We have had bees on our small farm since 2000. We originally acquired them for pollination and that has pretty much been their job has been as we’ve taken very little honey from the hives. Liz (my wife) and I have both worked with the bees over the years. Once my spine collapsed I became disabled, began a round of cervical surgeries, and Liz took over the beekeeping duties.
In 2011 I had to have a third surgery on my cervical spine. This time they fused everything that was left right down into my thoracic. I was in quite a bit of pain and had been on some pretty heavy duty pain meds for a few years. A couple months after my surgery, this incident with our bees occurred. (I wrote this the evening of the day the incident occurred.)
Liz got to ride in an ambulance!
Yup. Things went to hell in a handbasket around here this morning. Liz got stung by a bee on the ear last month, came in a said a few words about it, took out the stinger and that was that. She did start wearing the beekeeper headgear when she fed the new bees though.
This morning, I happened to get up early and made it out to the dining room table. Liz went out to feed the bees, it’s about a 200 yard walk around to the hives. She came back in and said, “Those damned bees stung me again. I’m not feeding them any more.” She’d been stung on her middle finger and on the fatty area between her thumb and forefinger. She scraped the stingers out, we talked a bit, she gave me a bowl of peaches to help me get the morning round of pills down, then she went out to water the garden.
I heard her come back up onto the deck, just behind me where I sat at the table. I heard her turn the water on, the back off after a few moments, then nothing. I heard a couple of bumps on the wall and then our dog Bear let out a “something is wrong” howl/bark. I thought, I’d better check this out, got up, and stepped out onto the deck.
Liz was on the bench, slumped down to one side. I felt the adrenalin rush as I immediately went into emergency mode. I told her she had to sit up and she said she was hot. I told her to open her eyes, but she didn’t. Her garden pants were wet from the knees down and I ask what had happened, she again said she was hot and had hosed down her feet. I told her to set up and she said her tongue felt like it was swollen. I told her I was getting some Benadryl. I stepped inside the door and grabbed a bottle from my pack/purse bag.
I got back to her within 30 seconds and asked her if she thought she could swallow a pill. She said, “uh huh”. I pushed it over her tongue and to the back of her mouth with my finger, pulled my finger out and asked if she’d swallowed it. “uh huh”. I was having extreme difficultly peeling the foil backing from the second pill; since my surgery a couple months ago, sometimes when I try detailed finger movements, I get like an electric shock in my hands and my fingers twitch. I told Liz I had to go in and get something sharp to open the damned package.
I was gone less than 30 seconds, but when I got back, she was completely non-responsive and I couldn’t detect any sign of breathing. I stepped back into the door, grabbed my EPI pen, locked and loaded it on my way back to Liz. Simultaneously I was dialing 911. I jabbed the EPI pen into her thigh and started the 10 second count. About second 7 she gasped, and said, "Ow!” and went non-responsive again. I pulled it out just as the 911 person came online. She rolled the ambulance immediately and put me on with the medical tech.
He asked a couple questions and I brought him up to speed. He said to get her on her back. I was thinking, “This’ll be good,” as I could barely stand, myself. I leaned forward, reached under her arms up to my elbows, and used my body weight as leverage to pull her off the bench. We tumbled to the deck, I rolled her off me and told the tech I didn’t think she was breathing.
He asked if I knew CPR. As I was tilting her head back I told him, “It’s been over 40 years, but I could do it.” Just then, Liz moaned. I asked her a question as I said, “Hold on”, to the med-tech. Liz said, “Uh huh". I ask her something else and- no response. I slipped my fingers into her hand and told her to squeeze them if she could hear me. She did. I told the med-tech.
As the med-tech began to instruct me what the next step was, Liz opened her eyes and asked, “What happened.” I asked how she felt and she said, “Very weak and nauseous.” She wanted a drink so I handed her the bottle of water I’d grabbed when I went for something sharp to open the pill tab. I heard the ambulance and paramedics arrive around front and I told Liz to hang on, went through the East yard gate and around that end of the house to wave the med-tech and team over.
They examined her, asked her a couple things and said she was lucky to be alive. She had a greatly diminished radial pulse and said they were going to transport her. I told them where to. As they put her on the gurney, I went through the house, picked up her purse and extracted her medical insurance card. I met them out front just as they were about to load her and handed her the card. They rolled.
I prepared breakfast. While my egg was cooking on one side, I went to the bedroom and put a complete change of clothing in a bag for Liz. I flipped the egg and got my stuff together for the trip because, I WAS GOING TO DRIVE for the first time in several years. (Oh. This oughtta be good.)
I ate breakfast, called Liz’s sister who lives near the trauma center and her workplace. I climbed into her Sienna and headed for the hospital.
She’s going to be fine, but she has to stay overnight because her airways had swollen so much and they’d had to give her four epi-pens total. The one I gave her, one in the ambulance, and two more in the ER. I joked that she had so much epinephrine in her that she could be a baseball player. (You may be too young to get this joke.) She has allergies this time of year and uses an inhaler so they just wanted to be sure she didn’t have any issues. When I left the hospital she was already arguing with the Dr about going home and asking how I forgot to “throw one of her books” in the bag I brought. LOL
I called our pharmacist on the way home and he had a new EPI pen ready for me to pick up on the way back. I made it home, collapsed and slept for a couple hours.
What a day.
Liz recovered and went to her allergist to help deal with the bee sting problem. He did some tests and told her what bees and wasps to watch out for. He told to come back in a couple months and he’d try to desensitize her to the bee stings.
She asked why the first sting she’d received on the ear was not a problem, but the second stings, a month later, was deadly. The explanation is interesting. It seems that the normal human immune system can withstand X amount of bee venom. A single bee can put enough into you. Then your immune system fights off the effects of the bee venom and you’re OK. BUT! It takes your immune system about a year to recover before it can fight off another round of bee venom at the maximum level your body can tolerate. When Liz got stung by two bees a month after the first sting, her immune system had not recovered and could not fight off the effects of the new stings.
When Liz went back for desensitization treatments, things did not go well. Even at 1/1000th the amount of bee venom in a normal sting, she began to feel tingling in her hands and feet. After a couple of these treatments, she had a larger reaction and the allergist told her that her system was simply not recovering from the bee toxins.
Liz carries two epi-pens with her at all times, as do I. I hope this episode from our experience conveys the dangers of anaphylactic shock and how easily and quickly things can get out of hand. Having an epi-pen on hand can mean the difference between saving a life or standing around and watching someone die because, the EMTs cannot get there fast enough, no matter where you live.