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Sting

I moved my bees – I moved too. I moved from the little condo 2 blocks from the Capitol in Santa Fe, NM where I have spent 3 years healing. I moved just a couple miles out of town, up into Bear Canyon into a home that abuts the National Forest. Bears do abound & so my bees find their new home on the roof. I moved them in the dark of night – taped close their entrance to the hive, put them in the back of my car and drove ever so slowly. There was not a buzz from them. Cédric & I hauled the hive up onto the roof and let them settle. I gave a listen through the hive wall & they didn’t sound too agitated. After 10 minutes or so I crawled back up on the roof with a thunderstorm imminent. A bolt of lightning hurried me along up to the hive to remove the tape. A few heads poked out and that was it. Success! The next day I ran home & scurried up onto the roof to see them. They were bringing in pollen. Amazing, resourceful girls!

I moved my bees on the evening of Monday, September 17th. The weather predictions were nice for the week, but the following week, temperatures were supposed to drop. I needed to get into the hive and harvest honey and make sure they were set for winter before the change of weather. On Sunday, the 23rd I decide I have to get in the hive. It was nice, even a little hot, especially on the roof. I opened the hive and as usual I could immediately sense their mood – bad. I’m sure they were still stressed from the move & it was hot. I dismiss their warning. Set on getting in the hive, I press on. I should have just grabbed the honey I was planning to harvest, but instead I went through the whole hive. They were not happy. Mid-way through, I got stung on my hand through my glove. In the past, the sting has gotten pulled right out, but I had different gloves on and this time it didn’t. I could see the sting poking through the glove. Without thinking, I pulled the sting out the wrong way – grabbing the venom sac and likely administering myself a full dose of venom. I push on, harvest 3 full bars of honey & close up the hive all within about 10 minutes.

As I start to climb off the roof I begin to have great difficulty breathing. I don’t think too much of this – I have occasional asthma, but it does seem to be particularly bad. I get everything off the roof and head inside to use my asthma inhaler. I begin to suspect that my difficulty breathing is in reaction to the sting. The inhaler works, but then I begin to have chest pains. Dumbly, I wait over an hour. My breathing calms, but the chest pain nags at me. I feel ok, but know it’s not a good idea to mess around with anaphylactic shock. I decide to go to urgent care, just in case. I drive for about 5 minutes and my throat begins to close. I freak out. Heart pounding, pulse racing!! I stop the car and debate calling 911. My throat eases a bit and I drive on. I forget about urgent care & realize I need to get to the emergency room, which is only another 5 minutes or so.

I drive frantically. I feel a little better, but after the experience of having my throat closing, I’m panicked. I write a note as I drive (yes, I multi-task like a mother!) The note “Bee Sting, Anaphylactic shock” clutched in my hand in case I can’t talk when I get to the ER. As I pull up, my throat starts to close again. I RUN in and I am able to tell the attendant. He whisks me to a room where 4 people are immediately on me.

I lay there and allow these kind strangers to take care of me – not an easy task for me. An IV is inserted; electrodes are placed on my chest; my heartbeat shows up on a screen; my blood pressure is taken at intervals. They give me steroids, Benadryl, and pepcid, which is also an antihistamine, through the IV. I feel better immediately, but they keep me for several hours for observation.

I lay in a bed in the ER and stare at my feet poking out of the end of the covers, shoes still on. I start to think. I think about my bees and I am upset with the thought of having to get rid of them. I think about being alone in this trauma, as I have been in a lifetime of it. I have dealt with it all amazingly well. I reflect on this and settle into myself. I see myself all of a sudden – big. With large capacity. I look back at my life and see what I’ve come through, what I’ve overcome, what I’ve left behind. It’s a lot. I’ve had no help with any of it & likely would not have recognized or accepted it if it was offered. I’ve been my own worst enemy – fiercely self-critical. I thought it was just a voice in my head and I was able to stop that, but the bad feelings persisted like some sort of horrible background noise. I recently caught glimpse of it one day. It’s more than just a dialogue. It is a feeling of self- loathing that permeates all that I do. Eeee. It’s horrible to even say that. Not nice at all, and yet very precisely the truth. But once you see the dynamic of something like this, I think maybe that’s all it takes. You catch it in action. See it for what it is and it immediately loses power. It just takes a long time to get there. Lots of layers to peel off to get to the core. Recognizing and saying all this here is no small task either.

Cédric arrives at the ER and I’m not alone anymore. He was traveling and arrived at the Albuquerque airport to my message: bee sting, shock, emergency room. He sits with me and waits while they release me. He drives me home and cleans up the house I left a mess. He makes me dinner and puts me to bed with hot chamomile tea. He takes care of me and I let him. In stark contrast to a life I’ve spent fighting alone, I now find myself with a partner. Cédric is full of optimism about my continuing to keep bees. We discuss it and I’m intent on finding a way. I talk to beekeeper friends and find out there are many with sting allergies. I develop a plan. I will always listen to what my bees tell me from now on. I get recommendations on better gloves. I go to my allergist to schedule venom shots. I get an EpiPen (epinephrine injector for allergic reaction). And I will no longer work the hive alone, says Cédric. It’s looking up. I am planning two more hives next year.

I pulled 8 pounds of honey from my hive that day. 8 pounds of beautiful, golden, fragrant, delicious honey. I process the comb a couple days after the sting and I am transfixed. It crackles and pops as I cut off the wax capping and the amazing thick liquid oozes out of the comb through my hands. Little bees made this stuff. Worker bees fly the equivalent of more than twice around planet earth to make one pound of honey. The eight pounds I pull represent bees flying nearly a half million miles. How can you possibly not be amazed? I put the cut comb in a strainer and let it warm in the sun until pure gold flows through and leaves the wax behind. 8 pounds. I hope it lasts us the winter.

Honey to die for…

8 responses to “Sting

  1. Wow Mary! I am so amazed!! There are no words to describe
    my feelings after reading this. Just that this is so powerful………….I’m happy for you. Love, Audrey

  2. Love. You. Sweetie Pie.

  3. Really glad you’re ok, you were brave to drive yourself to the hospital. I also know a few beekeepers with severe allergies.

  4. Sounds like it’s not just the girls who are resourceful, but their ‘keeper’ as well. Glad everything turned out well. And, yes, there are plenty of beekeepers who have allergies but you just make accommodation for them. Oh, and always have that epipen to hand! Great post!

    • Thank you! I start venom shots with my allergist next week. I have hope they will help and have also heard that a couple other beekeepers in the area have seen good results from the treatment. The honey is too good to think of quitting now…

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