Joie de Vivre

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It’s been a while. It’s been nine months, in fact. But what an incredible nine months it’s been.

Many of my past posts have been about trying to figure out my life: finding a Big Girl Job, discovering this amazing city I live in, answering random questions that popped into my head, etc.

I’ll tell you a secret though: I was very close to moving back to Edmonton. There was a point earlier this year where I knew I needed a different job because I was so deeply unhappy; the only things getting me through at that point were my friends, yoga, and books. I had decided that if I did not find a Big Girl Job by August, I would quit my job, go on a fantastic trip, and return (broke) to Edmonton. To placate myself until then, I booked a ticket to Berlin for June, where my sister would be participating in a summer internship.

Everything changed in May: I got a Big Girl Job. And not just any Big Girl Job…an incredible Big Girl Job.

I knew this was the starting point of so many good things to come. It was the validation I needed that my perseverance to stick around Toronto was worth it. You see, even though I had loosely planned moving back to Edmonton at the end of August, it still didn’t feel quite right. Toronto felt right. This whole thought process was validated by a near-death experience (it sounds dramatic, I’ll admit, but it’s true!).

I had worked at my new job for approximately two weeks before I left for Berlin. I could tell at this point that this job was where I was meant to be, and I had to keep pinching myself because a variety of good things were happening all at once. I went off to Berlin almost in a state of shock.

Berlin was incredible. It was the first international sister trip Anna and I had taken together. I got to see family and friends I hadn’t seen in a decade. It was my first time in Berlin as an adult, and I realized that Berlin is basically me as a city.

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Abandoned allied spy tower…now a canvas for visual art.

However, I’ll also never forget this trip because I almost died. As my close friends reading this blog know, I had the worst allergic reaction of my life in Berlin. I’ve had severe anaphylactic allergies my whole life, and I’ve had terrible life-threatening reactions before, but quite literally nothing compares to the reaction I experienced in Berlin.

My sister, cousin and I were eating dinner at a burger restaurant. I chose a vegan option, as vegan food is significantly safer for me to eat with my allergies. While eating the burger, there was a brief moment where it felt like a reaction was about to begin. Strangely, it passed after a couple of minutes, and I assumed that due to my paranoia I was imagining a reaction (which has happened before).

After dinner, the three of us were walking to the nearest tram stop, and I suddenly felt like I had been hit with every possible allergic reaction symptom at once. My throat began constricting without pause. I couldn’t feel my face. My stomach felt like it was turning in on itself. Anna noticed immediately what was happening. I popped two Benadryl and told her I needed water ASAP.

The three of us ran into a bar so I could grab water, but before the bartender had poured the glass, I felt so suddenly ill that I ran into the bathroom located in the basement. Anna ran after me, and so begun a period of time that I have very little recollection of to this day. What I do remember is a constant battle in my brain, debating whether or not I should use my Epi-Pen (note: if this question is ever considered, the correct answer is to always use the Epi-Pen).

But if I use my Epi-Pen, I’ll only have one left for the duration of my trip.

I’ll have to go to the hospital if I take it, and what if my travel insurance provider lied and I have to pay thousands of dollars out of pocket for emergency care.

I don’t really want to die…I have so much going for me right now. I just started this incredible job. I’m so blessed to have such a caring family. I’m so blessed to have friends that are like family to me.

I’m not exaggerating on that last thought. My brain was so deprived of oxygen that I was literally weighing the options of living out my life or dying in the basement of a bar in Berlin (I hope those of you with a black sense of humor like me can find this part a bit amusing).

Eventually, after Anna persistently telling me to just use my Epi-Pen and asking if I needed an ambulance, I silently reached into my backpack and grabbed the Epi-Pen. After realizing I couldn’t read the instructions (words are hard when your brain is working with significantly less oxygen than it’s used to), I followed my instincts. Looking my sister dead in the eyes, I stabbed myself and whispered, “we should call the ambulance now.” Again, if you have a black sense of humor I hope you can laugh at the ridiculousness of this moment. At this point, I was seriously wondering how much longer I would have before I blacked out, as my vision was starting to darken. This had never happened to me before.

Things seemed to happen quite quickly after that. Germans are known for their efficiency, and emergency services is no exception. After much confusion as to what an Epi-Pen is (they have a totally different name for it in Germany) and after almost having a heart attack (likely due to the Epi-Pen misunderstanding and the administration of God-knows what drug), I was dragged up the stairs of the bar and into an ambulance, which had stopped in the middle of the street, on the tram tracks, during rush hour  (you’re welcome, Berlin). Not everyone can say that they have quite literally stopped traffic in Berlin.

We made it to the hospital with no issues. It was the best hospital experience I’ve ever had (and according to my cousin, it was the best hospital in Germany). Anna was my rock throughout this entire experience, and things would have ended dramatically differently without her. I’ll never be able to thank her enough.

Following the reaction, I couldn’t comprehend what had happened. I couldn’t think about the events of the situation for a solid week after they occurred. I still don’t remember much of the reaction, and I only know details of the story thanks to Anna.

The day after, I approached life with renewed vigor. Usually after a bad reaction, it takes me two to three days to feel back to normal. Not this time. I had a second shot at life and I wasn’t going to waste any time. I can still remember the look of disbelief on my cousin’s face when we met that day to go see the Berlin wall.

I’ve tried to maintain that joie de vivre since that day (I’ve also tried to be extra cautious when eating out since that day!). I think I’ve succeeded. I hope I keep succeeding, and I hope that you can also find joy in your life without nearly dying in the basement of a grungy bar.

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The day after my allergy attack. And yes, denim on denim is cool in Berlin.

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