The red lobster tale: writing in minor emergencies

For your enlightenment and entertainment, and in case it happens to you:

The lobster tale

Today I woke up, and was a giant red lobster, fire-engine red from my feet to the top up my head under the hair, and down to the finger digits and thumbs. Remember Gregor Samsa? Kafka’s hero who woke up converted into a giant bug in Metamorphosis? Except in red.


It didn’t itch, but it hurt. I thought for a moment I had contact dermatitis – had somehow gotten the wrong laundry detergent on my last wash. I took two Benadryl – but it didn’t seem to be making a dent in the lovely scarlet.

Other symptoms? Well, the neighbor’s husband pointed out that high blood pressure can cause reddening (I guess all your blood gets pushed out to your extremities?), so I took my blood pressure: 181/92. I figured I was anxious, did my relaxation Yoga breathing for a couple of minutes, took it again: 212/107.

At which point I lay down on the floor, thinking to make it easier for my heart to pump. Curiously, it was NOT racing, but thumping away at 82. Normal for me runs about 10-15 beats lower, so that was upsetting.

Then, idiot me, while waiting for neighbor’s husband to walk the dogs (lunacy), I decide to take a shower BECAUSE MY HAIR IS DIRTY. That was the shortest, most efficient, most surreal shower on record once I realized I did NOT want to be found dead in the shower with nice clean hair. I skipped the conditioner.

Problems compound

Of course, I was literally between doctors. I decided the old one wasn’t what I needed after many years, and I have an appointment to see the new one for an intake visit NEXT Friday. Good planning, huh? Now you should know why we are so anxious about getting the details EXACTLY right when DH retires and we switch to a different plan: if you don’t have insurance, or in this case, a primary physician, that’s when you will get something.

Except for CFS and some back and walking problems – and all that entails – I’ve always considered myself a healthy person (denial?). Because my immune system is always ON, I don’t get colds and flu except for maybe a day’s worth – and then, mysteriously, they’re gone. I haven’t been what normal people call ‘sick’ in YEARS. I have given this interesting version of CFS to the character I’m writing in Pride’s Children – Kary jokes that if she ever gets a cold, she will know she is finally getting better. (Not everyone with CFS gets this version – many are far more disabled than I am.)

I decided it was stupid to die because I ‘didn’t want to bother anyone,’ so I called 911, and just as they were taking my information, I heard neighbor’s husband at the door, and I canceled the wild ambulance ride. Such a fuss. Unless you’re dying.

There was no pain, no symptoms of stroke (I could smile, raise both my arms, and talk), no crushing feeling, no sense of great pressure, no feeling of doom. I was a little discombobulated due to anxiety – you’d be, too, if you couldn’t find the new doctor’s NAME, much less phone number, and you knew the insurance company had already transferred you to her, so you couldn’t go to the old one, and you couldn’t find the number of the local Urgent Care facility either.

The ER decision

Friend’s husband took me to the nearest emergency room.

I found the doctor’s number. They said, since they didn’t even know me, go to the ER. Okay. I figure that will cut it with the insurance company, so I’m covered. If I go to Urgent Care, and they need to do anything not minor, they will have to send me to the hospital ANYWAY, so cut out the middleman.

Interesting ride. I walk in. NOBODY treats it like an emergency! Not even after the blood pressure cuff gets to the arm-severing point because otherwise they can’t measure a BP that high. Okay. If I fall over, they’ll figure it out.

They seemed extremely lackadaisical about it, but eventually tucked me into a room. I figured it I died there, they might be able to do something about it. And if they didn’t, husband might be able to sue for big bucks or something.

Let the husband know (he’s in the middle of class, and the not-quite-with-it person taking the message got it all wrong), but neighbor’s husband said I should. If you’re dying, you should remember to say ‘I love you ‘ to the husband.

Doctor comes in, everyone takes measurements, EKG, insert IV line. Then disappear for a while to think about it… Maybe the lobster color is fading a bit from the two Benadryl I took at home. Just a little.

Anyway, they decided it was an allergy to something I had eaten (I’m pretty sure it was hazelnuts – which I didn’t know was the most common allergy to tree nuts – did you?).

But here’s the kicker: I’d had some hazelnuts (careless of me – I’d had some previous reactions which I was pretty sure might be hazelnuts, but only when eating a half a bag) with the mixed nuts, while watching TV at 10 pm. This all happened when I woke up the next morning. Since I only got myself to bed at 3:30 or 4, there were plenty of hours when I was awake for my body to decide it was going to react to something: the emergency room doc said the reaction could take from seconds to hours – another good thing to know.


So they pumped me full of antihistamines: more Benadryl. Prednisone. Something else which turned out to be Pepcid AC (did you know it is also a kind of anti-histamine? I didn’t.) and told me I might feel sleepy. Then they left me alone except for periodic visits to see if the blood pressure was coming down, and the flushed skin was clearing (they both were, very slowly). You’d think that by now they’d have Epipens with fast-acting antidotes, wouldn’t you?

