Shrimp Day, Part Two: Zak’s Birthday, Such As It Was

There you see the smiling birthday boy, with his birthday dinner, about an hour before disaster struck.

See, here is the thing: Zak was feeling a little midlife-crisisish over the fact that he was turning forty, so I decided to make a nice special birthday for him.

Kat had other ideas.

She woke us up before eight in the morning and proceeded to channel Satan in true toddler fashion. Nothing made her happy, everything made her scream, and the world was all awry.

I got up and took Kat downstairs, and let Zak go back to sleep. When he got up, Kat had been fed and was somewhat chilled out, from having been drawing with me for the past hour.

Then, we decided it was safe to take the girl and go to Casa for a nice birthday breakfast.

Boy, were we wrong.

Little Satan had other ideas in mind, and proceeded to scream at everything. It started with the church bells–as soon as we got out of the car, the local Catholic Church service let out to the loud peal of giant bells. Kat, probably because she was currently possessed of a demon, started freaking out all over the place. Screaming, writhing, screeching, clawing at the air–while we tried to walk down the street like nothing was particularly wrong with the insane red-headed toddler who happened to be attached to Zak.

Then, when we tried to sit down at Casa, Kat screamed to run around. So, we both took turns taking her for walks. Inside, outside, upside down we walked the kid until I was sure that I was going to drop in my tracks from lack of coffee. Then, she decided she could never be more than two feet from Zak’s side, and screamed if I tried to take over walking her.

It was a crap morning.

The rest of the day wasn’t so bad.

I made dinner–the recipe for which I will be giving in the next post–Thai Spicy Basil Shrimp–using the Thai basil and chilies that are taking over our deck garden. The garlic was locally grown and super-fresh, and the shrimp, of course, were the ones I had bought just the day before at the Farmer’s Market. I also used the shrimp stock I had made the day before from the shells and heads of the shrimp Zak, Dan and I had eaten after Dan and I had come off of a busy shift at Salaam. (Dan drums for our bellydancers. And, answers the phone and now and again, refills water glasses, because he is nice and likes to help out.)

And the dinner was good. Look at it. I mean, it was really, really good.

Zak, Morganna, Dan and I gobbled those shrimp and vegetables up with steamed jasmine rice as if we had never eaten before. (Kat ate some Thai Cilantro Chicken that I made for her. I will have to present the recipe here, because it was really good and it was something off the top of my head.)

So, there we were, sitting in the living room, being mellow after a good meal. Kat was on my lap, playing with her Ticklebird, when I got a peculiar sensation in the back of my throat. One that I had felt once before in a similar situation–I had eaten spicy black pepper shrimp, and my throat started to close up. I tried to swallow, and could, only barely.

There was liquid Benedryl in the kitchen, so I called to Zak calmly and asked him to please bring it to me, now.

Which he did. And I drank down between fifty and seventy-five milligrams of it. And waited, while everyone stared at me. I also took out my albuterol inhaler and took two puffs of that, just in case.

After about five minutes, I determined that I should probably go to the ER, because my throat was still swelling up, slowly, but swelling nonetheless.

Dan sprang into action, while Zak and Morganna stayed with Kat.

Off we went to the ER, where I was looked after at a snail’s pace, but since Dan was with me, I didn’t really get a chance to get scared. It turned out that they didn’t need to give me epinephrine–I had caught it fast enough and gotten enough benedryl and albuterol in my system to pretty much derail the reaction. Dan, bless him, at once point, once my tongue started to swell and I had trouble speaking, took to answering the intake receptionist for me. That is the best thing about having friends who know all of your business–when you can’t talk, they can talk for you.

They gave me prednisone and sent me home, even though my blood pressure was still through the roof. What mattered was that I could breathe and hadn’t died, although I really felt like wanting to for a while.

So, that is how I ruined Zak’s birthday.

