Defining Moments

This post was going to be about my latest (and final) academic accomplishment: my Master’s of City and Regional Planning from THE Ohio State University, conferred in this lucky “22” year.

This post was going to be about the advice a wise woman once gave me to “be a fish in a different pond,” after I fretted for months over being a ‘little fish in a big pond’ or a ‘big fish in a little pond,’ should I have stayed here in Columbus for my undergraduate education. (Instead, I went away to Athens, made a new self there, came back and bossed it up at OSU – a school I like to remind my close friends I once turned down).

This post was going to be about receiving the pinnacle award for “best paper” in my program, in addition to my outstanding graduate award + academic excellence recognition – a feat my once-upon-a-time aspiring author self could have only dreamed of.

Instead, this post is about an event – a moment – that happened to me on Tuesday afternoon.

I mistakenly ate a shortbread cookie with shea butter in it – a popular topical ingredient that I’m extremely allergic to. I found out about this extreme allergic response when I unsuspectingly used a shea butter lotion in high school; I haven’t yet encountered shea butter in food products, let alone eaten food that contained it.

This all started at about 3:35 pm on Tuesday afternoon. By 3:47 pm, my tongue and lips had swelled and were stinging, and the back of my throat was starting to close. The lining of my esophagus was burning in a way I’ve never felt all the way down my chest. I couldn’t catch my breath.

I didn’t know what else to do, so I called my mom. By 3:55 pm, I had managed to swallow a Benadryl, a fact I was very grateful for hours later. By 4:04 pm, my dad had called the squad and my mom had arrived to watch me cough and spit and cry over my kitchen sink. My hands and fingers, clutched around my neck, cramped up and my chest tightened like a choke. I had a spluttering moment of thinking, if this gets any worse, this could be it.

The last two years – two very hard years for us all, I’m sure – rushed back into my brain. All the sleepless nights, the work stress, and the never-ending school assignments seemed so insignificant now, now that I couldn’t stop the burning in my chest, couldn’t stop coughing on my own saliva, couldn’t anticipate what was going to happen next.

By the time the medics came, my body had been able to work up enough of the “bad stuff,” and I could take deep breaths now and again. We thanked them for their attention, as they sat with me to make sure I was stable. Ironically, my blood pressure rang out at a near-perfect 120/80.

I was lucky enough to have my mom within a 5-minute drive. She stayed on the phone with me even when I couldn’t speak a response. I’m grateful my dad was able to call the squad. I’m thankful I received the attention that I needed. 

We all know there are defining moments in our lives that make or break us into something new. This graduation, for me, was one of those moments. So was this incident with the shea butter.

I say all this to say it can happen in a flash. I lost my grandmother at this time five years ago to a similar, unexplainable moment – a moment I will never stop reliving. You can do everything “right,” and it still doesn’t matter. There are mysterious moments and random occurrences that shape our lives daily; most are mild, some are severe. We won’t know which is which until we’re faced with it ourselves. I guess, in that way, it’s good to always be prepared.

I had my support network – my family close, and my partner to help get me through a trauma-tinged night. I woke up on Wednesday; shellshocked and sore in the chest, but okay. I don’t know why some of us get to stay, and some of us wake up in a new place. All I know is, I’m grateful for new beginnings, second chances, and the support of people who love me.


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