When Popcorn Becomes Deadly…
What should you do if someone eats something and they tell you their tongue feels itchy? Immediately ask them if they have a known allergy, ask them if they have an EpiPen and administer the dose of epinephrine, then call 9-1-1 (From www.foodallergy.org). Don’t wait – time is precious.
On Friday night, my kids were in the car on their way home from their high school football game when one of their friends (we will call him “Johnny”), who has known nut allergies, ate something he shouldn’t have eaten without checking the ingredients first: a handful of Fisher’s Caramel Popcorn.
In the car Johnny had asked if anyone had anything to drink so he could rinse his mouth out, but it was too late – he had already swallowed a pretty substantial amount of popcorn, though he tried to rinse his mouth out with the Diet Coke they had in the car as best as he could.
As they pulled into our driveway, Johnny got out of the car and began to try to vomit what he ate onto the grass – he was becoming desperate. Meanwhile we were losing precious time. He was swelling up – his lips were puffy, his eyes were watering and his nose was running – worst of all, his throat was swelling. My son ran in and told me Johnny had a peanut allergy and he needed water so he could try to throw up.
This is when I went outside to see what was going on. I could see his face was swelling and asked if Johnny had an EpiPen, and he said he did, but he didn’t have it on him. I told my son to call 9-1-1 immediately as I went to see if we had any Benedryl, which we did not. Meanwhile, everyone thought I was overreacting so we lost another precious minute before I got on the phone and called for an ambulance myself.
By now all the kids were inside and I did my best to get Johnny to relax at the kitchen table while we waited for the ambulance. With every second his breathing became more labored, his face became more swollen, and he was beginning to itch everywhere – he was telling us he couldn’t breathe as I rubbed his back and tried to keep him calm. We live very close to the fire station (about a mile away) – we could hear the sirens, but it took an eternity for them to get to us (in reality it was probably less than five minutes).
Finally, the engine truck got here, quickly followed by the ambulance. At this point I called Johnny’s mom – I can’t imagine being on her end of the line, “Is this Johnny’s mom? Johnny just had an allergic reaction to Fisher’s Popcorn. The ambulance is here, I’ll ride with him and meet you at the ER.”
By the time I hung up, the medics had given him a shot of epinephrine, administered an IV line and began an IV drip of Benedryl, and hooked him up to an oxygen tank. I could hear them saying, “Come on, Johnny, stay with us!” as I was on the phone with his mom.
It pains me to think about the what-ifs…
Thankfully Johnny is fine (he was discharged after a few hours in the ER) and now everyone present that night knows just how serious a food allergy can be. And Johnny, having faced death head-on, understands why he is supposed to carry an EpiPen with him at all times.
What does this mean to you? Familiarize yourself with the symptoms of anaphylaxis and don’t hesitate to “overeact” and call 9-1-1 when someone is experiencing an anaphylactic reaction to a food allergen or insect sting. Johnny’s brush with death taught all of us a very serious lesson: don’t wait to call an ambulance for what you think is a “no big deal” medical emergency – it can quickly become a big deal. Better to have the rescue service come and not be needed, than to wait until it is too late for them to be able to help…it only takes a few minutes for anaphylaxis to become life-threatening.
Also, when you hear a siren, move your vehicle out of the roadway and let the emergency responders pass, or stop at the intersection to let them cross – I can’t tell you how many people tried to outrun the ambulance on our way to the hospital, and the driver told me it happens all the time. Do your part to help save a life.
And the next time you see someone wearing a Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Service (MCFRS) shirt around town, thank them in advance – you never know when they might be called to save your life or the life of someone you love.