Bee stings are part of the job

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My new beekeeping tools

A week ago, I started bee-sting allergy immunotherapy. It’s supposed to help desensitize me to bee stings.

Last July, I learned the difference between a bee-sting sensitivity and a bee-sting allergy – the hard way.

With a sensitivity, the area around the sting can swell up, turn red, hurt, itch, and it can be mild or quite bad.

With an allergy, body systems start shutting down. That too can be mild or it can kill you.

I’ve always been sensitive to bee stings. The only thing I didn’t like about summer was going barefoot and stepping on a bee. Oftentimes I’d swell up to my knee.

I’ve been stung several times since I started beekeeping in the spring of 2013. They weren’t pleasant, but nothing I didn’t expect. I’d have some itching, redness and the swelling would take several days to subside. I’d also rub them with lavender and chamomile oil to help reduce the symptoms.

Only one of those times was I wearing my suit.

July 12, 2014, was a warm day, and I was going to put out some sugar-water out for the bees. My only task would be to open the outer cover, lay a Ziploc bag down on the inner cover, slice holes in it and replace the outer cover.

Usually, when I got stung, I’d pull out a credit card and scrape away the stinger and get back to work.

This time, I opened the outer cover and a bee flew out, like a guided missile, and stung me on the eyebrow.

This time, I felt like I’d been struck by lightning.

The credit card didn’t work because of the hair in my eyebrow. Fortunately, my son was there to pull out the stinger.

I went into the house to take a couple of Benadryl and rub on some lavender and chamomile oil. I went back to the garage and figured I’d put on my suit and finish my work. By that time I was feeling very warm, especially in the face.

I sat down on the stool to rest for a minute and my son asked me if everything was ok. I said, “Yes.”

My new Ultra Breeze bee suit is thicker than the original cotton suit.

My new Ultra Breeze bee suit is thicker than my original cotton suit.

I put my legs in my pants and had to sit down again, this time with my head between my legs. I was feeling dizzy, my face was flushed and very warm. My son said, “You don’t look well. Are you sure you’re ok?”

He’s a drug counselor. When I told him I was ok and just needed to rest a bit, he said, “If you were a patient and you came in looking like that, I’d make you see a doctor before you left. So cut the bullshit and tell me what’s going on.”

At that point, I decided it was time to go to the hospital. By the time I got there, I was having trouble breathing and swallowing. I had a tightness in my throat, which would ease when I swallowed, but when I swallowed, I would become slightly more nauseous.

They hooked me up to IVs and did an EKG to make sure I wasn’t having a heart attack. The doctor said one of the medications I was on could interact with epinephrine, but they didn’t have much of a choice. So they brought in the crash cart. That was ominous.

When they started adding stuff to the IV, my blood pressure went up and my pulse dropped. The automated blood pressure monitor apparently couldn’t tell I had a pulse and kept squeezing harder to the point I thought it was going to pinch off my arm.

This suit is much cooler, especially when there's even a slight breeze. It's also thicker, providing better sting protection.

This suit is much cooler, especially when there’s even a slight breeze. It’s also thicker, providing better sting protection.

They finally started reading my blood pressure the old-fashioned way. My pulse got down to about 35 beats per minute before heading back up.

I was pretty depressed laying there thinking I was going to have to give up beekeeping. It didn’t take me long to come around to the fact that I didn’t have to.

Why should I give up something I love because there’s a little risk involved? Everything has risks. You can die from water, electricity, radiation, driving to work – if you’re not careful and are not wearing proper PPE or personal protective equipment.

Now, before working with my bees, I take a Benadryl, wear my suit, have a phone and EpiPen in my pocket, have somebody else standing by and have a plan for what I’m going to do.

Since this is getting lengthy, I’ll talk about “The Plan” in a future post.

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