Hot searing pain from an unknown source – it came as a bit of a shock! On August 1st of this year, I was stung on the hand by two yellow jacket bees while gardening in my yard in Connecticut. I was digging up a few specimen plants to take with us to our new home in South Carolina. My husband had the long shovel, and I was on the ground carefully handling the plant so as not to disturb too many of the roots. The Astilbe flowering plant that I was dividing survived just fine, but I nearly died that day.
I felt the sharp pain through my gardening glove. I saw a small bee on my glove and brushed it off. Then I noticed the swarm of bees coming from the soil. I had apparently distributed their nest in the ground. My husband and I backed off immediately, retreating to a safer place in the garden. Seconds later I felt another burning sensation on the same hand. I looked down to see another small bee stinging me in the same spot. Now I really freaked out. I ripped off the gloves and ran into the house.
My husband, who remained unharmed, yelled to me to look up on the internet what to do after a bee sting. I did this, and followed the directions to ice it, take an Advil, and put on some hydrocortisone cream to reduce the itching. Then it told me to relax. Probably not an emergency.
My heart was racing
I genuinely didn’t feel so good, but I was a bit embarrassed. I had been stung by bees before. No big deal. Was I being too much of a drama queen in this case? Or was this cause for concern? I did manage to clean myself up, changing clothes from the dirt-stained garden shirt and shorts to a nice, clean, short summer dress. Then I laid down on the sofa and put my feet up on the pillows to chill out a bit.
Instantly I started to feel light headed, like the blood from my elevated feet was rushing to my head. Then I watched in horror as a bright red rash broke out all over my body – on my arms, my chest, my legs, and my feet. I rushed to the door and shouted to my husband, “We need to go to the emergency clinic…NOW.”
He ran inside the house to see what was happening. He found me on the kitchen floor resting my body on the cool tile floor. “This feels so good,” I told him. He said, “Get up, we have to go to the doctor.” He got the car out of the garage and opened the door to invite me in. I didn’t have the strength to make it from the house, down three steps and into the car. He held me up and assisted me to the car.
You might be wondering why we didn’t call 911 for an ambulance. We did consider it, but felt the Emergency Clinic would be closer…and less expensive. This all happened within a fifteen minute time period. Not much time to weigh the options. We just had to act fast.
Stay with me!
The next thing I knew, my husband was shouting at me, “Wake up. Wake up. Stay with me.” He pulled over just a few houses down because I had not yet fastened my seat belt. He told me later that I was convulsing and had appeared to pass out. He drove faster.
The next moment of consciousness for me was when we pulled into the New England Urgent Care Simsbury clinic’s parking lot. A team of three professionals had rushed to our car with a wheel chair and were helping me out of the car. I fainted again.
Within minutes, they had me in triage, injecting my leg with an Epi-Pen and giving me other medications that brought my blood pressure back to normal levels. I came to and was feeling better. I tried to make small talk and add levity to the situation. The attending doctor told me “You went into full anaphylaxis shock. You almost died today.” He told us that we had to go by ambulance to the local hospital’s emergency room. As he called in my stats, he reported that “the patient became incontinent.” Great – I peed my pants. It’s one thing to almost die, but to convulse, froth at the mouth, and pee your pants, well that’s downright embarrassing. He said, “Don’t worry. It happens to a lot of people.”
When the ambulance arrived, I was surprised to see a familiar face. Andrew, a young professional who used to work for my husband on construction jobs, was there. I was suddenly very aware that my short summer dress was riding high and my (wet) underwear was showing. I modestly tried to lower the dress, and cross my legs, trying to act…”more lady-like?” Andrew just smiled, and did his job skillfully, carefully lifting me from the clinic table to the ambulance rolling bed. And off we went to the hospital to be monitored for the next four hours in case a secondary reaction occurred and I needed to be treated.
Trip to the hospital’s Emergency Room
There is something thrilling about riding in an ambulance. Twice in my life I have gone as a patient, and once as a caregiver, riding shot-gun in the passenger seat upfront with the driver (who drove against traffic for one city block – crazy!). This time I was blessed to be accompanied by a registered nurse who worked for the ambulance company. She was delightful and we had a good conversation. I was stable and feeling so much better, so why not have a conversation?
When I arrived at the hospital ER entrance, I was given priority (an advantage of arriving by ambulance) and taken immediately into a room, rather than waiting my turn in line in the lobby. Another nurse took my vitals, set me up with IV fluids, and gave me a warm, heated blanket. That gave me great comfort as I was barefoot and only wearing that simple summer dress (with wet panties!)
Back of the napkin
As an executive presentation coach, I marveled at the admitting Doctor’s simple drawing (shown here). It made me lean in and listen. Rather than speaking mumbo gumbo medical talk or fancy slides and graphs, he explained what happened to me in simple, clear terms. His “back of the napkin” drawing was a powerful communication technique. I asked him if I could keep the drawing.
My stay in ER was uneventful and after four hours of monitoring, they released me. They gave me a prescription for an Epi-Pen (epinephrine) and Benadryl, with the explicit instruction that I needed to carry these first aid medicines everywhere I went…forever. Now, that’s a change of routine that I’ll have to get used to!
I got up to leave the hospital and realized that I had no shoes and my dress was damp. I walked out to the parking garage in the hospital-issued socks, with onlookers staring at me and my husband who was supporting me by the arm. I was quite the unusual site, but I imagine this is normal at a hospital.
I left the hospital feeling lucky to be alive, and frightened at the same time. Even though I was strong enough (and lucky enough) to survive ovarian cancer in 2011, I could have been taken out by two teeny, tiny yellow jacket bees. Life is indeed precious and you never know what can happen.
The drama continued over the next two days, as I experienced a secondary reaction from the bee sting. My entire body – from my scalp, to my chest, to my arms and legs – became covered in large welts. I looked like a world relief map, with the raised portions to show the continents. I couldn’t sleep as the itching was unbearable. So back we went to the Emergency Walk-in Clinic. Once again, their professional care and expertise helped me through this phase of the big sting episode. You better believe that I gave them an outstanding review on YELP! They have changed my opinion of the need for and value of emergency walk-in clinics.
The adventure was not over yet. I was to experience a very uncomfortable drug withdrawal as the Prednisone they prescribed me for five days was cut off, without a more gentle reduction in dosage. My mother warned me of this possibility, but I shrugged her off believing that the doctors and pharmacists know best. (Lesson learned: listen to your mother!) I felt shaky, disoriented, and unlike myself. I kept thinking to myself, “OMG, I’m on drugs.” I can only imagine what it feels like to be coming off Opioids or other addictive substances.
I survived the bee sting episode, but still there was the issue of the bee nest in the ground. So I hired a pest exterminator service to professionally remove the yellow jacket nest in our garden. Aldo (shown below) was incredibly compassionate about this process. He dug out the nest in his protective bee suit. The yellow jacket bees were absolutely furious and swarmed angrily around him. He carefully removed the queen bee from the nest. He called me outside to show me the queen bee, which was large and slow and was not particularly upset by the change in activity. Aldo said, “I hate to kill anything.” Together we bowed our heads and quietly said our goodbyes to this creature. He then took her to the cement and slowly and reluctantly crushed her with his shoe. It was sad, but necessary. I admired Aldo for the compassion and courage he brought to his job. His professional services cost me a meager $134. Money well spent.
In the back of my mind, I began to calculate how much this medical emergency was going to cost me. Thank goodness that I have health insurance, but with my high deductible I knew I was going to be incurring large out of pocket expenses. I thought the ambulance would be the big ticket item. Boy, was I surprised. The ambulance ride only cost me $248. That’s quite a deal! The cost for my two visits to the Urgent Care clinic were very reasonable – $660 – and these people were the ones who saved my life. The prescription for the Epi-Pen and medications cost me $125. But the real shocker was the four hours that I spent in the Emergency Room for monitoring – a whopping $2,257! I tried to negotiate with my health insurance company, but they would not budge on this fee.
The killer news was that the doctor told me that every time I get stung by a bee in the future, I must go to the Emergency Room for treatment and monitoring. Now, there just has to be a more cost effective solution than a $2,257 visit to the ER for every bee sting-anaphylaxis shock incident. Since August 1st every time I see a bee flying around I think to myself, “Look out, that could cost me $3,000 dollars in medical bills.”
Despite the expense and drama, I am grateful to be alive and kicking…and able to share this bee sting story with all of you. And I want to go on the record that I still love bees as they pollinate trees, fruits, and flowers and make our gardens and world beautiful and delicious.
Moral of the story?
- Don’t go sticking your hands where they don’t belong
- Respect nature
- Access to quality, affordable healthcare is important…for everyone!
- When in doubt, call 911 and go by ambulance
- Have an emergency cash fund for unexpected events such as these
- Love everyone…and live like you were dying