|The girls from our group in Costa Rica, doing some yoga on the very same beach where this story takes place.|
So I was walking toward the beach from the resort in Tamarindo, Costa Rica, having finally gotten my stuff settled and picked up my towel from the towel hut. I was eager to get out and do some swimming in the last couple hours of sunlight left in the day. The rest of the group was already on the beach, but I had needed to do something (I can't for the life of me remember what) that required I get there about 45 minutes after everyone else.
As I walked down the path to the beach past some patio tables and chairs, I noticed some resort employees tending to someone sitting in one of the chairs. It looked like a girl had cut her foot or something - nothing very serious. There were two other girls, her friends probably, standing around nearby looking a little worried. I didn't look at any of their faces, just kind of registered their existence and was about to keep walking when I noticed that one of the friends was looking straight at me, and not looking away. I noticed her with my peripheral vision, and it felt so awkward (kind of like when a strange child looks you in the face and just will not stop looking directly at your face) that I couldn't help but return her gaze. And I realized that it was the other student leader from my trip!
I walked over and realized that all three girls were from the trip, and one had been stung by something in the ocean! There were two hotel workers rinsing off her foot with water from a water bottle, saying that it would be fine, nothing to worry about, but she said the pain was getting worse. She didn't know what had stung her, and her toe was pretty swollen. She held her composure really well, but soon began to feel dizzy and started to get scared. The pain began to radiate up her leg and into her thigh, and she started to feel a tightness growing in her throat. I remember thinking, "Oh crap, she might be going into anaphylactic shock." I remember people around me asking if anyone had an epi pen, but I also remembered hearing somewhere that it's not a good idea to use other peoples' epi pens except as an absolute last resort. Something about prescriptions, or expiration dates - something like that.
At this point, she started to get more worried, a frantic note entering her voice. She had passed out before from unknown causes, she said, and she felt like she had in those instances. I squeezed her hand and looked her firmly in the eyes and said (WAY more calmly than I felt) "Just hold on for a couple more minutes - it's going to be ok. I just called Daniel [the doctor] and he is on his way down. You're going to be just fine."
The problem was, I realized, the doctor didn't know where we were in the resort. I quickly called him again on his cell, told him to RUN and meet us in the lobby, then scooped her up in my arms and ran past the swimming pools full of wide-eyed tourists, ignoring cries of, "What happened!?" and "Is she all right?" as I charged into the main resort building.
Almost as soon as we found the doctor, she passed out. And I mean OUT. Cold. Eyes incredibly wide-open and staring, no response whatsoever, face the whitest white. Once we laid her down and got her legs up a bit she woke back up, only being unconscious for about ten seconds or so, but it was very definitely freaky. Later on she said she had the longest, most vivid dream ever while she was out. Strange.
After about 45 minutes of consultation with the doctor and a very poorly-equipped paramedic, it was determined that her reaction was most likely a combination of some benadryl that she had taken earlier in the day, her low but "normal-for-her" blood pressure, and the anxiety produced by the situation and pain from whatever had stung her. As the doctor examined her, I helped by taking her heart rate regularly. It was only about 45 bpm the first time I took it - 45! - but soon rose back above 60. The doctor mentioned to me later that since she had woken up right away after laying her down and elevating her legs and did not have any trouble maintaining consciousness thereafter, she had most likely fainted from causes other than an anaphylactic shock-type reaction. When I asked him if we should have considered an Epi pen, he told me that it was always better to try to rule other things out first, since her airway wasn't in any immediate danger.
It was a crazy situation, and I felt bad that it had to happen to her on our first afternoon at the beach. However, I felt that everyone involved had done an incredible job handling the situation. I didn't even realize until afterward that I had stepped in and taken charge. I've known from other situations that I function well under stress, and though it had seemed natural and felt right, I was still woefully aware of exactly how ignorant I still am about all things medical. It's going to take a LOT more preparation before I will feel truly confident in such a situation - and having people completely rely on me for their healthcare. Luckily, that's what the next six years are for.
The following day was much more fun for everyone involved. It was full of surfing, eating, shopping, relaxing and posing for pictures like this: