It was an ordinary Monday until a strange feeling began to come over me during work one afternoon. I told a friend after work I was going to go have Ross, my pharmacist, check my blood pressure before heading to Sam’s, as I just felt a bit odd. It checked out within normal range and I headed to pick up some fruit and a couple of things at Sam’s.
About 15 minutes later I am evaluating the grapes trying to decide which ones my boys will like better. I did what any smart shopper would do and plucked both a red and a black grape from the vine, wiped them off on my shirt and popped them in my mouth. Within a minute I started having horrible stomach cramps. I thought this is really strange and although I have never had food poisoning this seems to fit the description I have heard from others.
So I headed down the 6 short aisle journey to the restroom to see what happens. During this journey, I began getting light headed and progressively feeling more and more off as the seconds went by. I remember everything so vividly. I chose a bathroom stall that was almost to the end, thinking if i start throwing up, I don't want the people in the store to hear me, because Sam’s doesn’t have doors at their restroom entry. The moment I sat down, I knew something was terribly wrong. I texted my husband, Brian, to be sure he knew I was in the Sam’s bathroom and I wasn’t feeling well. The room started spinning, I began to get incredibly hot, and the cramps were horrible.
I had the number to Sam’s in my phone so I tried to call them to tell them that I needed help, but no one answered. I tried this several times, in between trying to find my stash of Benadryl, Pepcid AC and Zyrtec. This was an issue though, because I had nothing to drink to take these pills. I knew that I had to get myself out of the bathroom stall, because at any moment, I could pass out and seriously injure myself with a fall.
I managed to gain enough determination to stand, enough to open the door, and lay down in the aisle of the bathroom floor. I knew if anyone came in there, they would have to see me. I remember moaning, rolling around, clenching my stomach, and getting increasingly hot. I was going in and out of unconsciousness. I remember calling Brian, and telling him I am bad, I am having an episode, and to please call Sam’s and get me help.
Then finally a young teen came into the bathroom, and I freaked the poor girl out. I asked her to get me help, anyone that worked there. She grabbed the nearest lady she could find, who was NiTasha Knepper. NiTasha had enough paramedic training to get me the emergency help I needed, and kept my husband informed on the phone while everything was happening! She assisted me in taking my meds and asked me about my EpiPen. I told her that I didn’t need it because I could “still breathe” and my throat wasn’t closed up. Little did I know, that epinephrine was a big part in stopping this episode I was having.
Even though I was in and out of consciousness, I could hear everything that was said around me; from NiTasha to Brian on speaker phone, to the firefighters and EMT when they arrived. I just couldn’t speak. It took so much energy to just muster up a few words when they asked me questions. I was so hot, that the coldness of the tile floor, and even placing my bare legs up on the bathroom partitions gave me great relief from the burning. The firefighters were on the phone with Brian, trying to do everything they could to assist me.
When they arrived my blood pressure was 86/34, and they were highly concerned. When I heard them say,” we are going to get her to Midwest City Hospital stat!”, I yelled out with all the energy I could collect, “DO NOT TAKE ME TO MIDWEST CITY HOSPITAL!” They were shocked that I came to for that declaration, but explained to Brian on the phone they did not have enough time to get me anywhere further away.
On the ambulance ride there I was in and out, moaning, cramping, etc. I kept begging the lady, “Please do not let me die!” She would reply, “I am trying not to.” I kept getting out of the restraints, even though I wasn’t “trying to”. She began mildly yelling at me to hold still, because I was making it impossible for her to help me, as I was knocking over stuff on the ambulance walls and shelves unknowingly. The blood pressure cuff got tight one more time, and I heard her ask the driver how far away they were. He stated, “2 miles away.” She replied, “You need to blow these lights.” I then heard the sirens began to blow consistently and the ambulance pick up speed. I found out later that was when my blood pressure went to 60/20. She had given up keeping me in the restraints and just kept me on the gurney.
When they took me out of the ambulance I recall a flood of doctors and nurses all around. Brian had already informed them of my medical history so they had a little bit of direction. Dr. Stephanie Toth was the physician assigned to me and when she first saw me being wheeled in she thought I had gone and gotten drunk the way I was acting and that I passed out in the sun and fried my skin. Little did she know what was in store.
