The way it works with bee sting allergies is, you react more strongly to them every time they occur. So for instance, you might get stung once a year for first thirty years of your life, and it’s just an itchy bump.
Then suddenly on the thirty-first time, you nearly die.
Seems like the opposite of the way it should work. I thought bodies built up immunities to poisons and venoms, but for some reason, it’s the other way around.
In my case, the thirtieth through fortieth bee stings occurred at the same time, and I didn’t know they were happening because I was mowing the lawn at our old country pad, and I ran over a ground hornet hole, and when they attacked me, I thought it was just a bunch of grass and grit flying out the back of my mower.
Wearing shorts and sandals and a thumb splint. I’m not going to tell you how I got the thumb splint, so don’t even start. Anyway, my wrist started itching right at the edge of the splint, and when I looked there, a ground hornet was trying to burrow under it.
So I let go of the mower and noticed that I was standing in a small cloud of ground hornets, stinging my legs, and then I ran inside.
I’m one of those guys who doesn’t like to take medicine if I can avoid it.
You have an immune system, and if you give it too much help, it gets soft, and it isn’t ready when trouble starts. There is absolutely no indication that I am right about this, and I am ill every bit as much as the average man, if not more, but that’s the policy. Obviously I’m not going to change the policy – the policy is the policy.
So Marilyn came into the bedroom and I was sitting in my chair with a fan pointed at me, already telling her as she walked through the door, “I’m not mowing the rest of that lawn.”
She had a weirdly patronizing look on her face as I told her about it, about the cloud of bees. Kind of squinting and nodding, sure pal, I gotcha. Almost smirking as I tugged at the thumb splint.
And then she agreed – like I was asking – that I shouldn’t continue mowing the lawn. Right now, she added. I shouldn’t continue mowing it right now. The extra two words like a little star next to my sentence, indicating a clarifying footnote, somewhere else on the page.
So she left the room and I started itching like crazy and I went to the shower, tearing off clothing, and when I reached out to turn on the faucet, there were hives on my arm.
Multiplying like germs as I watched – just a few dozen when I first looked at them, then fifty, then they were like bumpy chicken skin, covering my arm. Right before my eyes, in seconds.
Back out to the hallway, I called Marliyn back upstairs, said holy Christmas, look at this.
She was still not convinced. Yes, I see the bumpy bumpy bug bites, her pursed lips said. Giving me a look like you give a silly puppy with a bone bigger than his head.
Then Ellen popped up, wherever she came from, talking about fire ants on a show she saw on the Discovery Channel. You can have a serious reaction to bug bites, she told us. It can kill you.
Well, we were twenty minutes out in the sticks, so the time to decide was now.
“It’s up to you,” Marilyn said. Like I was choosing between being a big boy who slept with the lights off or something else.
The three of us got into the car as the skin around my lips began to tighten up and feel like plastic. Out on the main road, I had to strike a delicate balance between not freaking my little girl out, and getting my wife to understand that we needed to drive as fast as possible.
She still wasn’t really buying it, over there, still looking like she might want to roll through Starbucks on the way.
By the time I blasted through the doors at the E/R, my face was as red as blood, and so were the whites of my eyes. They were the reds of my eyes by then. And my face was so swollen, I could feel my upper lip, pressed against my nostrils.
“I’ve been stung by a bunch of bees and I’m having an allergic reaction,” was the only thing I said to the women behind the desk, and then I was in a hospital bed, getting wheeled somewhere, five different television characters doing medical stuff over me and looking really, really grim.
“Am I going to live?” I asked, trying to lighten the air.
The doctor in charge looked right at me and said, “Relax. We don’t know.”
Sure, that made sense. That was after all, such a relaxing answer.
Marilyn and Ellen had dropped me at the front door, so by the time they were escorted back to where I was, they had detected from the looks on everyone’s faces that this was very serious.
And that was right about when they got it under control. My throat started opening up, and the swelling started to go down, and now the doctor was willing to tell me, yes, looks like you’re going to make it, buddy.
He took out an Epipin, and explained, “You can never be without one of these again in your life. The next time you are stung by a bee, it could very easily kill you. You will need to stab yourself in the leg with this, right through your pants leg, and then call 911.”
I gave Marilyn a nice smug frown. Question, comments?
“However,” the doctor went on. “Even the shot might not save your life. A much more important strategy is to avoid bees entirely. If you come into contact with a swarm, like you did today, then there’s not much that can save you. You’d want to stab yourself in the leg and call 911, but…”
Trailing off theatrically, shrugging. A couple of things I don’t like to see doctors doing in the E/R – praying and shrugging. Honestly, I’d rather see them take a flask out, pass it around.
“So what do people do about things like the ground hornet holes? Can exterminators take care of them or what?”
And the doctor’s eyes flicked up from the chart, alarmed. He stared at each of the three of us in turn, even Ellen, and then he said, “Mr. Chalfant, let me be clear. You can never mow your lawn again.”
So we got to sit there and get our minds around that idea, Marilyn growing bewildered and confused – who on earth would do it then, Bigfoot? And my smile growing so large that my stressed-out skin felt crackly and tight.
One of the nurses exhaled a lot more than she had inhaled, wrinkling her brow at Marilyn, and then softening it as she asked me, “Would you like some water? Are you thirsty?”
“You know he got that thumb splint from playing the effing X-Box too much.”
She was nodding at reality, not liking it, just nodding. Not really a glass-half-empty kind of gal, you know?
“Did you hear the doctor, Marilyn? Did you hear what that doctor just said?”
She heard him.