I wasn’t sure what to call this post, or whether or not to write about this, but I keep a page-a-day diary, have done since I was thirteen, and I was with Steve sitting in the grass near Guildford, recuperating on Bank Holiday Monday, updating the last week, as it’s been so hectic I’ve fallen behind, and I still couldn’t bring myself to write about what happened on Saturday, on May 4th, on my 40th birthday and the print book launch of Gunshot Glitter. I was on SKYPE to my friend Nerissa yesterday and told her I still hadn’t been able to write about that day. It is still blank.
This morning I thought, I’ll do it, and then I will print off this blog and just glue the pages in the back of my diary and the page-a-day entry can be about the best part of my day before it all went so horribly wrong at 8.30pm at Café de Paris. And emotionally it will help me move on. Because a lot of that day was really great. There are no photos of me at Café de Paris (to my knowledge) because we were barely there before trouble kicked in.
The ones that you can see at Tuk Cho are the ones I will try and focus on in the future. The last time I blogged, you saw I was pretty excited about this day. I was launching the print of Gunshot Glitter! That’s huge! Plus, birthdays mean a huge amount to me, I am pretty sensitive about them. I always pray they’ll go well and that people will care enough to be there for me and I’ll feel special. And 40 is a big one isn’t it?
For slightly screwed up reasons I ended up leaving the planning for my 40th a tad late, but nonetheless, at Tuk Cho’s on Saturday, twelve of us were there seated at a long table in Ealing Broadway having a really good time.
I was thrilled my friend Simon had come with his son, Henry, as I’d not seen him in years, that my old Uni friends from Brunel who I’d grown up with were meeting my newer London friends. I love, absolutely love, bringing people together. I don’t like division.
Gunshot Glitter has meant I’ve not got out so much, so this was cool for me. Plus, I had some copies of Gunshot Glitter with me to sell which was exciting for us all. My book is gorgeous!
I chose Tuk Cho because me and Steve had eaten there before and the service and food had been great. It had a huge menu of contrasting dishes from all over the Far East including a lime brownie to die for. I had veggie Vietnamese rolls, a prawn and apple salad, and at the end, the staff bought out said lime brownie with a birthday candle with their compliments. My friends sang Happy Birthday to me and after I blew my candle out, made a wee speech thanking everyone, I went around with my plate and fed everyone a piece of it, kissed everyone, and then some of us had to rush off to Wam Bam as we were running really late for the start of the evening show. We should have left half an hour earlier.
I remember when I was running up the escalator at Piccadilly I was feeling really out of breath, but I had been doing it in black high-heeled slingbacks with a nervous belly of food and worry; the staff inside were chilled and soothing about our late, dramatic arrival and we checked in, and a very friendly guy called Ged led us upstairs and settled us in on the terrace.
I found a spot on a plush stool and sat down. But I couldn’t seem to get my breath back. I watched a male exotic dancer work the stage and just tried to relax, but was startled that I was wheezing, but thought ‘it’ll go away’. But it didn’t.
Then my face started to severely overheat and my lips felt strange and too tight and painful. I thought, ‘shit, what’s happening?’ and I started to feel scared. I’m surrounded by all these people having a good time, there is a show on and I didn’t know what to do. I realised I didn’t have my inhaler and that I was really struggling to breathe now and while I knew it wasn’t an asthma attack, I knew that was the only thing that might let me breathe. I never need an inhaler unless it’s dusty, there are cats about or it’s v.cold. That day, as I’d fully intended to dance the night away I’d packed v. lightly. Steve later said it wouldn’t have made a difference anyway. He was right.
I somehow got up and looked at my friend Adam in terror, and said, ‘I can’t breathe!’ He took my arm and said he’d get me to some fresh air. I said, ‘No, you don’t understand, I can’t breathe. I need an inhaler.’ Steve rushed off to try and find one.
Before Adam led me to a couch in the foyer I briefly saw my face in the mirror and thought my face looks really, really wrong. Steve later said my bottom lip looked twice its usual size. Within seconds, Ged from Wam Bam was in front of me holding my hand trying to calm me down. He thought it was just the scale of the occasion, the birthday, the book launch that had overwhelmed me.
But as the seconds dragged on he realised it wasn’t the case. I said ‘I’m suffocating, I need an inhaler.’ Someone said, ‘your friend will be back soon, help is coming.’ But I had this grisly fear that Steve might not realise the urgency of the trouble I was in or that he wouldn’t be fast enough because I was now seeing stars and really panicking. If I can’t breathe, I’m going to black out, and then I’m going to die. I remember thinking this is going to be the last place I am going to see alive, I am going to die, at 40, on my birthday, in a club, and I never got to really put my book out, I never saw it through. I didn’t see my life through. it ended here like this. Oh my God that’s so sad.
Boots told Steve I needed an ambulance but I think by then one had been called anyway. More staff crowded around me to comfort me and try and help as I started going rapidly downhill. I felt the presence of concerned people. A girl crouched in front of me with a paper bag telling me to try and breathe in and out of it. I tried. I did my best. I couldn’t really do it. But Ged kept talking to me and managed to calm me down, held my hand and another man was holding my other hand, and I just listened to him, and inbetween gasping, said, I couldn’t believe this was happening on my birthday, he somehow made me smile and assured me I’d be back as a guest and he’d get me to dance on stage and I’d celebrate properly with them, on the house. Adam said ‘We’ll all come back Yasmin.’
It was completely out of my hands. Adam later told me I’d been patient but on the inside I could feel myself slipping away. When I collapsed forward my friend Adrian held me and told me he was there with me. I was so grateful when I heard his voice and felt his arms around me. Then this medic arrived and I couldn’t really see or move after that. I could barely open my eyes and when I did, I couldn’t really see that well anymore and later my friends had to fill in the blanks of those moments.
