Allergic Reaction

“EMS 6, allergic reaction, at 123 Main Street.”

At 7:40 Christmas night, my partner and I flip on the lights and sirens and race our ambulance toward 123 Main Street. En route, my partner reads off details of our dispatched call on our dashboard laptop.

“Twenty-year-old female. Respiratory arrest.”

I grab the radio. “This is EMS 6, requesting assistance on our anaphylaxis call. Copy?”

“Copy EMS 6. FD 14 is en route.”
Once we roll up on scene, several people wave us into the two-story home, their faces contorted in panic. As we hear sirens from an approaching fire truck, we rush our loaded stretcher inside the front door and toward the young lifeless body lying on the tiled kitchen floor, cyanosis around her lips.

I notice our patient’s chest is motionless, and I don’t feel or hear any air moving out of her mouth or nose.

“What is her name?” I ask no one in particular in the crowd of about a dozen surrounding us.

“Ally,” several voices answer.

“Ally?” I rub my knuckles over her sternum.

“Unresponsive,” I inform my partner, who’s yanking out a BVM (bag-valve mask), other airway equipment, and the med box.

I feel for a carotid pulse on her flushed neck. “Rapid and weak,” I say to my partner. We share a look of understanding—our patient is headed for cardiac arrest. Our interventions must be quick and efficient.

“What happened here?” I again ask the room full of people as I press the mask over my patient’s mouth and nose with my left hand in the E/C formation. With my right, I squeeze the football-sized bag every five seconds to oxygenate the young woman’s system. Her chest rises and falls with every squeeze, indicating her airway isn’t blocked by swelling or any foreign object.

“She was eating and started coughing, and said her chest is all tight,” a hysterical woman answered, suddenly kneeling next to me. “She was itchy all over, had trouble breathing, hives on her back.”

I face the middle-aged woman, tears flowing out of her eyes and down her cheeks. “Are you her mother?”

“Yes. She was severely allergic to peanuts when she was little but out grew it or whatever.”

As I continue bagging, my partner pushes epinephrine IM (intermuscular) then inserts an IV into our patient’s left arm for med access and fluid replacement. A fire crew of four men darts into the house.

Without an exchange of words, I hand one of the firefighters the BVM, and two of them take over bagging. One presses a tight seal over the mouth and nose, the other squeezes the bag.
“Hand me our monitor,” I ask the firefighter closest to our cardiac monitor. He and the fourth guy assist me in hooking up a twelve led ECG to our patient’s four limbs and chest.

I study the monitor for our patient’s vital signs, looking for indications of imminent anaphylactic shock and cardiac arrest. “BP 80/52. Pulse 134. SPO2 86%. Normal sinus heart rhythm.”

“Uh-huh,” my partner says, letting me know he heard my report of the grave vital signs.

I hand him diphenhydramine and methylprednisolone to administer into the IV line.

“Does Ally have any medical conditions or take any medications for anything?” I ask the mother.

“No. Nothing.”

We add Benadryl to the line then attach a little bag of Pepcid to the IV set up. Following up with those meds, we add Solu-medrol.

In scanning the kitchen, I spot several whole pies ready to be served, remnants of T-Bone steaks and empty lobster tails on multiple dirty plates. “Did she eat any nuts tonight?” I ask the mother to keep her occupied.

“Nothing any of us ate tonight contains nuts.” The mother points over her shoulder. “We haven’t eaten any pie yet, but none of them has nuts.”
“Has she ever eaten lobster before tonight?” I ask while digging into our airway bag.
“Once. Couple of months ago and loved it.”

“It was probably the lobster. The second encounter with an allergen is when an allergic reaction occurs.” I turn to my partner. “Let’s intubate.”


I’m readying the intubation equipment when Ally jerks to a conscious state, coughing and rolling on to her side, shoving the mask away from her face.

“Guess she didn’t want to be intubated,” one firefighter whispers near my ear, not out of humor but relief, a feeling I share.

“Ally? Hi.” I grab a non-rebreather mask. “You suffered a severe allergic reaction. You need oxygen.”

She nods, rolling to lie on her back again. Her mother squeezes her hand, pats her forearm.

“Bummer, I know, but we gotta take you to the hospital to be monitored overnight.” After turning the portable O2 tank on to 15 liters per minute, I strap the non-rebreather to Ally’s face. “Just breathe normally and relax. You’re doing fine. We’ve got you, Ally.” I smile at her.

The firefighters lift her weak body onto our stretcher; I study the monitor. “BP 96/60. Pulse 118. SPO2 92%,” I say to my partner.

“That’s what I want to hear,” he responds in a relief matching my wide smile.

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