Living with Allergies

Emergency in a Ferrari: How a $350,000 sports car helped me survive a frightening peanut reaction

2016 Ferrari 488 Spider

Ever wonder what it’s like to have your life flash before your eyes?  For me, it looks a lot like a Ferrari 488 Spider whizzing through the sleepy streets of Suburbia as I suffer a frightening peanut reaction.

I’ll admit, my first ride in the Italian sports car is not at all how I envisioned.  You see, my good friend Cliff is a journalist who landed his dream job. He travels around the world test driving ridiculously luxurious cars and gets paid to write about them.  I’m not jealous at all.

The Car

One Saturday afternoon in mid-July of 2017, Cliff shows up to my friend’s BBQ in a royal blue Ferrari 488 Spider, sub-woofers thumping and engine roaring.  It seriously looks and sounds like something out of The Fast and The Furious.  This little Italian beauty is Cliff’s latest conquest, and I desperately want to hop in for a spin.  

As I stand in the driveway amidst the gaggle of ooh’ers and ahh’ers, fantasizing about burnouts and Jay-Z music videos, little did I know I would become well-acquainted with this car by the end of the evening.

Front view of a 2016 Ferrari 488 Spider
2016 Ferrari 488 Spider. Photo by Clifford Atiyeh.

We spend the rest of the afternoon eating hot dogs and hamburgers, drinking beer, and playing Wiffle Ball in my friend’s backyard.  In years past, our get-togethers usually conclude with a carafe of Manhattans and our best impersonation of Hot Tub Time Machine, though I can’t quite recall whether these shenanigans happened this one night.  Anyway, I digress.

The party is winding to a close, and quite happily, I discover I am hitching a ride home from Cliff and his Italian mistress.  As we stand in the kitchen saying our good-byes, I reach for the plate of Italian cookies (fate, I know) sitting on the table and snag one.  Without checking the ingredients, the cookie immediately disappears down my throat.  

Now at this point having been drinking all day, my judgment is clearly impaired as I almost always remember to check the list of ingredients for peanuts.  As you might now realize, I am highly allergic to these little legumes from Hell. Having experienced several bad allergic reactions in the past, you’d think I’d be more cautious.  But whether it’s the result of intoxication or sheer carelessness, I make a bad choice.

And I am about to pay for it.

The Reaction

A few minutes later as Cliff and I are getting in the Ferrari, I feel it in the pit of my stomach.  If you’ve ever had an allergic reaction, you probably know what I’m talking about. It’s that feeling of impending doom.  A Sixth Sense kind of feeling.  That uh-oh feeling.

My heart begins to race as tiny razor blades slice the inside of my throat.  My tongue turns to sandpaper. I can feel my face start to flush as it turns a spectacular shade of fire engine red.  All of the joy I felt earlier in the day fades to utter dread, and I no longer want to be in this God-forsaken car.

Palms sweating, I turn to Cliff in the driver’s seat and squeak out the words:

“Something’s not right.”

As the words leave my lips, I realize I’m going into anaphylaxis.  What I thought were harmless Italian cookies with pignolis on top must have been peanuts.  Dammit! Shame on me for not reading. And shame on me for forgetting both my inhaler and Epi-Pen at home.

As I turn a deeper shade of red, I don’t have to tell Cliff to step on it.  In an instant, the Ferrari rockets into gear, tires squealing as we race down the street.  Minutes later we tear through my condo complex bouncing violently over what seems like a thousand speed bumps.  I groan with each jolt as my lungs tighten like a vice in my chest.

Passenger view of a 2016 Ferrari 488 Spider
My view as we race home for medication. Photo by Clifford Atiyeh.

Cliff does his best Tokyo Drift and power slides into the empty parking space in front of my condo.  The two of us race into the house, up the stairs, and into the bathroom where my inhaler and Epi-Pen await.  Without hesitation, I pop off the cap, remove the safety release, and jam the injector into my right thigh. I grab for my inhaler and take two deep puffs.  It seems to help for a moment.

“I need to go to the ER,” I tell Cliff, who is standing next to me.  I can tell how nervous he is because, in a flash, we are out the door and back in the Ferrari.  

Alright, let’s see what you can do, I think to myself.

Right on cue, Cliff jams the sports car into reverse, shifts gears again, and slams his foot down on the accelerator. 

Just past midnight, the empty streets of my hometown come alive with the sound of shrieking tires as we careen around corners and blow through stop lights.  Another gear shift and we’re on the highway as Cliff attempts to break the sound barrier.

Meanwhile, my symptoms seem to stabilize and I’m feeling okay at the moment.  Not great, but okay. I even manage a smile as I glance over at the speedometer and see triple digits.  So, maybe it’s not exactly what I had in mind, but at least I get to see what 661-horsepower feels like.

The ER

Minutes later, we pull up to the emergency room like it’s a nightclub.  Maybe it’s just my imagination, or wishful thinking, but I’m pretty sure a few heads turn as we stroll up to check-in.  Either way, I tell myself that people notice us.

Emergency room entrance
This is definitely not the club…

Now, the next few hours are kinda fuzzy, as a flurry of nurses, equipment, and medication come parading into my hospital room.  I’m pretty sure a nurse gives me another dose of epinephrine as well as a dose of Benadryl to counteract my symptoms. It’s a weird sensation that I can only describe as a game of Tug of War being played with my body.  One moment I’m drowsy and drifting off to sleep and the next I feel an adrenaline rush surging through my veins. Maybe this is what rock stars feel like?

All joking aside, I realize I had nodded off as I open my eyes to see both Cliff and my wife, Katie, sitting by the bedside.  I must look worse than I thought, as both of them are white as ghosts.  

The Reaction, Part 2

Without warning, I begin to feel a million fire ants crawling over my skin, biting and stinging me under my armpits and across my chest.  The itching is so sudden and intense I start to freak out.

What is going on?  Why am I so itchy?

Just then, I feel the worst case of hay fever wash over my body as my eyes and nose start to drip like a leaky faucet.  The razor blade sensation returns as a sharp, metallic taste invades my mouth. My breathing becomes shallow, and before I can call for help, my chest tightens and I can only mouth the word “Nurse” between coughing and wheezing.

Impending doom.

Within seconds, the nurse appears like a guardian angel with another dose of epinephrine and a nebulizer to combat my asthma attack.  I’ll admit, this is the scariest allergic reaction I have ever experienced. Not one, not two, but three doses of epinephrine? What the actual eff??

IV drip
A second dose of epinephrine is just what the doctor ordered…

I inhale deeply and soon the ten-ton brick is lifted from my chest.  The nebulizer is working and the adrenaline is kicking in. My symptoms again subside and the fear of imminent death dissipates.  After regaining my breath and my wits, I crane my neck over to look at Cliff and Katie, who at this point look like they just witnessed a resurrection. Man, I am really putting them through the ringer.

In an attempt to ease the tension, I briefly pull the nebulizer from my nose and mouth.  

“I really just wanted to ride in the Ferrari,” I joked. 

To this day, I can’t say for sure if their laughter was out of pity or relief, but I like to think I was funny in that moment.

Over the next few hours I am finally able to get some sleep.  Thankfully, my symptoms subside for good and I experience no further reactions.  Sometime around 7 AM, I am cleared for discharge and eventually go home around 9.  I think I get a prescription for prednisone, but at this point I can’t really remember, nor do I care.

The Lesson

So, what did I learn throughout this whole experience?  A lot, actually. About myself. About my friends and family.  About how a few minutes can change everything.

I learned that I need to be more careful about reading ingredients.

I learned to always carry my inhaler and Epi-Pen with me.  Everywhere.

I learned that symptoms from anaphylaxis can resurface well after the initial reaction takes place, sometimes hours later.

I learned that epinephrine, even an expired one, literally saves lives.

I learned that I have loving friends and family who will do anything for me.

And lastly, I learned that in a pinch, a $350,000 Ferrari convertible makes a great ambulance.

About Dan Bates

Dan is severely allergic to peanuts, soy, and other legumes. When he's not manning the helm at Peanut Envy, he enjoys drinking craft beer, rooting for the Yankees, and spending time with his family in Connecticut.

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2 thoughts on “Emergency in a Ferrari: How a $350,000 sports car helped me survive a frightening peanut reaction

  1. Colleen Reilly says:

    This is such a well-written story, Dan. I couldn’t stop reading it.
    I especially like the happy ending.
    You certainly are a blessed man, with such loving friends and family.
    I wish you all the best success for your company.
    It’s the best kind when your heart is truly in it, and you are helping others.
    This is the beginning of a great journey!

    1. Dan Bates says:

      Thanks for the kind words. I might not be here today if it wasn’t for your son! I truly feel blessed to be surrounded by such loving and supportive friends and family.

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