One sunny, way too hot and WAY too humid summer afternoon I walked over to my friend’s apartment by the beach in Tel Aviv. As we waited for our other friends to arrive, we took a quick trip to the market for snacks – never thinking an anaphylactic reaction was in my future.
Hummus, pita chips, apples, beer, eggplant dip, pretzels, burekas. We got it all. And of course, before I put each one into the cart, I checked the ingredients (except the apples, obviously).
The first hummus we grabbed had pine nuts, called snowbarim in Hebrew. We put that back and grabbed another (safe for me to eat) hummus. Everything else was good to go.
We took it to the cashier, paid for our snacks, and walked back to her place.
We couldn’t wait for our friends. We were too hungry and they were taking too long. So we dove right into the eggplant dip.
Before I eat anything new, I always double check the label and take a look at the food. When I looked at the dip, I thought to myself weird, who leaves garlic that chunky, and then dove right in.
And immediately after I got started, my friend did too. She almost instantly recognized the weird taste that I couldn’t put my finger on.
I couldn’t put my finger on it because I hadn’t tasted it before.
Chopped peanuts. As in… not chunky garlic… and not something that will keep me alive.
She was calm when she told me what I was eating. So calm, in fact, that she almost didn’t believe herself and took another bite to make sure.
And sure she was. And sure I was that despite all of my training, I didn’t know what to do.
I didn’t know because I had never actually eaten a peanut before. Not once, not ever. Until now.
My training told me to take enough Benadryl to tranquilize a horse. Check.
Then take my epipen. Check.
Then call an ambulance. Not check.
I instead started chugging water. If I can swallow water, I wasn’t really having a reaction, was I? Wrong. So wrong.
Looking back, the way I handled this was nearly suicidal. I ten times out of ten would not recommend someone else go about things the way I did. But in the spirit of telling the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help me all of the Gods that watch over the Middle East, here is what I did. So dumb.
I started chugging water, and I waited. Paralyzed by fear, maybe. Paralyzed by the fact that calling an ambulance would be a 10,000 NIS (roughly $3,000) cost, maybe. Paralyzed by the unknown, I guess.
I waited and walked with my friends down to the beach – because I didn’t want to be alone, and because I didn’t know what to do. Although I knew what to do… because I had 23 years of training on it.
Nevertheless, once we got down to the beach I realized something weird: I felt fine. About 25 minutes had passed and I was fine. So I started thinking about what would happen if I all of a sudden started to feel not fine.
The country was about to shut down for Shabbat – which is treated as a holiday every weekend – and I wouldn’t have access to the same medical physicians as I would in that moment. So I grabbed my friend and hopped in a taxi.
I know… a taxi? Well, in Tel Aviv they are often faster than ambulances.
When we got into the taxi my breathing became labored. I took my second epipen. A minute or two later I was having trouble breathing. I started crying. I started yelling for the taxi driver to go faster. Stopped at our last light, a motorcyclist looked over at the oh-so-hysterical me. He handed me his water bottle through my window (I refused it… not that it’s important).
As we arrived to the emergency room my breathing stopped, I felt like I was suffocating. I was experiencing a true anaphylactic reaction. I got to the doors and collapsed. My friend started yelling for help and told anyone who would listen that I ate peanuts and that I’m allergic. Luckily, all emergency room physicians speak English in Tel Aviv.
Complete and total strangers – ill people also waiting in the emergency room- started yelling and moving out of the way to get me through. Someone picked me up and put me on a gurney. The nurses took me through as my friend registered me.
Barely coherent, I started to quickly say anything I could through my suffocation that might save me.
I’m allergic to peanuts and nuts. I ate a peanut. I’m allergic to penicillin. I took 2 epipens. I took Benadryl.
Two epipens didn’t help her? Wow.” I remember the doctor saying to the nurse.
I don’t remember what they pumped me full of, but whatever it was, it saved my life, and within the hour I was back to breathing normally.
That’s when I told my parents what happened. And boy, were they happy I was ok / pissed to the moon at how I handled things. If it wasn’t 16 hours of travel and a few thousand dollars, I think my parents would have come over and beat me themselves.
The following day was my friend’s birthday. She and all of our friends had plans to go to a city named Ashkelon to throw a big house party and celebrate. Because my roommates were out of town and I had no one to stay at my place with me, I stayed with her in Ashkelon. Five or six of my friends and I stayed in one room – to make sure I wasn’t alone and kept breathing throughout the night (considering the hospital released me about 6 hours after admittance).
Looking back, I cannot believe how stupid I was. I am so thankful that I am alive, well, and writing this story for you; but regret every second of my behavior starting with the Benadryl and ending with the phone call.
So, what happened?
I checked the label and didn’t see any peanuts or nuts in the dip before I hoover vacuumed up a peanut into my mouth. But afterwards, I took a third look at the label.
At the end of the ingredient list was the price tag. Totally normal, everything costs money.
I lifted the price tag and saw it written plain as day: Contains: peanuts.
Worst placement, ever.