ListeckiThere’s a saying that captures the experience of missing a catastrophic occurrence: “He escaped the bullet.” Well, I escaped the bullet.

I returned home from Krakow, Poland, energized by the committed youth of the world who are in love with their faith. I also came home with a sinus infection which caused continuous sneezing and coughing. I was doctoring myself with Sudafed and Robitussin cough medicine.

A week ago this past Monday night, as I was preparing to go to the Cousins Center to join the committee drafting the Black Catholic Pastoral Plan for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, I was hacking away and decided I needed to take a shot of cough medicine to quell the coughing so as not to disturb the meeting’s flow of conversation.



Without looking at the newly purchased bottle of Robitussin, I swallowed a normal dosage. In less than 30 seconds, my mouth and lips started to swell. So I quickly grabbed the bottle and discovered it contained acetaminophen (Tylenol)! I am highly allergic to acetaminophen which, for me, causes an anaphylactic reaction. I had the presence of mind to swallow two Benadryl which I hoped would slow the reaction.

Within seconds, I picked up the phone and called Joanne Merriner who cares for the house and the archbishop. She lives only five minutes away. Now, with a rasping voice, I told her I was having an allergic reaction and asked her if she would drive me to the emergency room so that I could be treated.

She kindly agreed; however, by the time I walked downstairs, I had lost my voice and it started to become difficult to breathe. Walking into the parking lot, I became disoriented and thought I might pass out. Using my cell phone, I called 911 and with a barely audible whisper, I asked for emergency aid because I was having a severe allergic reaction. Within two minutes paramedics arrived with an ambulance.

We rarely appreciate the wonderful work of our first responders. We are blessed to have the professional men and women — from the phone operator to the personnel on the scene — trained in emergency situations.

The paramedics could see I was having a severe allergic reaction.

I felt a bit like Lon Chaney who portrayed the “Wolf Man” in those wonderful horror pictures of the ‘40s. With every second my features were changing. I expected the paramedics to say, “Does your face hurt you?” and the old joke’s response, “Well, it’s killing me.”

My ears, normally fairly large, were now Vulcan-like (the character Mr. Spock on “Star Trek”). And my body was a vibrant red.

I realize allergic reactions are nothing to joke about, and there could have been deadly consequences. But my Guardian Angel seemed to be working overtime. The paramedics administered an EpiPen to counter the deadly effects, and Fr. Luke Strand, the new vice rector of the seminary, happened to be on the spot to administer the sacrament of the sick.

While traveling in the ambulance, the allergic reaction started again and I received another shot. In minutes, we were at Columbia St. Mary’s Hospital and the emergency staff could not have been nicer.

They told me how unusual it was that someone would be allergic to acetaminophen. I was administered yet more drugs, and although my ears returned to the large, not extra-large size, and the vibrant red skin was replaced by my typical pale white, they decided keep me overnight for observation because my voice did not return to normal.

Fr. Luke stayed with me until 10 p.m. and then my sister, Penny, who is my little sister but has acted as my big sister most of my life, stayed overnight at my bedside until I was released the next day.

My normal routine was interrupted, which was most traumatic for me. I missed the meeting with the Black Catholic Pastoral Draft Committee, my normal deadline (no pun intended) for the Tuesday Love One Another email communique on Aug. 8, and the scheduled early morning meeting with the new president of Marian University, Andrew P. Manion, accompanied by Sr. Mary Noel Brown of the Sisters of St. Agnes.

The 19th Sunday of Ordinary Time Gospel from Luke was a challenge to “be prepared” because “the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.” That Monday was close to being my day.

I wasn’t expecting him and I certainly would get no honor points for my stupidity in not reading the ingredients on the medication bottle. However, I realized how many things I did not have in order.

Here are three questions for all of us:

• Do we tell the people in our lives of our love and appreciation for them?

• Do we have instructions and paperwork necessary for our relatives and friends to follow when God calls us home, i.e., a will, funeral instructions etc.?

• Do we regularly go to the sacrament of reconciliation and pray daily?

It’s never too late to put our affairs in order materially and spiritually.

Thanks to the kindness of a good priest, I was oiled up in the sacrament. He helped me to be ready knowing that I could have been standing before Jesus who would be asking me, “Did you follow my command to love one another?”