Several tall trees shaded the picnic table where my high school friends and I were sitting. Hot rays of sunshine baked the nearby sidewalk, but a cool breeze playfully ruffled our hair. One of the girls took a drink from her can of pop. The minute she set it back on the table, an insect appeared and hovered over the can. She screamed and all three girls who were with me jumped to their feet. Staying where I was, I calmly reminded them, “The bee is after the sugar, not us.”
One girl exclaimed, “If a bee goes into the pop can and we take a big drink, we could accidentally swallow one!”
Another girl asked with a shudder, “Would it sting us on the insides?”
Bees and wasps never frightened me. I had the benign belief that if you leave them alone, they would leave you alone. My wry quip always was, “Panic makes them see you as a pincushion.”
Although there are many wasp nests in my yard, deck and buildings, before the year 2013 I can only remember two times that wasps stung anyone in my family. The first time was on a Sunday afternoon when Niki and Tammie were small. A nest in the garage was disturbed when we arrived home from a picnic. A wasp stung Arnie on his left ear. It hurt so badly he laid on the sofa for an hour or two with an ice pack. The second time was when ten-year-old Niki disturbed a nest behind the garage. The two stings on her leg were very painful, but by evening, only showed as slightly red, irritated spots. I concluded that wasps were unpleasant, but no big deal.
My fear and respect for wasps started in the fall of 2013 when I decided to look for elderberries in a local wooded area. Billy and Casper, my two older brothers who both had Parkingson’s, decided to come with me. Parking the car, we got out and walked on a logging trail for 100 feet. Seeing elderberry bushes off the path, I began trailblazing into the tangle. My brother Billy was a few steps behind me. About ten feet in, several wasps rose up from a ground nest.
I screamed, “Wasps!” Billy turned and tripped. Instead of falling and staying in one place, my brother rolled, scrambled and flailed until we were back on the logging trail. I grabbed his arm to get him back on his feet and we quick-shuffled back to the car. Casper had been on the logging trail when the wasps attacked, so he was undamaged.
I was stung in several places. The stings burned like fire and under them was a deep, dull muscle ache. Casper said, “I sure hope the stings don’t make you have trouble breathing.” Gripping the steering wheel tighter, I mumbled, “I hope so, too. We’re a good 20-minute drive from a doctor.”
For the next several days my left arm, leg and torso had huge, red patches of swollen, itchy flesh. This was more than a little unpleasant. To me, the discomfort was a big deal.
I have been stung by wasps twice since then, and each time my skin reaction has been worse. Last week I was on my back-deck cleaning dead blossoms from the geraniums when I accidentally bumped a decorative solar cat figurine. Before I knew what was happening, several murderous wasps flew out. Immediately, one nailed me on the wrist.
By bedtime my entire inner wrist was burning and painful to the touch. The next morning the reddened area was four inches long and three inches wide. Instead of getting better, the following day the affected area had grown to over seven inches long. The irritation was creeping into the palm of my hand and around to the topside of my wrist. Despite taking Benadryl, the itching woke me from a deep sleep.
I felt silly seeing a doctor for a non-anaphylactic reaction to a wasp sting, but what he prescribed quickly took care of the irritation. When I was sent home from the clinic, I was given a sheet of paper that showed a picture of what a normal wasp sting looks like; a welt the size of a nickel. The picture made me realize I wasn’t so silly after all.
Thankfully, these killer hornets aren’t around here…yet!
An Asian giant hornet, dubbed the “murder hornet”, which was trapped in Birch Bay, Washington on July 14 by Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA) researchers, is seen in Olympia, Washington, U.S. July 29, 2020. WSDA/Chris Looney