The Day the Lauren (Nearly) Died, Part 1

I’m a procrastinator by nature. I’ll do nearly anything to be able to put off a piece of schoolwork.

This time, however, I may have overshot “anything.”

Late last semester, my friend Marty and I decided to meet up at Starbucks and whip out a take-home final for which we had to work in opposite-gender pairs. We worked well for about two hours before my attention span started to act up, and we decided to head down the street to a nearby Jimmy John’s for a quick bite before returning to work.

After grabbing our lettuce wraps, we sat outside and began to chat about physical appearance, and how a person can take care of him or herself well without putting too much emphasis on image.

Near the end of our conversation, I suddenly interrupted with, “Dude, I think I just got bitten by something.”

“Well, that’s because you’re standing in a pile of ants,” Marty told me helpfully. “I noticed them about 5 minutes ago.”

“Marty!” I exclaimed, shaking the ants off. “Why didn’t you tell me? Wow, look at that bite.”

“Are they fire ants?”

“No, I don’t think so. I didn’t even notice them biting me.” I shrugged it off and we turned and headed back up the street to the Starbucks a block away. “This really, really itches, though.” I kept reaching down to scratch my foot, where a single ant bite was commanding all my attention. “Even my hands itch!” I was starting to scratch at all my phalanges while Marty looked on, incredulous. “I have no idea what’s going on,” I told him. “My feet hurt, too.”

Marty rolled his eyes. “Well, of course it itches if you keep scratching! Stop it!”

We walked into Starbucks, and the moment I sat down, I felt ringing start in my ears.

“You’re really red,” Marty informed me, staring at me as though I had suddenly morphed into some awesome alien creature.

“I am? I wanna see! Let me run to the bathroom. I’ll be right back.” (I’m not sure why I felt the need to look at my red face. It’s not as though it’s an infrequent occurrence). I scurried to the bathroom, which is protected by a keypad. My hands were trembling so badly that I couldn’t get the combination, and after 3 attempts, I finally gave up and headed back into the Bux. It’s ok. I’ll suck it up. We’ve got to do this final. Marty looked at my face, laughed aloud, and said, “C’mon. We’re going to CVS.”

We got into my car and I flipped down the visor to be greeted by a rather startling reflection. My face was bright red and sweaty. My upper lip was starting to swell. Huh. . .I wonder if I’m actually having a reaction? No, I’m probably just imagining it.

When we arrived at CVS, Marty tried to get me to stay in the car, more for his sake than my own–at this point, I had traded in my dignity for the right to wildly scratch my whole body like a flea-ridden ape. I insisted on going in, however, partly out of the devious intent to humiliate Marty, and partly because I wanted to feel as though I was taking some action.

I followed him into the store. . .and, 3 minutes later, hobbled back to the car. My feet were stingingly painful, the allergy medicine had not been immediately available, and I felt that at some point the Health Department would send me to quarantine if I continued to pollute public places with my swollen, sweaty presence.

I hopped into my car to scratch my arms and watch my feet swell. I’m starting to look as though I had my feet bound when I was little. Indeed, my feet were starting to curl in on themselves. My entire body was unbearably itchy. Marty seemed to take forever. Finally, I saw him emerge from the CVS.

“Here,” he said, throwing a small bag through the window. “I wanted to get the liquid Benadryl so you could be like Hitch, but it’s been recalled.” I glowered at him as I took the pills from him. “It says to take one. . .but you should take more,” Marty added, eying me warily.

“Um. . .I can’t open them!” I whined. “My fingers are too fat!”

Marty rolled his eyes and stopped dialing his fiancee Ashley’s number long enough to pop several pills into my monstrous hands. “You’re pathetic.”

“I know.” I swallowed the pills and, grabbing anti-itch cream from the bag, began slapping it generously all over my body.

“Ok, here’s what we’re going to do.” Marty hung up the phone. “We’re going to take you to the ER and just sit in the parking lot in case you get worse. That way we’re right there if anything happens.”

“Ok, but I don’t want to go in. I don’t want to be a hypochondriac.”

Marty’s look shot daggers at me. “You’re scratching yourself like a dog, and you look like you got in a bar fight. This is real!”

I shrugged and went back to smearing cream all over my extremities. “WOW! Dude, look at my arm!” I squeezed the distended skin on my arm, making my hives dimple like cottage cheese. Marty floored the gas pedal, but I suspect at that point he was more eager to get to the ER for his gag reflex than for my reaction.

“Dude, you HAVE to take a picture!” I squealed, catching sight of myself in the rearview mirror. “I may never look like this again!” Ugly didn’t begin to describe it; I looked like a middle-aged man who had recently had a series of ill-fated encounters with a brick wall. Marty was all too eager to comply, and snapped a picture on his camera phone. I briefly considered asking him if we could swing by my house to pick up my camera. I have got to start taking my camera with me wherever I go.

“Oh, my mom is calling.” Marty picked up the phone. “Oh, you’ve got something on ant bites? Yeah, she’s swollen, and all broken out in hives–”

“My stomach is burning,” I helpfully supplied. “Or maybe it’s my lungs. I don’t know.” A minute later, I decided to share the following: “Now Marty, don’t freak out, but it’s getting a little harder to breath. Not a big deal. I might just be making it up.”

Marty swerved into the far left lane.

“Don’t speed!” I cried, ever the conscientious citizen.

“Any police officer who sees you will believe this is a medical emergency!!” Marty shouted back. He had me there. I felt a little badly that he had to keep staring at my misshapen face. He must have been feeling a little badly about that fact, as well, judging by the speed with which we arrived at the hospital.

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