Saturday, July 22, 2017

I hate yellow jackets!

Have I ever told you how much I hate yellow jackets? Probably. I tell every one of my brush with death in the form of winged stingers.

See, when I was a little tyke, about four or five, and we still lived on Kenwood Avenue in Hawthorn, New Jersey, I stepped on a honey bee. I remember we had a lot of white clover in the lawn and the honey bees just love that stuff. It must have been the second time I got stung by a bee because I had an allergic reaction. I’m told that the first time usually doesn’t elicit such a reaction. Your body just says, “Damn! That hurt! Don’t do it again or I’ll kill you!” Well, my body tried to kill me this time. I started having trouble breathing and Mom called the doctor. (This was before 911. The doc dropped whatever he was doing and rushed to our house where he got the full story from Mom, said something like, “Uh-huh,” and gave me a shot to counter my reaction. I’m told that if he had been 10-15 minutes late, I might have died from anaphylactic shock.

Time passed. We moved to Oakland, New Jersey and I continued to be something of what would be called today a “free range” kid. One day, when I was 10 or 11, while I and a couple of friends were walking home from somewhere—maybe the ball fields—we stopped to throw some rocks against an old wooden fence at a place that once was an academy. That fence made a glorious “THUD!” that echoed off the hillside every time a rock hit it and we were having a grand old time. Little did we realize there was a bees nest hon the other side of that fence. And they were not happy with our activity. They came swarming out and attacked. I was the only one stung. Home was just a short distance up the hill on Yawpo Avenue and I made my way there post haste.

This time, Mom, hauled me off to the doctor’s office pronto and, as the allergic reaction began to set in, the doctor administered the necessary shot. He then discussed the relatively new procedure available to desensitize people like me to the venom bees and wasps deliver with each sting. That procedure required a series of ever strengthening injections of bee venom over the course of three years. And so I became a bee venom pin cushion. The shots produced a reaction something like a mosquito bite: a little itching and a little bump. Even as the shots potency increased, my reaction remained about the same. Which was good. After three years the doc said I was no longer allergic to bees and I could ditch the medic alert bracelet I had been wearing.

Time passed some more. I got married and Terry and I were living in Dover, New Jersey. Jessica was born and I was working on my Master’s thesis. This required some field work during which I was in the woods along the median and verge of I-78 just east of the junction with I-287. One warm summer’s day I was out trapping mice in this area when I stepped on a yellow jacket nest. I dropped my gear and hurried out of the woods toward my car. This was the first time I had been stung since those allergy shots and I was a little worried that they might not actually work.

As I stepped out of the woods, I saw a state trooper’s car parked behind my vehicle. I approached the officer, told him what had just happened and asked if he would mind sitting with me for a bit to see if I would have a reaction—and if I did, to get me to the hospital just a couple miles away ASAP. He agreed and we sat in his car chatting a bit while he did paperwork. When nothing seemed to have happened after 15-20 minutes I thanked him and said I seemed to be okay. He went on his way and I got in my car to head north on I-287.

Just to be safe, I got off in Morristown and stopped at a co-worker and friend’s house--a home Terry and I would later purchase—located just off the exit ramp to I-287 and only a quarter mile or so from Morristown Memorial Hospital. Ellen Rosenbaum was home, listened to my tale and made some ice tea. We sat and talked for half an hour or more and when I didn’t show signs of dying, Ellie sent me packing.

I’ve since been stung by wasps and hornets and, while they hurt like the blazes, I’ve had no allergic reaction.  I was so impressed with the results of these desensitization shots, I went to an allergist to find out if he could do anything for my hay fever and reactions to other insect bites. After using my arms and back as a place to do scratch tests to determine what my allergies were (I’ve a booklet somewhere that lists dozens of things I’m supposed to be allergic to—including coffee and chocolate. Really?), we agreed on six targets for desensitization. Same deal as before: start with injections of the allergy causing crud and work our way through ever stronger solutions over three years. I got three shots in each arm on every visit. Never had a reaction to the shots beyond a slight bump and mild itch. After three years, my eyes didn’t water and itch every spring and a mosquito didn’t create a mountain on my bare skin when it bit. Neither do deer flies or black flies. I’m a happy camper!

I became desensitized to poison ivy all on my own. I credit total immersion for that one. That day I fell into a patch while fishing the Ramapo River at the NY –NJ border, with no shirt on caused me to break out from head to belly button. Caused quite the rush on calamine lotion, too.

I’ve since waged war against yellow jackets when and where I find them. I’ve wiped out a ground nest in the Adirondacks and another here at the Aerie. (The Adirondacks one was more fun as the only materials at hand was some 50:1 mixed gas-oil I used in the chainsaw. Whoosh!) And there was one in the Aerie’s eave that I got with a foaming spray.

Now, I told you all this so I could bring up what happened today as I was mowing the lawn after a three week hiatus. Three weeks because of the heat and the sporadic heavy rains. This morning was cool and overcast. The latter meant there was no dew on the ground so I figured I’d get out there and mow. Some of the plantain flower heads were a foot high and you could see the occasional honey bee or bumble bee causing them to bend and sway as they gathered pollen and nectar. I fired up the mower and set to work. As I was cutting around the septic tank cover (a small roofed structure I built a few years ago) I reached down to pull a Queen Anne’s lace from the ground. That’s when they hit me. Swarming out from the roof of the tank cover came the yellow jackets. The RAF didn’t respond to the Luftwaffe with as much energy or determination. As soon as I realized what was happening, I backed off, left the lawn mower and walked swiftly away. Not fast enough. One got me on the left wrist just above my watch band and another got under the bandana I was wearing and stung the top of my right ear. Damn they hurt! I was happy those were the only two that succeeded in getting to me. Even now some five hours later, my wrist is still swollen and I’ve a cauliflower ear. I took one of the Spectracide cans that sprays up to 25 feet and hosed the area from which they emerged. Some were still flying about so I didn’t want to get too close. I’ll go back tonight when they’re inside and spray again. Hopefully I can get to wherever the nest actually is. I do NOT want to have to lift that cover to get to them. No siree!

I did manage to get the lawn finished but you can be sure I kept a wary eye on that corner of the yard while I was working nearby.


Ruth said...

I'm not a fan either. And one of the last times I got stung not only did the sting make my joints hurt, but I had a delayed reaction. A full week after the sting spot suddenly swelled up and burned and itched for a day! My doctor was not happy about it either.

Rev. Paul said...

That doesn't sound like any fun at all. Ow!

joated said...

Ruth: Well, I certainly hope there's no delayed reaction here! I leave to go fishing in northern Quebec on Thursday.

Rev. Paul: You got that right! Still have a swollen wrist and a cauliflower ear.

And even after spraying like crazy at twilight last night, there's still a bunch of YJs flying in and out of that cover.

threecollie said...

Even other yellow jackets hate yellow jackets.