I must have slept in there somewhere. Hard to do with an IV line in your hand and a bag of saline tethering you to a stand (they finally gave me a portable one), a narrow cot, freezing AC, and a sheet and blanket which were way too narrow because I kept them folded in half to get more layers. Hospital gowns are NOT warm. I say I must have slept, because the whole thing started at 8 am, and when friend’s husband came to get me because I was free to go, it was almost 2 pm

The allergen is expected to clear out of my system by the time I finish the pills they prescribed: 7 days for one, 5 for the prednisone. Okay. You guys know more than I do. I hope.


On the discharge sheet, the symptoms of ‘Allergic Reaction, Mild to Moderate’ are:

Swelling and itching in and around the mouth;
tearing, itchy eyes;
nasal congestion and runny nose;
sneezing and coughing;
an itchy red rash or hives;
vomiting or diarrhea; difficulty breathing.

NONE of which I have. And the one I do have – being freshly-boiled-lobster-red all over – is not on their list. Do they even read their own information? I get the prescriptions filled anyway. And take them. And make a chart so I remember to take them (that non-functioning brain I keep writing about). The fact that we CFS folk can overreact like crazy to very small doses – less than therapeutic – of medications will have to be set aside for now; but I may be fighting with doctors again soon over stopping steroids. AFTER I get rid of the lovely color.


I take another nap. Then I go to a concert tonight, because I’m president and have to introduce the performers, etc. And yes, I did call someone in case I couldn’t make it – people who just don’t show drive me nuts. So organized I am. So efficient even when in the midst of an emergency. So cool. So polite to all the nice helpers. Really, it’s a major acting job.

This is what I call LIFE – and the reason I didn’t get any fiction written today (do you blame me?).

As a writer, even though it was acutely boring (when I wasn’t wondering if this was it – no – it couldn’t be – but okay if it’s my time I shall be brave…), I have memorized the whole scene. No point in putting up with constant noise – and a nurse who disremembers to turn the beeping of the BP machine off when she leaves – and the lack of actual doors – and the curtains which sort of close – and hospital gowns. Not warm, remember? Not if you’re not going to get some words out of it.

There is a scene in the WIP coming later where all of these details can be tucked in somewhere to give a reader the illusion she is in a real hospital.

(I just took ANOTHER Benadryl: the sensation of having weirdly hot ears is back, and some of the redness – let’s see whether I really need prednisone for 5 days: us CFS folk are some us mighty sensitive to medications – which I will worry about AFTER I feel more normal.)

But I wasn’t really planning to get the information in person.

Feel free to share YOUR writing emergencies.

Updated: This turned out to be a reaction to the WAY I was taking Vitamin B1; search on B1 on the blog for the rest of the story.


4 thoughts on “The red lobster tale: writing in minor emergencies

  1. Circe

    What an awful experience! I understand some of your reactions quite well. Doesn’t everyone shower before going to the hospital? Maybe that doesn’t hold true for those who are in shock or have suffered traumatic injury…. But being showered first is what we wish for. Once fairly certain that the person in question will make it out alive, I also tend to be much more concerned with freezing, and how to make the horrible beeping noises stop, and how to get out fast, when I’m in an ER, or even visiting someone in an ER.

    No Nutella?! As a confirmed nut-lover, I hope you are not allergic to walnuts and pecans. They are in a different class, the bivalves of nuts, I guess, and some people are allergic only to walnuts and pecans. Oddly enough I tried hazelnut milk yesterday. No similar effects. You are not missing anything, or else it was ruined by being frozen by our malfunctioning refrigerator (that won’t do the decent thing and actually break.) I would describe it as hazelnut water, and something to be avoided at all cost.

    May you continue to feel better and my the blood pressure stay under control. Prednisone is a strong medication, so it might take a little while to feel yourself. My asthmatic used to go to school on Prednisone after the immediate event and any danger had passed. Hope it doesn’t slow you down today. Keep us updated!


    1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

      Thanks for the concern. If you see the update post from yesterday, I think it’s NOT a nut allergy – the symptoms were never what I expected from an allergy, especially after the hospital gave me their sheet on allergic reactions – but I couldn’t figure out WHAT it was until it happened again yesterday.

      Now I’m faced with giving up the energy increase from the B1 if I can’t find a smaller dose that doesn’t send me to lobster-land. Ah, Life! Constantly trying to get us. As soon as the symptoms are completely resolved, I’ll try again with a much smaller dose.

      Maybe it will help me focus to know how limited the good times are going to be again.


  2. Claire Chase

    I’m so sorry you had to go through all this, Alicia!!! I hope you’re color is back to normal and that your blood pressure is also back to normal. So I guess you should avoid hazelnuts. Sleep well tonight… 🙂


    1. ABE Post author

      If it hadn’t been QUITE so scary, it would have been more ‘interesting.’ Yes, thanks. The BP was 120/75 this morning, the color gone, and all I’m left with is the knowledge that I can never have Nutella again, and a post with it all stored up.

      Maybe I will be able to use it in a story. If I don’t write things down, they’re lost to me. I will be careful from now on. I THINK it is the hazelnuts – it could still be one of the others – so I’ll be cautious with all tree nuts and peanuts for a while. Don’t particularly want to go through that again.



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