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Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Things that bite and sting aren't Always bad

Today's entry was inspired by reactions to my latest house guest, Napoleon, but more about him later.

Fallon, Nevada, USA will be reaching for the crazy temperature of 67 degrees on February 22nd! How well I remember -30F and 18 inches of snow here one crazy winter. I was delivering the mail and slogging through it on foot, because my truck got stuck at every stop. The only thing that you can successfully predict about Nevada weather is that it is unpredictable.

The dogs are quiet and lazy today. Too quiet, I had better look. Stretched out taking a nap, which is great. I would laugh and call myself too suspicious but I know them too well. Like children, when they get quiet you had better check on them and see what they are up to.

One of the errands we had to do in Reno yesterday was to go to the VA Hospital for advice on paperwork for Mr S. (Anna's dad). They (the VA Regional Office) wanted a mess of papers filled out and sent back by March 1st, but they are so deep in government speak and confusing instructions that WE had trouble with them. There is no way that an 86 year old person who is lucky to remember what he had for breakfast would be able to deal with such a nightmare. We are down to getting his signature and driving back to Reno to have the service office at the hospital review them for us and fax them to the appropriate person at the Regional Office. Crazy!

As is the case more often than not, Murphy steps in. Mr S. now says that his foot is all swollen and we may have to take him to the ER. Tough to be both places at once.

So I had better get on with the story.

I have to do what?

It wasn't that long ago, 1994 I am pretty sure, and it was summer. I was alone at my house on five acres in the country, finally getting to pull the weeds from my rose bed across the front of the house. No one else was visible in the neighborhood and it was wonderfully quiet. I was working away, sweat dripping off of me like the sprinkler was running and I was making progress. When I got next to the front porch I was leaning in pulling grass from behind a beautiful Peace rose that grew right up the wall along the siding.

I felt a sharp pain on my right forearm and naturally thought that the rosebush had gotten me. When I pulled the arm back to make sure that the thorn wasn't stuck in me I got a shock. A big black spider was on my arm, right where the pain was coming from. What I said at that point I won't bother to write because it would have to all be in #@%& characters, and a lot of them!

I immediately slapped my hand down hard on my arm, crushing the spider and even though I was pretty sure already what I was looking at, I turned my hand over to see for sure. That was one of those times when you just hate being right. It was a female black widow spider and I had been bitten!

Since I knew that I was allergic to bee sting and had also been bitten by pygmy rattlesnakes as a teenager, I knew that I had to act fast to get the best results and I knew that I would react to the bite, but no idea how. I had never been bitten by a black widow before.

Being alone I had to think and act quickly and logically. I grabbed some benadryl tablets and took a couple of those. We had some benadryl cream so I rubbed that on the bite. Then I did the next thing and called 911, to get their emergency advice and just in case I have a bad reaction.

I got the dispatcher and she connected me to the head ER nurse, (who I knew), right away. Great I thought, I am in good hands now. I explained what had happened and she started questioning me about; how did I know that it was a black widow, and how sure are you that it actually bit you, etc. I stayed calm and didn't start yelling, telling her that I carefully identified the red hourglass and yes, I had been bitten. She was doing something else at the same time and I had to repeat myself with each question and answer. It was frustrating me and I was getting that, "Why did I bother to call feeling?"

She finally responded to my direct question of "What should I do?", with "don't worry about it, nothing usually happens from these bites." I explained again that I was allergic to bee sting and was concerned.

She then uttered the strangest words that I have ever heard come out of a nurse.

"If you pass out call 911."

I may have been a bit fuzzy at that point, but I could not for the life of me, figure out how I could call 911 if I was passed out. I mean, did I push the 9 and the 1 and then hold my finger on the second 1 so if I fell over it would dial?

I hung up and grabbed a bottle of gatorade from the refrigerator and made my way to the bathroom because I was feeling sick and wanted to be there if the need "came up". Which it did, repeatedly. I didn't pass out that I know of, but I did spend the entire time that I was alone there on that bathroom floor, unable to go anywhere else.

Obviously I lived and recovered. No thanks to the over-worked and impatient nurse, (who I delivered mail to at her home and became my neighbor after I moved to town). I asked the nurse what she meant (at a later date), but she didn't even recall the conversation... which concerns me a lot. I didn't even have enough of her attention for her to remember speaking to me. Could I have been in more serious trouble than I knew?

My doctor said the benadryl was the best thing that I could have done and undoubtedly saved me from a lot of misery and possibly from harm. We do not know how much worse it would have been without the triple hit of Benadryl, but I got out of it with just a scar on my arm and a story to tell, so I am good with that; I don't want to try again.

Post Scripts:

Spiders and their venom became a special project from that day forward and I made a pair of notebooks for the ER at our hospital with photographs and information about all of the possible poisonous spiders that could be found in our area. There has been much debate regarding the inclusion of the Brown Recluse Loxosceles reclusa into that notebook, but I believe the verified bite of a local retired school teacher by this spider warrants the addition.

My studies regarding black widow envenomation since I was bitten indicate that yes, I could definitely have been in a life threatening situation. Each person reacts differently to this venom and it is very potent and should be taken seriously. There are also situations of what is referred to as a "dry bite", where no venom is injected. It is better to visit the ER and make sure, than to have a reaction at home alone.

In recent years we have had a black widow living in our garage door and as long as it doesn't move towards the house we live in peace. If it does (moves towards the interior), it dies. It is interesting (in a creepy sort of way), that several generations of black widows have occupied that location catching bugs and living in harmony with the humans.

As I mentioned earlier, my newest addition to the household, Napoleon, is an Emperor Scorpion Pandinus imperator (from Africa) and now lives with us in his own enclosure. Yes, he has a poisonous sting, which is equal to a bee sting in pain and toxicity, but he has never chosen to use it and isn't very likely to. Emperor's have massive pincers and use them almost exclusively to catch their prey or defend themselves.

So as you can see, my painful experience with the black widow has not made me hate all arachnids or even fear them. It is possible to respect them and live in the same world. Would I kill another black widow or scorpion? Yes, if they were a real threat to me or Anna, but I would prefer not to kill anything if I can help it.

 Unfortunately I am out of time and must go attend to the humans now.

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