control my breathing. So I breathed through the convulsing. I breathed through the numbness. I breathed through the pain. I breathed through the tightness and constricted feeling in my neck and chest. And I breathed through the panic.  I inhaled to the count of 4, held my breath to the count of 4, and breathed out to the count of 4. This gave me something else to focus on.  It didn’t make a difference right away, and it took longer than I would have liked, but after a while my body began to calm down. Breath can be an extremely powerful tool in certain situations, especially those involving panic, anxiety, fight-or flight- responses, and stress.

2) Allow myself to feel my feelings- last night was quite traumatic and I will need some time to process the emotions, which is normal and healthy. I came home in the middle of the night and cried for a while. When my body was going berserk and it took a while for the doctors and nurses to notice, I felt unseen and unheard, and I needed time to feel the anger. Sometimes it’s tempting to want to put it all behind us and not think about it anymore, but that’s not healthy. This morning, after a few hours of sleep I woke up with a pounding heart and anxiety, and that’s ok. I’m allowing my body to take the time it needs to work through this experience. I’m going to journal, meditate, take a bath and give myself plenty of time to rest.

3) Listen to your inner child- while my body was out of control, I realized I needed to calm down my inner child. She was completely scared and panicked, which is completely understandable. I told her “You are safe.” “The doctors and nurses are taking care of you.” “This is temporary, and you will walk out of here able to breathe and feeling much better.” I think it’s so important to talk to ourselves as we would talk to other people in the same situation.

4) Gratitude- I always say it’s possible to find gratitude in every situation, and I truly believe that. So, during last night’s experience, I am grateful for: getting taken in an hour (in the past, I’ve had to wait a lot longer), the nice nurse who reminded me to breathe and do visualizations while trying to make me laugh, the other nurse and doctor who took care of me, the fact that I was able to leave the same day, walking out of the hospital able to breathe, and feeling SO much better today!