We had a great morning, getting so much done in the garden, and we were videotaping every moment for you. It felt so good to get things accomplished. The garden and this blog have taken a back seat lately; May is just a really busy month for us, and especially so this year. It's unfortunate that the garden needs to most attention during May, because it's the last priority. So today it felt wonderful to get caught up.
Then, we opened up the hive to add some bars - we have noticed that there is a large crowd of bees outside on the landing board, which is due somewhat to the hot weather, but also due to overcrowding. I had noticed during the day that every time I went by the hive, the bees were somewhat aggressive, buzzing my face until I left the vicinity. They don't do that unless something is wrong. I figured it was due to lack of space, and I was glad I had three bars ready to add, to give them more room. We figured we could do a quick in-and-out, just adding the new bars to the back. But when we opened the hive, we found a bit of chaos - all the bars were full of comb, and the bees were somehow spilling out to the back through a crack in the follow board. That's a board we have at the back of the hive - it's solid, not just a bar - and it's there to keep the bees from going out into the empty spaces in the hive. This way we can keep the hive smaller in winter, when it's cold and there are less bees, and they can stay closer together for warmth. This time of year, we gradually add more bars and therefore more space. Somehow the follow board was tweaked enough so that there was a crack, and the bees were spilling out. Many had died in a spider web that is in the very back corner of the hive.
At the same time we were seeing this mess, the bees were aggressively coming out and buzzing us. We had just decided to leave it open and go start the smoker, and properly get things in order, when a bee landed on my right index finger and stung me. No big deal, we each usually get stung once a year. I walked away from the hive (because another bee was buzzing my face) and scraped off the bee and the stinger. I went over to get the smoker lit and we did that very quickly indeed and went back to the hive to start creating order. As we were doing that, I started to feel very hot, my face was beet-red and my head was pounding. I thought I might pass out. We kept on going, but finally I told Tom I had to go inside and figure out what was going on.
A little history. Last August was the most recent time I was stung. It was on my left ring finger knuckle. My hand swelled up out of all proportion to the sting. I couldn't move my hand properly for four days. My family was out of town in Maine, and I was alone at home. I was ok, but besides the extreme swelling, I was having another reaction: Intense pain in the opposite armpit.
After two weeks, the swelling was better, but still recurring every few days, like a new swelling. And the armpit pain was persistent. I figured it was a lymph node reaction. My uncle, a doctor, was in town during this time. He suggested that I was slowly becoming allergic to bee stings over time, and that I should be very careful in the future if I was ever stung again. I did a lot of research but found very little information regarding lymph node reactions or about folks becoming more sensitive to bee stings over time. So I sort of forgot about it all, though my knuckle on that finger has never been the same and there are some rings I cannot wear.
All of that was in the back of my head today. I started to feel my feet swelling in my shoes, so I quickly took those off. I was completely overheated, so I decided to take a cold shower to try to cool off. In the shower, I started to itch intensely - my feet and my hands were simply terrible, so itchy, and also my head and pelvis. Then my lips started to tingle and swell up. My heart was beating so fast and then I felt my throat start to ache and swell. At that point, I got out of the shower, pulled on some clothes (clumsily, as my right hand was now a ballon), and Tom drove me to the emergency room. Right before we left I took two Benadryl.
When we got to the hospital I thought I was going to jump out of my skin. I couldn't be still and everything was insanely itchy. My throat and lips felt much worse, and my heart rate and blood pressure were very high. They took me in immediately.
Not long after that, I started to feel the Benadryl kick in. That helped calm me down, and then they gave me a high dose of Prednisone, which helped with the itching. My breathing was always fine, I never had trouble there, and after some time the throat thing went away. My heart rate and blood pressure came down a bit and after a couple of hours I was able to leave. However, I have to take Prednisone for the next three days, and Benadryl as needed. Also, they issued me two epi-pens. I trained on how to use them during my work with medically and mentally challenged kids, but no one in our family has ever needed one. Here's where Kaiser is great: The pens cost us a $10 copay. That is amazing and we are so grateful to have good health insurance.
We have now been home for two hours, and something that started happening before we left the ER was excruciating pain in my left armpit. The 'ouch' in my right hand, due to the actual sting and the fact that I am very swollen (the swelling is now moving up to my wrist, so typing has been pretty hard!), is uncomfortable, but it's nothing compared to the intense pain in the armpit. It's so strange. It's the opposite arm, which is exactly what happened last time. I'm still trying to find any information I can about this kind of reaction, but coming up pretty empty-handed. It must be a rare thing.
As for the fact that my reaction has gotten more sensitive over time, it seems to be sort of half and half with beekeepers; some get less sensitive over time, and some more. I'm obviously in the latter category.
I am seriously frustrated, because from now on I have to be very careful around the bees. Next time I get stung, it's epi-pen time, no question - if I'm worse every time, next time it could be my breathing that takes a dive. I'm going to have to wear a hood and long sleeves and gloves, which I loathe. I'm going to have to let Tom do most of the hive checks with me looking on manning the smoker. I've just gotten to a place where I feel like I know what I'm doing, after three or so years, and now I have to back off. Ugh.
But, I'm very lucky, and I know that. And there is no question of us keeping the bees, neither one of us is willing to get rid of them. Maybe in the future, if it's necessary. We found one thing very funny today: The ER doctor just really didn't know how to react to the fact that beekeeping is (for us) a hobby. He assumed it was my profession, otherwise why do it? It was clear he thought we were nuts. He spoke to us a little slowly and a little carefully, like we were just a bit mental. Tom and I had a good giggle about that.
If anyone has any information about this sort of thing, I'd love to hear it - please share in the comments.
Now, I'm going to go take some more Benadryl and go to bed. :)