Gramps heard my scream.
He bustled over to see what was the matter.
Only seconds earlier I had been admiring the beauty of the forest, and smelling the newly opened wild flowers. In my six-year old mind I had been anticipating the arrival of some sort of a fairy. On a day such as this it seemed inevitable that one would appear. I had grown weary of waiting and so I sat on a log. I failed to see the bee. As my rump crushed the normally meek and mild creature, it stuck me with his barbed stinger sealing his fate and mine. I jumped to my feet with a screech, clutching my buttock. Poor little bee didn’t stand a chance. After a bee uses his stinger it will die. My fate was much kinder. A tender tush is preferred over death. However death from a sting might yet come for me.
Throughout the years I was gifted with a great many stings from the insect world. The majority occurred on the farm. Once I was stung three times by an aggressive band of wasps. It happened whilst fencing through a thick grove of forest. I vividly recall accidently stepping on their nest and the onslaught of the swarm. The red angry swelling from each individual sting was immediate. No big surprise that I got stung. That was my life as a youth, if I wasn’t falling off of horses and tripping over pebbles, I was tramping through wasp-infested areas like King Kong through New York City. There I am swatting away wasps like a giant ape on the top of the Empire State building bashing away planes. I can’t even accurately count the number of times I was stung throughout the years. All became normal ouchy tender swollen spots, until one day, my body’s immune system morphs into the Hulk offering death as a solution to the invading toxins of the wasp.
The official bulking up of my immune system transpired on a camping trip. We were meeting long time friends and their boys for a weekend of boating and fishing at Pinehurst Lake. We arrived at the campsite; our truck, camper and boat are coated in a thick film of brown dust from the bumpy gravel road. It is a remote lake. Most of the camp stalls are occupied. We stop momentarily, in awe of the view. We gaze upon camping spots shaded by poplar and spruce trees following the edge of the lake. The water along the shore sparkles in the late day sun. A warm summer wind tickles the branches on the trees until the leaves twist in delight. Certainly last but not least, a gaggle of children race their bikes along the road, towels over their shoulders, heading to the wooden dock for a swim. We are jolted out of our viewing pleasure by the honking of a horn. Using the Universal symbol of greeting Rick sticks his hand out of the window forms a fist and slowly extends his middle finger. Way to win a friend Hubby.
We spot our friend’s camper in a site close to the dock. It’s convenient to loading and unloading boats. An empty place beckoned to be filled alongside them, perfect for our camper.
I can see Margie’s slim form sitting in a cloth camping chair. Her blond hair shines in the sun. She smiles and gives us a wave.
Once camp is set up, Rick begins to fiddle with the motor on the boat. He has a small fix to do before he can put it in the lake. Margie and I stand by the fire pit.
She is eating sunflower seeds and throwing the shells in the pit.
“Are you getting tired of camping yet?” I ask. “It seems like you guys have been camping most of the summer.” An annoying fly is using the back of my calf as a landing strip. I feel it crawling on my leg. At least I thought it was a fly.
Margie chuckles. “Are you kidding Deb? I live for camping. All my work is at home. Dwayne likes to cook out here, and the boys are always off fishing or swimming. It’s a holiday, “ she said tossing her head and brushing her windblown hair from her eyes. “The only thing I don’t like about camping is going home.”
I bob my head in agreement, “Yeah, I know what you mean, going home means laundry, grass to mow, and a garden to weed.” The assumed fly is still pestering me. I lift my leg up towards my butt thinking the fly will take flight. However, the fly is not a fly, and the sting is immediate. It’s like a thousand little spankings all on top of one another. I couldn’t even blame the insect— it had to defend itself from being crushed.
“Dammit! Fricken son of a bitch!” I mutter hopping around sideways. I swipe the back of my leg insistently in case the toxic critter is still on me.
“What? What Deb?” Margie questions with motherly concern. “Did you get stung?”
I look down at my feet to see the black and yellow wasp squirming on the ground. “Yeah I did. Dirty little bugger.” I said. My calf muscle throbs. I step on the wasp squishing him into the dirt effectively putting him out of his misery.
“You’re not allergic to bees are you?” Margie asked.
I shake my head, “No. But I’m going to grab some ice to take the sting away.” I walk towards my camper, “Hey?” I turn back. “Do you want a cooler?”
“No Deb, I’ll grab us a cooler. My treat.”
I nod, “Ok, but the next ones on me.”
I grab my ice and return to the fire. Margie’s three boys and our two kids are seated around the metal fire pit spitting sunflower shells into the flames. Our husbands Dwayne and Rick are organizing their boats for a quick fish before dark. It wasn’t going well for Rick, he would occasionally utter curses and stomp around to the toolbox for a different tool.
I took a seat beside Margie and put an ice pack on my sting. The relief was nearly immediate. “So what else is new?” I ask.
She leans back into the cocoon of her camping chair and crosses her legs taking a sip of her cooler before answering. “I’m painting the downstairs in our house. I’m choosing bold colors,” she said with a shake of her head. “I never thought I would use such intense colors but I seem to be drawn to them lately.”
I raise my eyebrows, “It’s a gutsy move,” I comment. “But maybe you need a big change.” I said as I feel a warm flush spread through my body. An intense itchiness begins to develop on my buttocks. I wiggle inconspicuously.
Margie is oblivious. “So, after the basement’s done, I’m going to paint the feature wall in the kitchen red,” announces Margie looking at me expectantly.
I give her an odd look and say, “Red? You really want to go red?” I couldn’t imagine red in a kitchen. Mind you, I was picturing fire engine red— like the color my butt must be. Oh, I was ridiculously itchy. I discreetly waggle in my seat again.
Margie flips a few strands of loose hair behind her ear and continues to explain, “It isn’t the candy apple red color I want, but more of a brick red.”
I nod aggressively noticing my neck is now uncomfortably warm and itchy as well. “You’re pretty brave to go with that much color. I don’t think I could do it.” I confess as I feel my ears begin to grow hot and itch inside.
“Margie smiles, “Well the hard part will be getting Dwayne to go along with it.”
The urge to scratch becomes unbearable. I leap to my feet and start scratching, my neck, my back, my butt— everything. I rub at my ears massaging them into my head trying to relieve the itchiness inside.
Margie and the kids stare at me like I’ve lost my mind.
I continue scratching. “I think I’m reacting to the sting.” I said to no one in particular.
I race to my camper to look for an antihistamine. I remember that antihistamines are good for allergies. Nothing. I had nothing. Damn you children of mine! Why couldn’t one of you have allergies?
I lift up my shirt to look at my stomach. I’m covered in hives the size of dinner plates. I look at my sides, my shoulders— they all have giant raised red areas.
I bolt out of the camper and call to Margie,” Do you have any antihistamine?”
The fellow who is managing the campground walks up at that precise moment.
I greet him with a flurry of questions, “Hi, how are you? You wouldn’t happen to have any antihistamine in your truck would you?” I ramble on, “I just got stung by a bee— well not a bee— but a yellow jacket— and now I’m having a reaction.”
He looks at my flushed face. “Do you feel like your ears are swelling, got hives, and is your throat is tight?”
My eyes bulge a bit. I do have a tight throat. That was new. “Yes. All of those things. I have all of those things, “I fluster.
“Then I think you should go to the hospital,” he said, “People can die from reactions like that.”
I glare at him. Thank you very much. You jolly, jolly, little man. That is exactly what I wanted to hear.
He writes something on a piece of paper and hands it to me. “This is the number for the hospital in Lac La Biche. It’s about a forty-five minute drive. There’s no phone service for the first half hour.” He peers into my face, “You know, I read somewhere that you should stay calm when you have a reaction. If you get worked up your heart pumps faster and your symptom time speeds up.”
Hmmm, it seems to me I read that somewhere too. Yes, now I was scared. I try to swallow, and my throat resists.
“Deb, are you okay?’ asks Margie.
I could see from Margie’s expression that she didn’t think I was okay— and I sure didn’t feel okay.
“I think I’d better go to the hospital.” I said with tears filling my eyes.
We walk over to Rick where he is working on the boat. I am still scratching, although at a much more controlled pace now. Calm, I must stay calm.
I can feel the negativity hanging in the air where Rick is working. He is bent over the engine at the rear of the boat. A dark cloud encircles him and tiny sparks of lightening shoot out towards us.
“Rick, I need you to take me to the hospital.” I announce.
“Yeah, in a minute.” He rumbles not bothering to look up.
Margie examines me with her eyes. “I think you should go now. Do you want me to take you?” she asks in a quiet voice.
“No.” I said stubbornly, Rick can take me.” I didn’t want to ruin Margie’s evening— like she was going to have a big party now anyway. Silly me.
Margie frowns and then glares at Rick. She puts her hands on her hips to hold up her big girl pants. “Rick.” She orders. “You need to take Deb to the hospital right now.”
He throws his hands up and turns to us with anger in his eyes. “I’m trying to fix this!” he growls. He notices my swelling head and flushed face. The storm in him subsides and a calm acceptance crosses his face. “Lets go.”
As we pull out of the campground I can’t help but wonder if I’ll ever see my kids again. I focus on calm breath, in and out. Rick speeds down the road and dust billows behind us. He suddenly realizes how serious this could be. The tightening in my throat increases, but the air continues to flow in and out of my lungs.
We arrive at the hospital. The admitting nurse takes me into the examinations room immediately. She takes my blood pressure and concern emanates from her face. Nausea rises up and I fight against it.
The doctor arrives. “You’re having an allergic reaction.” He said.
No shit Sherlock. Tell me something I don’t know. Maybe I was getting edgy.
He looks at my hives and scopes out my throat, “We are going to give you some medicine to counteract the reaction, and we’ll put you on IV to raise your blood pressure artificially.
My color was gone, the nausea rolled through my guts.
The nurse pushed a needle into my arm and injects me with the miracle cure. I instantly feel cold and dizzy. I can barely lift a hand and I think I might have to puke. My blood is gone and I am a ghost.
The nurse is sweet, an older lady with warm hands. She tries to insert the IV for fluids into my hand. She fails three times. My veins are collapsing. I see the worry in her face, and the raw edge of panic. She switches to my other hand and after three more tries she succeeds in getting a vein. After about five minutes with fluid running into my body I start to feel better.
The nurse wipes her brow and sighs with obvious relief, “Whew. I haven’t had that tough of a time getting a vein for years.”
I close my eyes and smile. I’ll get to see my kids in a while.
When they release me the nurse pulls me aside. “Make sure you carry your Epi-pen, everywhere you go. Next time you might not have as much time. I haven’t seen a reaction that severe in a long while.” She shakes a finger at me. “I’m not kidding. Carry your epinephrine pen.”
I admit to becoming lax about carrying my pen. This story is my reminder to start carrying it again. My hulk of an immune system is just waiting for the opportunity to bust out and run rampant once again.