COLUMBUS, Ohio –
What would you do if you knew today was your last day alive? Going to work would likely not be on the top of your list.
Brenda Minnema, a management and program analyst for the People and Culture Directorate at DLA Land and Maritime, almost experienced just that April 11. Her day started off like any other. She went to physical therapy in the morning, came to work, went to a meeting, ate lunch and attended a webinar. Everything seemed normal… until it wasn’t.
She recalled calling out to a coworker that she thought she might need help. At first, her coworkers thought she was talking about a project she was working on until she told them she felt funny. At that time, another coworker got up and went to Brenda’s desk.
“She was standing there with her face, neck and everything red,” said Christie Ratcliff, management and program assistant. “Immediately I told her she needs to go to the hospital, but in true Brenda fashion, she told me she was fine and needed to get to the IPR [an in progress review meeting].”
At this time, Brenda remembered thinking that she felt itchy and her ears were really hot. She said she was okay and at most might just need a Benadryl.
Thankfully, her coworker insisted she seek medical attention as she was afraid for Brenda’s life.
Not understanding fully what was happening to her body, Brenda didn’t comprehend the scope of her medical situation. Christie, on the other hand, said she’s had experience with anaphylactic shock and noticed it right away.
According to the Mayo Clinic, anaphylaxis is a severe and potentially life-threatening allergic reaction. It can occur within seconds or minutes of exposure to something a person is allergic to and if it isn’t treated right away, it can be fatal.
“I kept telling her she needed to seek attention,” Christie said. “I knew in my head that this wasn’t ideal.”
The persistence paid-off and Brenda agreed to go to the nurse’s station.
When they got to the nurse’s office, hives started breaking out all over Brenda’s body as Christie was explaining what happened to the nurse.
The nurse immediately picked up the phone to call the paramedics and gave her an antihistamine as they waited. Christie called Brenda’s husband to let him know what was happening and that she may need to be transported to the emergency room by the paramedics.
The wait wasn’t long though, as the Defense Supply Center Columbus emergency response team arrived within two minutes.
As we’ve all heard the saying, every second counts, Brenda was starting to realize this. During the elapsed time, her hives continued to spread, her throat kept swelling and her voice started changing as a result.
As the team was getting familiar with the patient and her history: no new medicine, no new foods, no changes in routine, etc… They couldn’t pinpoint what the trigger was so they took Brenda to the ambulance.
The response team described Brenda as appearing lobster red with hives popping up all over her body like large bubble wrap. Immediately, they took her to the medical transport.
Once inside she was given an exam and the response team started an IV and administered an injection of epinephrine as they transported the patient to the hospital.
By the time they got to the Ohio State University Hospital East, Brenda said she could feel the effects of the medicine working.
After another exam at the hospital, the doctor wasn’t sure what caused the reaction; however, he told her that without the injection, she would have died.
At first, this was hard for her to comprehend, she said.
“I thought I was fine, I just itched and my ears and hands got hot,” she recounted. “Being in shock, I just wanted to keep going. I thought everyone was being melodramatic. It wasn’t until later that I recalled the rashes, changes within my voice and the severity of it all.”
Once the situation came full scope, Brenda said she was truly thankful for her coworkers and especially grateful for the first responders as she wouldn’t be here today without them.
“The scariest part of the situation though isn’t what happened, it’s not knowing the cause,” she explained.
To rule out triggers, the next day she had the same exact lunch as her team members packed it up for her the day before when they found out she wasn’t returning to the office that day. The night before she also had food from the same exact batch and there was no reaction either time. Additionally, Brenda had an allergy test conducted to determine if the most common allergens that can be touched, breathed or ate would cause a reaction. The indeterminate results left her with more questions than answers.
As a result of not knowing what caused this life threatening situation, she said she looks at life differently. She carries an EpiPen, an injection containing epinephrine, with her at all times and is constantly considering how far paramedics are from her current location.
She shared a story about how just a few days after her brush with death, her sister fell and broke her shoulder and arm in four places while walking her dog and had to get an ambulance ride, and the first responders took nearly 30 minutes. Brenda said she thought if her paramedics took that long, she wouldn’t be here today.
Brenda indicated that her involvement in the DLA Land and Maritime Resiliency Program helped provide her the tools and resources to make sure she had all of her pillars (mental, physical, social and spiritual) covered.
“If I wasn’t physically in shape, spiritually in shape, mentally and socially - If I didn’t have those pillars covered, I don’t know how I would have been able to get through this. I’m not sure how people that don’t have a balance cope with things like this,” Brenda said.
Jokingly she said her husband thanked her for surviving so they could celebrate her birthday the upcoming weekend and not mourn her funeral. But in all seriousness, she said they’re most thankful for the fire department that responded quickly and took action immediately. It’s the responding team that she said they’re most indebted to.