Recently a couple of people have tagged me to complete various me-me's. As half the blogosphere has already completed them I don't want to bore people by reading similar posts everywhere, so I thought I'd bore you all with something else instead. One of the me-me's starts with a question about what the responder was doing 10 years ago, which coincides nicely with some posts I've been planning for a while.
I'd been plagued with minor illnesses during my final year at university, various infections meaning I'd missed almost the whole academic year by the time I sat my exams. I was so unwell during the exam period I hallucinated all the way through one paper. It had been a difficult and unpleasant year, but I believed what I was repeatedly told by family, friends and medical professionals. That there was nothing wrong with me and I was just weak and lazy. I had no reason not to believe them, it was what I had been told my whole life.
A GP had happily declared me as fit and well for the required medical, supplied me with a course of antibiotics 'just in case' and a flea in my ear about the dangers of 'unnecessary' tonsillectomies, so as soon as my exams were finished I flew out to the USA to work as a camp counselor for the summer. Despite having been babysitting for as long as I could remember, as well as having experience teaching swimming and army cadets, the prospect of being responsible for the welfare and entertainment of teenagers for a whole summer was a daunting one!
The summer started with a week long course before any children arrived, at the end of which we would all be fully qualified open water lifeguards and able to instruct in a variety of watersports.
The weather was unusually cold for the time of year, so swimming in a deep lake, learning how to do tasks such as deep water spinal boarding was physically incredibly demanding. Tasks made more difficult by the general standard of swimming being too low to meet the demands of the course. I was one of the stronger swimmers so despite struggling with the cold I found the course easier than many. It was a week of long days and long evenings sat around campfires under the stars as we all tried to get to know each other and how to work together.
I had only been there a few days when I had my first accident*. We had been cleaning the toilet and showers and I had picked up what I thought was a generic version of some sort of bathroom cleaning spray. It was in amongst all the other cleaning products so I thought nothing of it when I picked it up. I set to covering all the areas to be cleaned with spray before starting to wash them down.
After a few moments I felt a little strange, and thinking I'd been a bit daft to stand inside a shower cubicle spraying a cleaning product I headed outside to get a breath of fresh air and have a smoke before continuing. By the time I reached the outdoor deck I was coughing and spluttering. Trying to take deep breaths only made the situation worse and I rapidly found myself in a terrifying situation where I couldn't breathe properly and just choked and gagged every time I tried. My throat felt as though it was on fire all the way to my lungs and people had started to gather around me.
Very few of us were completely familiar with the camp and it's layout, so someone decided to walk me up to the medical centre, about 1/2 a kilometer away. I was finding it harder to breathe and ended up being half carried half dragged by two of the lads whilst someone ran ahead to find a nurse. By the time the nursing staff reached us we'd pretty much made it to the medical centre where someone phoned poison control to find out what was in the cleaner I'd been using. Meanwhile I was coughing and choking and generally feeling worse by the second.
The advice came back that the product I'd used should only be used with proper protective clothing in a well ventilated area, not an enclosed shower cubicle as I'd stupidly done. It turned out to be a product used for sterilising operating theatres, and I was later told no-one knew how or why it had got into the bathroom cleaning cupboard.
By this point I was pretty scared, partly I think by the delay in seeking medical help. The camp was miles away from anywhere, so instead of an ambulance being called, I was bundled into a van and driven to the ER. It took a good 15 minutes to get to the nearest medical facility, a tiny little emergency room with only a couple of staff. The drive was bumpy and despite the efforts of the others in the van, not being very heavy I got thrown all over the place-just what I needed when breathing was such hard work!
I vaguely remember being carried from the van into the emergency room, and through to a cubicle. Being British and aware there was no NHS I was terrified and through coughing attempted to give insurance details. Funnily enough they were not required until later, when I gave details of my own insurance as instructed by one of the camp's senior staff. There was subsequently an almighty row about why Worker's Comp** had not been contacted.
I was put on a nebuliser, and given a variety of medicines whilst the medical staff ran their own checks on the cleaning product. After a period of time I was able to breathe more easily, although I would still be coughing and feeling the effects by the time camp had finished all together.
A few hours in the emergency room were enough to get my breathing safely settled and I was taken back to camp to stay in the medical center. The following day I was taken to the pediatrician the camp used for all their staff and prescribed inhalers and some sort of codeine containing cough linctus. I was back doing my lifeguard course that afternoon, although it took a few days before I was able to go back into the water. It wasn't until the water had properly warmed up weeks later that I was able to get in without a massive coughing fit, despite which there were times I would be the only lifeguard in charge of the children.
* Is anyone surprised there were many more to come?!
**Worker's Compensation as I understood it was a form of medical insurance covering injuries in the workplace.