PICTOU – Robert Parker says he was lucky to be sitting in county council chambers Tuesday after coming close to death the night before.
The municipal councillor, who usually addresses business concerns during council sessions, said he had a difficult, personal item to speak about during Tuesday's council meeting, but he was doing it because he wanted others to be aware of how easily an insect sting can end a person's life.
The owner of West River Greenhouses, Parker was clearing bush Monday evening when he started to feel different after getting stung behind the ear by a wasp.
"A doctor told me I had a close brush with death," he said. "I have been stung all my life and have not had any problem so when I got stung last night I didn't think anything of it. But within 15 minutes, I started to itch all over and I was sweating so much I knew something bad was happening."
He made his way to his house and when he got inside he told his wife they had better go to the hospital.
"I didn't quite make it to the door and I didn't know what was going on," he said. "I didn't pass out because they kept talking to me and my wife called 911 which was the right thing to do."
He said the West River Fire Department and EHS arrived at his home shortly afterwards and treated him with a shot of epinephrine before taking him to the Aberdeen Hospital in New Glasgow.
Parker said his blood pressure was dangerously low, but it came up when paramedics injected him with the drug that treats anaphylactic shock due to allergic reactions.
"I am bringing it up because someone else could be allergic and they never used to be," he said. "It can happen so quickly and you just don't have much time. It was very serious."
Parker said he received his own auto injector of epinephrine and would be keeping it close by from now on.
"It showed me how life is very fragile," he said, adding that he didn't know what type of insect stung him and he doesn't want to go back and look until he has the auto injector in hand.
According to Health Canada severe allergic reactions affect primarily the skin, the upper and lower respiratory systems, the gastrointestinal system and the cardiovascular system. It is estimated that 600,000 Canadians, two per cent of the population, may be affected by life-threatening allergies, and the numbers are increasing, especially among children.
Stings from yellow jackets, hornets, wasps and bees are the most common cause of insect reactions. Some individuals also experience severe allergic reactions to natural latex rubber and food.
When a reaction is triggered, the symptoms of anaphylactic shock may develop quickly. The victim can become faint, weak, anxious, distressed and flushed in the face, and develop a rapid heartbeat. The skin may become red and itchy, the eyes, face, lips, tongue and throat may swell, and there may be difficulty breathing. Vomiting, cramps, diarrhea and a sense of doom may also occur. In its most severe form the allergic reaction can include a complete loss of cardiovascular tone, resulting in blood pressure drop and shock (anaphylaxis) and can cause death very quickly. In milder reactions, symptoms may not appear for several hours. Severe allergic reactions are not predictable.
You may have a mild reaction one time and a severe one the next time, or vice versa. Suspected allergies that trigger anaphylaxis should be confirmed by an allergy specialist four to six weeks after the initial reaction.
Severe reactions are usually treated with an injection of epinephrine (adrenalin), antihistamines and/or steroids.
Heather Stewart of the Karen Lynn MacDonald Allergy Society said education is key when it comes to protecting yourself against allergies.
“Anybody who has a family or friend with an allergy should learn about it because they could be with them when they take a reaction,” she said.
Stewart said it’s important to recognize that an allergic reaction is taking place and that swift action must be taken right away. She suggests calling 911 for assistance and visiting the hospital, even if the person has taken allergy medicine or epinephrine to treat the symptoms.
The Karen Lynn MacDonald Allergy Society was formed after MacDonald passed away in 2005 due to anaphylactic shock following the accidental ingestion of peanut oil. The society serves Pictou, Antigonish and Guysborough counties by hosting information sessions to the public and schools as well as providing EpiPens to people in these counties who cannot afford to purchase one on their own.
The society is operated by volunteers and hosts fundraisers to draw attention to its cause and generate funds to purchase the EpiPens for those in need.
Stewart said the message is getting out about the allergy awareness, especially with the younger generation.
She said the society provides every school in Pictou, Antigonish and Guysborough counties with an adult and children’s EpiPen in addition to holding information sessions.
Stewart said the society is planning on hosting a meeting Sept. 11, at the Merigomish Fire Hall and new volunteers are needed.