I remember getting multiple shots in my arm that felt like a paperclip held to a flame until it was beat red and then stuck in my arm. Later I discovered that is the feel of epinephrine. It sucked so bad!!! I got 3 IVs, fingers pricked, blood drawn and who knows what else in a matter of minutes.
Sometime in the middle of all this Brian arrived and my best friend, Jody. He called Dr. Peggy Dubois my normal doctor and asked her some questions for Dr. Toth and they even talked about my history. After several minutes I began to stabilize and become more coherent. I started shaking violently due to all the fluid intake and was now freezing. As I began to progress Jody sent a picture to my brother from another family, Jeremy Griffin, of me laying in the hospital bed looking extremely bad. He had said for years that if anything happened to me he wanted to be the one that administered the EpiPen. Needless to say he freaked out a bit!
Sometime shortly my Mom that lives in Western Oklahoma showed up. I made rapid progress and within the hour the paramedics that brought me in came by with another patient and I heard her say, “Oh my gosh!! That lady is alive! She made it!!” I asked to see them both so I could thank them personally for saving my life. The lady kept telling me how close they were to losing me. In that moment it really made me realize...this was serious!! Until then I just wondered if I was overreacting. Could I have just taken some Benadryl checked out with my grapes and gone home? Nope, this was a reality check for me!!
I soon got discharged and besides a antihistamine hangover and epinephrine side effects I felt perfect and very grateful!! I called Sam’s because I wanted to thank the lady that helped save my life earlier that day and to let her know that I am alive and well!
A few days later I posted this on social media...
“May 23, 2015 - Some of you are beginning to hear through the grapevine of my health issues, especially Monday night's episode. Brian and I thought it might be a good idea to go ahead and do a post to help with questions and confusion. This is hard for me because I don't like attention or to be in the spotlight of people's thoughts. So here is a short version... I have a form of a very rare disease called "Mastocytosis" (mast cell activation). There are many different forms of it and we are still figuring out what form mine is and the development of it. I am blessed to have an amazing doctor that isn't afraid to research, be open to others input and work with us closely! As we learn more about it we feel like it developed around 1998, but with my many childhood breakouts of hives it may have been earlier. Until just a couple years ago we thought it was just allergic reactions, but it is more than that. Currently the mastocytosis is the cutaneous version with systemic indications. This means that I have way to many mast cells in my body's tissue that store histamines. Therefore a normal allergy issue could be deadly to me. I have not had a severe release since 2000, but Monday night at Sam's I felt an outbreak coming on and it happened too fast. In about 4 minutes I was in a full blown release without any way to carry out my preventive measures. The EMT and ER doctor did a great job saving my life as my blood pressure took a dive to 66/20 and I was in full anaphylaxis. Many other symptoms were present as well. It is a hard disease to explain and everyone has different triggers and symptoms. I am working at getting my emergency plan, meds and more in a red container in my purse to have at all times. So if you are with me and I have a severe release, open it up and follow the instructions while calling 911. I have created a playlist of some videos that we are using to design a plan and educate ourselves. I have put the link here if anyone feels like they would like to know more. Also, this is the same disease Bill Beam struggles with for those of you that know him. He has a different and more aggressive version, but not any more life threatening than mine. Thank you for your prayers and reading this novel! We aren't in fear of this and refuse to live in fear, but are being wise and getting educated and prepared. Love you all!”
On December 11, 2015 I received a special Christmas blessing that afternoon!!! I got to meet the lovely NiTasha in person, while I was coherent!! She is my "Sam's Hero"!! She was the one that came to my rescue and got me the emergency help I needed and kept my husband informed on the phone!!! What a wonderful blessing to get to hug her neck and thank her!!!! It was amazing...she recognized me immediately when I found her and said I looked so much better than I did that day. All the employees knew exactly who I was and still to this day 3 years later many of them know the “story” of the lady on the bathroom floor that tried to die.
Written by Gretchen Cannon