My Scary Hospital Visit

As the title should make obvious I had something happen at the weekend that was a touch on the worrying side. In terms of trying to get my head around it I thought I’d write it down (blogging as therapy eh?)

While everyone was enjoying the England v Croatia game on Sunday this was me.

Picture of Andy wearing a nebulizer mask
Loads of fun.

So how did I get there?

I was out on a long training run for a big event I’ve got coming up soon. The last few weeks have been very nice to get out in the sun and see things like this.

Green field with trees
Green green grass

At around the 12 mile mark my chest started to get a bit tight. I’m asthmatic and I suffer from hay fever so there was no sudden panic as it’s a feeling I’m familiar with. It is unusual for something to happen during a run though. Normally I take my inhaler beforehand and that’s all I need to do. So I slowed it down a bit to see what happened. Sometimes these things disappear as quickly as they appear.

Unfortunately this didn’t happen. My breathing started to get a bit worse so I sent a text to Bryony asking if she could meet me with my inhaler. I was fully expecting to take that and be on my way.

Yes I’m fully aware I should really be carrying it with me. I’m on the whole a mild asthmatic. I very rarely have big episodes and it’s normally triggered by something such as illness, paint fumes, dust, extreme weather. My running routine is to take before I go and that’s it. I’ve never once needed it after that. After this episode that routine will change!

At this point I was in a field in the middle of nowhere. I’d organised a meeting point that was on my route and easy for her to find thinking that based on my current pace we should arrive at roughly the same time.

It turned out that wasn’t going to happen. My breathing went downhill really quickly. The tightness had turned into a full on wheeze, I had pain right at the bottom of my lungs and I was gradually getting slower. It was this point I’d realised my eyes had started to close up. My throat felt really weird and my nose was so blocked it was almost painful.

I text Bryony again with a new meeting point, telling her I was going to abandon the run when we met. All I had to do was get out of the field. As the minutes passed this got harder and harder. I could barely breathe by this point and I discovered the blockage in my nose was because of some horrible yellow gunk that was coming out of my face. I’d also discovered a rash that I originally thought was just nettle stings had gone all the way up my legs and was also covering my arms.

I somehow got to the end of the field and to the meeting point but was so all over the place I thought I was at the wrong junction so started to wander up a hill. By this point taking steps was nearly impossible and I was really panicking. I got my phone out to send a new location to Bryony and then realised I’d actually been in the right place all along.

I needed to know what was going on with my eyes so this delightful selfie happened.

Yes I need to trim my beard

I just about managed to get to where I needed to be and Bryony appeared shortly after. I used my inhaler and it took just enough effect so that the worry about where my next breath was coming from had eased a little. It still wasn’t great though and I felt terrible.

She took one look at me and told me I needed an ambulance. We’ll skip over the part where I said I was fine now I’d got my inhaler and I just needed to go home

I ended up in A&E.

They clearly decided it was serious as I spent basically no time at all in the waiting area. I’ve been to A&E with asthma related stuff before and I was fully expecting to be sitting around for a few hours.

The medical staff sprung into action and within no time at all I’d had an anti-histamine, blood test, ECG, paracetamol and what I think was some kind of steroid via a canular in my arm. Shortly after that I had a chest x-ray.

The medication started to kick in. Breathing returned to normal, the pain in my chest disappeared. The rash was far less angry than it had been earlier.

Here it is when I was feeling normal enough to actually take pictures

By this point it was clear that any kind of danger I may have been in had passed. I had to wait for a second round of blood tests before they’d let me go anywhere but eventually I was on my home. From when I met Bryony to being back at home was about six hours in all.

So what actually happened?

The words the doctor used was “anaphylactic shock”

If you don’t know what this is it’s when your body has an extreme reaction to some external influence. When you hear about people with dangerous peanut allergies this falls under that. It can be lots of things though. Insect stings are another.

The working theory for me at the moment is nettles. Even though I’ve been running for years, very recently I’ve changed where I run. The event I’ve got planned is a long distance off road event. So I’ve been trying to replicate that in my training so I’ve been coming up against fields that aren’t quite as easy to pass as others and they sometimes are full of long grasses and weeds including nettles.

I’ve been stung a few times over the last few weeks and my legs didn’t look pretty afterwards. On reflection it turns it this had happened last week too and possibly the week before. I’d come home with a rash all the way up my legs and had swollen eyes. I thought the rash was just nettle stings and my eyes were because of the heat and how much sweat I had in my eyes.

Turns out that was just the warm up. The reaction can get worse with each exposure culminating in my trip to the hospital

So what next?

I had a conversation with the Doctor on Monday. As I’ve been running for so long without issue and it’s clear it is something about the change of routes that has triggered this she’s happy for me to continue running as long as I stay on “safer” routes that i’ve been using before and carry antihistamines with me. I have also invested in a pair of running tights that are supposedly for summer use to give my legs some extra protection. We’ll see how I get on with that.

The following morning after I’d taken the first set of medication I’d been sent home with, other than feeling tired I actually felt ok.
My face tells a different story though. I was still a bit swollen around the eyes

Also needs a haircut

This is honestly one of the most frightening experiences I’ve ever gone through. I’m deeply grateful for the NHS and the staff at George Elliot Hospital who were fantastic throughout.

Also my amazing wife Bryony who was there to have my back when I was too stupid to think I’d be ok with a lie down on the sofa.

Now I’m waiting on an appointment with an allergy specialist to try and figure out exactly what happened.

If you’ve made it this far.

Make sure you’re aware what the symptoms of a severe allergic reaction look like.

The NHS description is here

Don’t be an idiot like me. If you have to take regular medication for something, follow the rules.

Even if you think something bad will never happen to you. It only needs to happen once and you could be in all sorts of trouble. Take your health issues seriously!

Know how to contact someone quickly in an emergency and learn how to share your location with your phone

If you use WhatsApp this is how you do it

* 2022 Update * – When I first shared this I had a lot of people suggest What3Words as an alternative to sharing your location via other means. I personally would not recommend it if you are making a phone call to an emergency service. There is an excellent bit of research by Andrew Tierney showing that the locations are not quite as unique as they should be and that when shouting the three words down the phone it’s entirely possible to put someone in roughly your vicinity but not close enough to actually help.

That doesn’t mean it isn’t a useful service, but I do agree with Andrew it’s not great in an emergency

And finally, one year on.

Fortunately I’ve not had this happen again. I managed to complete Race To The Stones without issue and as my attentions turned back to road running and then we moved into winter I’ve broadly kept away from trails. When I do hit the trails I try keep to areas that I know, keep my legs covered and carry antihistamine with me.

In terms of what specific allergy trigged this? No idea. It was a bit of a battle to get an appointment with an allergy specialist, when that did happen other than a blood test I didn’t get any other diagnostics done. I understand their point of view in that this has happened once and is potentially avoidable as it only happened when I changed where I run but the lack of information bothers me.

I’ve been prescribed an EpiPen and basically told to be careful.

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Andy Parkes is Technical Director at Coventry based IT support company IBIT Solutions. Formerly, coordinator of AMITPRO and Microsoft Partner Area Lead for 2012-2013. He also isn't a fan of describing himself in the third person.

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