Woman left unable to cry after ultra-rare allergic reaction to antidepressants
How much do you take crying for granted? It may seem like an odd question; but for Haley Vega, weeping is simply not an option any more: she can never cry again. That's not to say that she can't be upset or sad, but no matter what the tears won't come. It's not because she's heartless; but the result of an incredibly rare allergic reaction to antidepressant medication, which dealt irreparable damage to her tear ducts.
Haley suffers from Stevens-Johnson syndrome - a reaction to medication or infection, which in turn affects the skin, mucous membranes and eyes, and can damage stem cells to prevent sufferers from crying. Instead she simply feels a sharp and intense pain whenever she should be weeping.
Haley was a chemical engineering student studying in Charleston, South Carolina; and was hospitalised with depression after a series of setbacks left her temporarily homeless, and her eating disorder overwhelmed her. She was prescribed antidepressants after being released from a mental health facility, which she reacted badly to in August 2017, becoming delirious and erratic.
In a recent interview, Haley stated: "They discharged me after I agreed to take a course of antidepressants,” she explained. “I thought they’d help make me feel better – but they ended up causing so many more problems ... I was behaving bizarrely. My memory is very hazy, but I’d be going to the fridge, taking bites out of food and then putting it back. I then jumped in the pool with all my clothes on. My parents came out and asked what I was doing and if I’d taken any drugs."
But when an angry rash appeared on her chest, Haley knew something was seriously wrong. "A doctor friend came over and took a look at me," she stated. "He suggested it could be Stevens-Johnson syndrome, and asked to see the antidepressants I was taking. He said he thought the dosage was too high and urged me to come off them, to see if my condition improved."
It didn't. It was too little too late. Haley later collapsed in the street and was rushed to hospital; her throat was closing up and her skin was dry and irritated. Doctors were worried that she might slip into anaphylactic shock, but once they realised that she had Stevens-Johnson syndrome, she was referred to a burns unit for specialist care. They were worried that Haley's skin was going to become necrotic.
"Every day the nurses would wheel me down for a bath and dab at my skin with wash cloths," she stated. "I’d look down and see it all bloodily shedding off. My nails all fell off, too. When the painkillers were working, I couldn’t feel much, so it’d be like watching myself in a horrible dream. But I was still in a lot of pain. Where all the skin had come away, weeing was absolute agony. I’d go to the toilet and scream bloody murder."
Haley was put on a strict diet to nurse her back to health after her brush with death. But she is still coping with a number of side-effects which have taken their toll. "I’ve had to totally change my life," she stated. "One thing I’m desperate to fix is the fact that, right now, there’s no good list out there of what to expect when you’re recovering from something like this. There are so many unexpected side effects and you have to be so vigilant in taking care of yourself. I have to make sure I’m getting proper sleep, eating the right diet, being aware of any new allergies and also being careful with my skin, using only hypoallergenic products."
But despite all of her suffering, some good has come out of all this: after coming so close to dying, Haley is depressed no longer, and her struggle to live has given her a newfound sense of serenity and purpose. "In the space of two weeks, I went from being depressed in a mental health facility, wanting to die, to then fighting for my life," she stated. "You don’t realise how beautiful life is until it’s almost taken away. Now, people remark all the time about how cheerful I am."