15 years ago I almost died.
Unaware I had an extreme allergy to wasps I had been blasé when I got stung for the second time in a month. I even made a point of swatting the wasp away afterwards; its dead body lying on the ground, my ego filled with pride that I had killed the little fucker. A few minutes later I wasn’t so self-assured. I felt nauseous and made my way to the toilet, and when I then collapsed onto the floor I knew something was seriously wrong.
It’s weird not being able to breathe. With my face and throat swollen up like a balloon I struggled for breath. I fought to inhale, trying desperately to get a lungful of air and when I realised I couldn’t – that the pinhole my mouth had become was refusing entry to the oxygen I so desperately needed – I was terrified.
Perhaps it was my friends’ faces that scared me even more though. I could see the fear in their eyes as they watched me rapidly deteriorate; I could sense their dread as they realised that this was a life or death situation and that if I didn’t get help – fast – I would not make it. Watching them panic around me as they tried to get me off the beach and into a vehicle to take me to the hospital didn’t exactly instil confidence about what was happening to me. But then I could only see their reaction to my worsening state: if I had been able to see how bad I looked myself, I would have responded in the same anxious way as they did I am sure.
But I was more concerned with not being able to breathe, and the way my body had become contorted and in pain all over. This was, as far as I know, because blood was rushing from my extremities to my vital organs to protect them, causing me a massive drop in blood pressure, and a sporadic loss of consciousness. At this point that I gave up struggling for breath: it was easier to give in - to give up hope - than to fight a losing battle. They say that people on the verge of death see their life flashing before their eyes. I didn’t. I had a terrible sense of impending doom, of darkness, of terror, and I knew I was going to die. I couldn’t fight anymore to live, because giving in was far easier and more peaceful. I wanted to accept my fate and be free from the suffocation.
Suddenly I became aware of a sensation on my face. Pain, sharp pain, but not like the other tight sensation all over my body: this was more direct. I remember seeing my friend’s hand landing on, and then leaving, my face; her mouth contorted as if in speech. She continued slapping me, hard, and then I realised she was shouting at me.
“Breathe you fucking bitch!” she screamed. “Don’t you fucking die on me! Don’t you fucking dare. Breathe. Come on you bitch. Fucking breathe!”
I was surprised at the vitriol coming out of her mouth. She was always such a well spoken girl, so her swearing was most out of place. In my semi-conscious state I watched her slap me and continue to shout, and at some point it hit home: I needed to breathe. She wanted me to breathe. So I tried to take a breath and she coaxed me on and then whenever it seemed like I was giving up again, her shouting and slapping brought me round and I kept up the struggle to live once more. Later she told me that just before she began slapping me she had seen a light go out in my eyes and she knew I had given up the fight to survive. To this day I am thankful to her for what she did, because I know I wouldn’t be around now otherwise.
My friends managed to lift me into a taxi and we sped to the hospital, where the doctors injected me with adrenaline to jump start my heart and hooked me up with various other intravenous drugs to revive my body. Of course it wasn’t until later, when I returned to the UK and had seen an allergy specialist that I learned just how little time I had to live: anaphylactic shock
kills you – fast. As a result I carry my adrenaline injection pen
with me everywhere now, just in case some fucker of a wasp feels like stinging me again.
This experience was terrifying and I’ll never forget it, though thankfully my semi-conscious state at the time prevents me recalling it in fine detail: I don’t wish to relive any of it with full clarity. What I do remember, as if it were yesterday, is how my boyfriend behaved at the time. Rather than try to calm me down, or slap consciousness into me like my friend, he was rather more preoccupied with something else: pulling my bikini top down so that it covered my breasts.
Everyone on that beach had seen my tits: they’d been on display for the last month, alongside every other woman who was soaking up the sun. I watched him as he repeatedly tugged at my bikini to ensure my boobs remained hidden, and I must have been frowning as I gasped for breath, because he said in an explanatory way:
“So you are decent
Given the situation, his behaviour was quite odd. To this day I’m not sure whether I should have been complimented that he was so worried about preserving my dignity, or whether I should have been insulted that he was more preoccupied with my appearance, rather than my health. Either way the relationship didn’t continue for very long after that holiday. But then that was more to do with the fact that he believed a woman should stay at home, whilst a man goes out to work, and the thought of cleaning his dirty socks all fucking day wasn’t really my idea of a happy or ambitious future.