Cruising the California coast, soaking up the ocean view, gliding through the beautiful rolling hills, reveling in the glorious late spring weather…we were on vacation. Well, maybe I shouldn’t call it a vacation, because I’d been retired from the Air Force for a year. We were all settled into our new place out in the wilds of the Missouri Ozarks, and now our primary job was doing whatever we felt like.
We were on a mission, though. Our son, who was a doctor in the Air Force and doing his residency at Travis Air Force Base, had been captivated by a bewitching lawyer lady and they were getting hitched. It would be a lovely outdoor ceremony at dawn the next morning, out in the lush hills of the wine country.
We had set up camp in Santa Rosa at a Motel 6, the only place in the area that allowed pets without a hundred bucks’ worth of non-refundable cleaning deposit. Bear, our shepherd/Lab adopted son, was on his normal professional guard duty, pretending to snore peacefully on his blankie next to the bed while staying ever-alert for encroaching evil.
It was two in the morning when my eyes snapped open. My innards were in a turmoil that suggested our take-out from the local A&W had gone rogue in a big way. I felt light-headed as I stumbled to the bathroom, and was thinking this was a heck of a time to come down with the flu.
I was sitting there scratching my head before I realized I was doing it, and then started scratching a little more. And a little more. And then I realized my whole scalp was itching. A LOT. And it started down my arms. And my chest. And then the fleas of a thousand junkyard dogs, in fierce competition with a massive swarm of ravenous chiggers, were gnawing on every square centimeter of EVERYWHERE.
I headed back to the bedroom so Sugar Babe could share in my misery, ‘cause that’s what marriage is all about. The world was spinning. My throat was tightening up and it was getting hard to breathe. I collapsed on the bed.
I was starting to suspect this just might not be the flu after all. Sugar Babe quickly concluded that circumstances called for a little more than her stash of Tylenol and Band-Aids. But what we did have was a doctor in the family, who could use a heads-up that there might be a slight snag in us getting to his ceremony as well as maybe even providing some free medical consultation. She dug out the number of the bed and breakfast where he was staying and dialed him up. I scratched and moaned.
Rousted out of his deep slumber at oh-dark-hundred on his wedding day, and needing to be out in the boonies in three hours for the festivities, Doc shook off the blearies and agreed with her that it sounded like some kind of allergic reaction was going on and I needed to get to a hospital before it got worse.
So, like any good retired military officer, used to quickly analyzing a situation and making lightning, but informed, decisions — and this being way before the widespread use of smart phones with GPS and Google — Sugar Babe grabbed the yellow pages and started looking for emergency rooms.
I did my part — lying flat on my back because I’d pass out if I tried to stand up — struggling into my clothes. That was the limit of my capabilities, and I didn’t do that very well. Bear helped by sticking his wet nose in my face to ask what was going on.
She found two emergency rooms, thought it would make a lot of sense to see which was closer, and looked for a map of the city. Would you believe that the yellow pages for Santa Rosa, California, would have 18 pages of instructions on how to recycle everything from paper and plastics to Aunt Fanny’s old bloomers, but only had a tiny, one-page map for a city of 175,000 people?? Yeah.
While she was calling emergency rooms to see if they would take our medical insurance, Doc woke up just a little bit more and realized she had been telling him that besides the itching, I was too dizzy to stand up, which just might mean that my blood pressure had dropped a lot and I just might be having a close, personal relationship with anaphylactic shock. He figured he’d better call her back and tell her to forget about the emergency room and just call 911 and get an ambulance there pronto.
He called Information and they gave him the number for “the Motel 6.” He tried that number and the motel clerk said there was nobody by that name registered. It turned out that there were two Motel 6’s in Santa Rosa — on the same road, no less — and he got the number for the north one while we were in the south one. Nobody realized that at the time, but when we found out later, it sure resolved a lot of questions.
Meanwhile, the first emergency room — the closer one, of course — wouldn’t take our insurance. The second would, so Sugar Babe got directions to supplement what she could make out of the tiny lines on the map and asked if they’d please have somebody meet us with a wheelchair or something because I couldn’t walk.
She helped me stagger out to the Expedition, went back for Bear, and off we went.
Finally, something went right and we were met in the parking lot by a wheelchair, which I plopped into, a pathetic pile of quivering wretchedness. I was whisked inside to sit in front of a bored woman with paperwork, who rejected Sugar Babe’s offer of pertinent info because she wanted it directly from me. Me, the guy who could barely breathe, let alone sit up and converse coherently about identification and medical insurance. I tried feebly to comply.
A nurse appeared and put a blood pressure cuff on my arm, pumped it up, glanced at the dial for a few seconds, and said, “Oh, sh…”
Medical folks are rigorously trained not to say, “Oh, sh…” and I was proud of her for managing to choke it off as she grabbed the wheelchair and zoomed me out of the waiting room, hollering at the paperwork person to get the info from his wife because he needed to be elsewhere, and right now.
It was finally exciting for a bit as people appeared and wrestled me onto one of those uncomfortable beds while grabbing equipment and wheeling it around and checking that pressure one more time to make sure. I asked the nurse what it was, and she said, “66 over 37.” I suggested that didn’t sound really good. She assured me she was impressed…she’d never seen a pressure that low on somebody who was actually still breathing.
I felt special, anyway.
I spent the next 7 hours in that bed, watching a doctor occasionally walk in, stare at me from across the room while stroking his chin thoughtfully, and tell the nurse no, let’s hold off with the epinephrine for a little while longer and see what happens. I was an impromptu, involuntary, single-case medical experiment conducted by a psychopath. I focused on somehow getting my hands around his throat. Couldn’t even sit up. Had to be content that the itching faded. Mostly.
I stayed in that dizzy, breathless limbo for hours until he finally relented and let the nurse shoot me up. And then, in short order, all was well. They observed me for a little while, scratched their heads in wonder, and discharged me.
I was in the emergency room from 2 hours before the wedding started until 15 minutes after the reception was over. I guess I wasn’t meant to be a witness to it. If I’d only known that in advance, I could have saved the 4,000 miles of round-trip driving…though we did manage to have dinner with Doc and LawLady before heading home again, so there’s that.
What caused it? No clue. The subsequent allergy test revealed only a little hay fever in conjunction with ragweed and suchlike. I carried an epi-pen for years, but never used it. The mystery reaction showed up a dozen more times over the intervening decades but was always nipped in the bud by a little benadryl before it got to the hard-to-breathe stage.
Conclusion? Mother Nature’s trying to kill me. For the previous year since I’d retired and moved to the Ozarks, she’d been attacking me with wasps, snakes, poison ivy, bats, falling trees, armadillos, spiders, and forest fires, and still I lived. So now she was sending in the assassination squads with methods apparently undetectable by modern science. I’ve foiled them…for now. But they’re relentless.
So I moved to Tennessee to escape…and it turns out she’s here, too. The attacks are escalating. It’s only a matter of time now. But I have a yard tractor, weed whacker, and chainsaw, and I’m taking as much of her with me as I can.
You might want to stand back…this is gonna get messy.