I do recall that I whispered to Ged and the dark-haired man ‘please don’t let go of my hands,’ and they promised they wouldn’t. Writing that part has just made me cry : ( I was convinced if they let go of my hands I’d fall backwards into darkness and never find my way back. It felt like Adrian holding me, and them holding my hands were the only things keeping me tethered to life.
I couldn’t hold my head up by myself anymore, someone was holding it for me so my airwaves were clear, I was desperately thirsty but they weren’t allowed to give me water at that moment. My lips, my mouth were painfully dry and swollen, so was my throat, and my lungs just felt as if they’d shut and a severe rash had broken out all over my body. Everything was shutting down inside me.
A needle was put into my left hand and it really, really hurt because he couldn’t find a vein. And I’ve had problems with that hand recently, it’s now got a bruise the size of a plum on it. But they could have done anything I didn’t care, I just wanted to live. Adrian said when they administered the adrenaline shot I rose back up against him. I don’t remember this at all. Steve said I was wired up to machines monitoring my body but I couldn’t see any of them as I couldn’t move my head. I couldn’t drink from the bottle of water when it finally arrived, they had to put a straw into my mouth. I just didn’t have the strength.
I heard a man say my blood pressure was far too low and my heart was still too fast. An ambulance came and I was stretchered out. Ged was still holding my hand and still managed to make me smile before we left by joking about paparazzi. The Wam Bam team were amazing. I wouldn’t be here if it hadn’t been for them or my friends. My breathing was better but still a struggle. Steve got into the ambulance with me, and my friends got my bags and coat and a man called Laurence took us to Hillingdon Hospital. He put a mask and a nebuliser on me to open up my lungs and said I’d eaten something earlier that had given me an extremely severe but delayed allergic reaction called anaphylactic shock. The frightening thing is that I have no known food allergies, everything I’d had at Tuk Cho’s to my knowledge I’d had before.
But apparently your body can change with time and react differently. He said if it ever happened again I had to ring 999 immediately even if it was a false alarm, because if I wasn’t attended to as an emergency, it could kill me. That I needed to carry an epipen. If you don’t know what an epipen is, think of that scene in Pulp Fiction with Mia Wallace when she ODs, but with a less dramatic needle. I need to stab myself in the leg and administer a shot of adrenaline and then call for an ambulance.
I remember finally being able to see and breathe properly to see they’d covered me in a scarlet blanket. I’d never been in an ambulance before or on a stretcher and I looked at my skin and winced at this angry-looking rash, all over my arms. He said they were hives, it was a histamine reaction. My stomach felt strange too, but I’d eaten very little that day or the day before which in hindsight was a blessing.
I must have started to feel better, because later on I put a resistance to Laurence putting a heart rate monitor on my thighs, I insisted on doing it myself as I was mortified I hadn’t shaved my legs! And I wouldn’t let Steve do it either. I’d run out of time in the bath and donned tights with my little black dress. They got me on a trolley into Accident and Emergency, and Laurence settled me onto a bed and said I’d be seen to quickly, but I needed to avoid the likely allergens of peanuts and prawns until I got an allergy test conducted. He was really kind and had made a special effort to get us to my local hospital so we were close to home.
It was Saturday night chaos, Steve held my hand and nurses came in and did things to me. One bizarrely said ‘So how are you alright?’ when I told her I’d had an anaphylactic shock and Steve said another nurse shooed her out and got on with administering cortisol as my heart and blood pressure were still an issue.
I was there for hours and it was impossible to relax with these blinding lights above me, babies crying, this drunk American protesting he wasn’t drunk and demanding a cab back to Heathrow, and I was so tired; Steve was shattered. They put me on a drip and the saline burned my hand it was unexpectedly painful. It took over an hour for it to enter my body. I was v dehydrated and woozy. When I wobbled to the loo in my heels with Steve’s help, in my party regalia, I thought, God I probably look like a drunk or a girl who had a bad acid trip or something, and I wanted to almost explain myself to the people who stared at me that I hadn’t brought this upon myself.
There was one nurse who was gorgeous and kept calling me ‘my lovely’ and was shocked for me that this had happened on my birthday, she said they needed to wait for the drugs to wear off to be sure that the anaphylaxis didn’t return, before they could decide whether I could go home or admit me on a ward. Personally, I really, really wanted to go home and recover in my own bed, I had none of my stuff with me and knew I’d get no rest there and Steve didn’t want to leave me alone in the hospital by myself.
At almost 3am, a doctor cleared me with meds and organised discharge papers and Steve clutching my bag of birthday presents and cards, carefully steered me outside and we went to get a taxi, which thankfully arrived really fast, and we went back to the Castle in a bit of a daze.
My birthday cake was where we’d left it. My cards on my freezer, it was surreal. I’d been given steroids and piriton to help me recover and we dumped the stuff, ate a little cake and Steve finally let go and hugged me and said seeing all that happen to me had been horrible. I said I was so glad he’d been there in that hospital with me. We’d even managed a tiny game of I-Spy when I’d briefly opened my exhausted eyes. I won. It was a cup. There was a white plastic cup at the sink.
While we’d waited for a doctor he’d shown me photos from Tuk Cho and my Facebook page which was filled with wonderful, celebratory messages and wallposts for my birthday and Gunshot Glitter, and I thought, that was so lovely and it moved me, reminded me of what it should have been like. But I’m here in this weird terrible parallel universe and how am I going to find the words to explain what happened? And should I explain? Will people understand? Will anyone who wasn’t here tonight understand how bad it really, really was? How scared and shocked I was that this happened to me? And how lucky I was that I had good people around me to save my life?
I don’t know. But this right now, writing all this, this is the best that I can do.