I ended up sleeping most of Monday, but I did wake up enough to call and make an appointment with my primary care physician so she can do a blood test to see if I really am allergic to shrimp. I sure hope not–because Dan and I had just been talking about how we needed to go back to Baltimore next summer (Dan was born there, just like Zak, and all three of us lived there for some time in our lives) so we could eat crab to our hearts’ content. And well, the deal is–if you are allergic to shrimp, you really should eat no shellfish at all. Which really, really sucks.

It is possible that it wasn’t the shrimp, though. It could have been the black pepper that is in the Old Bay Seasoning which I didn’t even think about when I cooked the shrimp and made the stock the night before. See–I had a similar reaction to this two years ago, when I was pregnant with Kat, and had a blood test done for both black pepper and shrimp–and it turned out to be the pepper. Since then, I have generally avoided black pepper, and have found that I can eat very small amounts of it–but if there is a dish with lots of it, or I bite into a whole peppercorn, my mouth swells up.

It is possible that by boiling down the stock and concentrating the pepper, I created something that was just about bound to kill me.

Which is a shame–because that shrimp stock tasted so good. (To die for, I guess you could say.) And now, I feel as if no matter whether it is the pepper or the shrimp, I should get rid of it.

So–I guess I will be giving away a quart of really rich, really flavorful shrimp stock to a lucky friend sometime this week….sigh.

I’ll keep everyone posted about the status of my allergy once I find out. I go in on October 1st, and it usually takes a week or two to get results. In any event, I am getting an epipen from Dr. Ford, just in case. I’ll still carry the liquid Benedryl and use that as my first defense and use the epipen only if I need to, but I do want to have it with me, because anaphylaxiss is no fun at all.

And, frankly, as a chef, I need to know what dishes I can safely taste and which ones I will have to just trust my sense of smell and knowledge of spices to tell me how they taste.

Maybe next year, Zak’s birthday will be better.

5 Comments

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  1. oh my gosh, I can’t imagine how scary it would be to have a reaction like that. Thank goodness you caught it quickly with the meds, and yay for great friends willing to squander their time in the ER. I’m glad you’re OK!

    Happy Birthday to Zak!

    Comment by De in D.C. — September 23, 2008 #

  2. Ouch! I’m so glad you got the Benadryl in you quickly, and that things turned out all right. And I’ll hope it is the pepper. A new allergy would not be fun at all.

    Comment by Emily — September 23, 2008 #

  3. Barbara –

    How scary. Have you found out more about your allergy since you posted this?

    IMO, and I hope you don’t mind my input, the emergency room didn’t handle things according to newer protocols. Anaphylaxis almost always requires lengthy observation due to biphasic reactions. Anaphylaxis can return up to 12 hours after the initial reaction. As well, epinephrine should always be the first line med. if you’re having swelling of the throat, tongue, etc. (In other words, clear signs of anaphylaxis.) Benadryl is all right, but don’t be afraid to inject the epi early. I’ve done so, and it’s saved my life on several occasions. Hope you don’t have another reaction, though. That would be best of all.

    Comment by Andrea L. — October 22, 2008 #

  4. Barbara –

    How scary. Have you found out more about your allergy since you posted this?

    IMO, and I hope you don’t mind my input, the emergency room didn’t handle things according to newer protocols. Anaphylaxis almost always requires lengthy observation due to biphasic reactions. Anaphylaxis can return up to 12 hours after the initial reaction. As well, epinephrine should always be the first line med. if you’re having swelling of the throat, tongue, etc. (In other words, clear signs of anaphylaxis.) Benadryl is all right, but it won’t necessarily reverse anaphylaxis; don’t be afraid to inject the epi early. I’ve done so, and it’s saved my life on several occasions. Hope you don’t have another reaction, though. That would be best of all.

    Comment by Andrea L. — October 22, 2008 #

  5. Please keep us post on the results. My boyfriend just experienced his throat closing up & unable to breathe Wednesday morning
    after eating shrimps Tuesday night. He had to go to the ER. Now, we’re trying to understand if it’s the shrimps or some sort of seasonings. Your results would be beneficial to us because he ate shrimps Saturday night and nothing happened to him.

    Thanks for sharing.

    Comment by Indy — October 23, 2008 #

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