What has been the most terrifying moment that has happened to you when you woke up?

When I was a senior in high school, I woke up to the sound of my mom sobbing outside of my bedroom. It was strange at first, because it was the kind of crying that I had never heard from my mom - something completely new. In fact, as I was waking up, I initially confused it with laughter. As soon as I realized she was upset, I sprung from bed and threw on my jeans that I had laid out for school that day.

I didn't even bother putting in my contacts or grabbing my glasses as I walked outside of the room I shared with my brother. The door was open, which was typical for us. With my blurred vision, I could see my mom kneeling on the floor. She could barely catch her breath. As soon as my head had cleared the door frame I saw something that made my world crumble. My dad was laying on the hallway floor, motionless, and not breathing. I'm pausing while writing this, because my mind slows while recalling that vision. Thoughts rushed into my head then, and the what-ifs still come back to me now.

My mom was struggling to explain what was happening. But I stopped her to ask if an ambulance was on its way. She had just called my Uncle Don who lived down the road and he was rushing to the house. Don was a medic in Vietnam, and she called him to ride to the hospital with them, as she was trying to get him to the ER. While walking on their way out of the house, my dad collapsed.

I called 911, and explained everything as my mom was telling me. They were both up and getting ready for work. My dad had just taken his heart medicine. (He was the picture of health, other than his high blood pressure. He had taken the medicine daily for a long time.) Something was different with this morning's dosage. My dad began swelling, and he was having trouble balancing. He remembered the day before that the pharmacist gave him a generic of his normal medication, and they figured he must be having an allergic reaction. Their plan of action was to rush to the ER, but he never made it out of the house. I summarized this to the 911 operator, and an ambulance was on its way.

My uncle arrived while I was on the call. I watched as he yelled at my dad and did compressions. Multiple times, as we waited for the ambulance to arrive, my dad would come back into consciousness and quickly leave. Mom's cries would turn into joyful cries as he would come back, and transition to terrified as he would leave us.

My uncle thought it would be best for me to wait outside (in the rain) and make sure the ambulance found the right house. I left the door to the house open and kept running back inside to check on my dad. The situation remained critical until the ambulance arrived after about 30 minutes. (We found out later that in our small town EMTs were only on call during overnight hours, which could cause delays in service).

The EMTs took over for my uncle, as he and my mom followed the stretcher into the ambulance. On the way there I told my mom that I was going to wake my brother and drive to the hospital. She forbade it, and told me to make sure that we both went to school. I didn't agree with her instructions, and I knew she wasn't in the frame of mind to fully consider decisions. However, I respected her wishes and went to wake my brother.

Somehow, my brother slept through this entire ordeal. His bed was no more than 15 feet away from what was happening. I'm so glad that he never woke up to see our father like that. After waking him, I began to explain what happened. He didn't initially believe me. He was adamant that I wasn't telling the truth. He couldn't believe that he would have slept through all the commotion.

I needed him to understand that this had really happened. I was obviously concerned for Dad, and wanted my brother to understand the gravity of the matter. I remembered that the ambulance had driven into the front yard, and that with the rain there would have to be tire tracks. So, I told my brother that I could prove it by showing him the tire tracks. As we walked to the front door we were both shocked to see that the ambulance was still there. They should have been to the hospital, or at least almost there by now. I quickly worked up the courage to knock on the back door of the ambulance. My mom was still crying and struggled to find words. She told us to go inside and that she would call soon. They closed the door and my brother and I ran back inside sobbing. We waited in silence at the front door to watch the ambulance until it finally left.

We went to school that morning (per my mom's request), and sat by each other in the cafeteria waiting for classes to start. We told our close friends what was happening. They wondered why we were at school instead of the hospital. After a couple of hard hours in class, my mom called a relative that worked at school to send word to us that Dad was going to be fine. They were able to get control of the reaction. His vitals were good, and he would recover.

I took my brother to see my dad at the hospital after school. I don't have words to describe the feelings I had when looking at my father that afternoon. I was so blessed to still have him.

I found out that evening what happened in the ambulance. The EMTs followed protocol and administered an EpiPen. These are commonly used during allergic reactions. However, he had a complete crash after the EpiPen. It took both EMTs to bring him back and stabilize him, leaving no-one to drive the ambulance until it was safe to do so.

Why did the generic medicine cause the reaction? We learned that generic drugs were allowed to contain a certain percentage of "fillers". My dad was severely allergic to one of those fillers. The single dose nearly killed him.

There's a strange note for this story, too. While the front door was open as I waited for the ambulance, a stray cat wandered inside the house. It would not stay off of my dad while my uncle was working to keep him alive. I was able to get it outside after the stretcher left, and I never saw it again.


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