So I know this blog is meant to be all about living life plastic-free, however I want to take a small detour into my recent experience with anaphylaxis: an allergic reaction to bee stings.
Now you might find this quite strange, however one of my inspirations to start living without waste was from studying and working with honey bees. I was in awe at how they could build whole colonies out of natural substances, and when they swarm away, the remnants of their old home swiftly decays, leaving no waste. What’s more, all of their products (such as honey and beeswax) are incredibly useful to other animals, including humans, and so whatever is produced by bees can be reused.
Perhaps I shall write more about my bee influence in another post, but today I shall focus on anaphylaxis, as on August 1st 2016, I was stung by one of the workers from my hive, and the experience was pretty awful. Here I just want to record the day’s events, and then give some safety suggestions, not only to those working with bees, but also for those that are outside in the sun, where many different pollinators like honey bees may be flying around.
So I was working outside in the afternoon with the bees. Normally I do not wear a beesuit, because the bees here are much less aggressive than those hives that I have previously worked with. But a particularly angry bee came along and tried to attack my black wristband, and then when she was unsuccessful, she went for my dark hair instead. She stung my head. I attempted to catch her, but I couldn’t, so I went inside the lab for help, knowing that she could not hurt anyone else. My supervisor swiftly removed the bee and the sting, but then the symptoms started.
Of course, the sting was painful, but there was relatively little swelling because of the location. However I then started to get a tingling sensation in my mouth and throat, and by the time I had been given cortisone, my lips were very swollen. My legs broke into hives (no pun intended) and I was struggling to breathe and going into shock. I also couldn’t support my body up and kept falling due to the weakness in my legs. It actually felt like I was really drunk, but I have no idea how the medication had contributed to that feeling. My supervisor described me looking like a zombie…
The most… unexpected symptom was my constant need to go to the bathroom to pass stool. I had to go twice in ten minutes. Considering when you are stung, all of your airways can contract, I assume this can also happen for your gastrointestinal system as well, which led to this symptom. My entire lab was attending to me at this point so I felt incredibly embarrassed!
In the end, the university doctors attended to me and an ambulance took to the hospital when they couldn’t get my blood to absorb oxygen. I remember falling down in my lab, and then waking up in ICU. I also have some mental flashes of the trip in the ambulance (including me attempting to say, “shit, bin ich mit dem Krankenwagen fahren?!”).
I was discharged the following day and recommended to see a specialist to give me my personal medication to carry around with me, as well as to consider getting desensitisation treatment to bee stings. So I’m all good now! Just a bit scared to start working with my bees again…
Lessons to learn:
1) Don’t be a cocky idiot like me- if you work with bees, wear a beesuit!
Because these bees were so mild to work with and because the weather was good, I didn’t put on a beesuit. I never have done so here in Germany. But it really only takes one pissed off bee to try and sting you! It doesn’t matter how experienced you are, you will always get stung at some point, and you don’t know how your body will cope with it.
2) You never know how you are going to react.
Another reason I was so fearless with working with my bees was because I had been stung before. Multiple times. I worked with a bee research group in Australia where the bees are basically out to kill you, and when I was stung, I would get large swellings localized to the sting, but nothing more than that. With every sting the swellings got worse, but I didn’t really think anything of it. Hence I was very surprised that I reacted so strongly this time, especially when the sting wasn’t too close to the throat. Remember also that bee sting intensity can depend on the bees’ diet, just because you don’t react to bees in one country doesn’t mean you won’t react to others.
3. Cover up anything black.
Bees go for black. It is the colour of their major predators, so even if you don’t think you appear as a threat, they will see it differently. When I was stung, the bee first went for my black wristband, but afterwards attacked my hair, which is very dark. This is why white beesuits are so important! What’s more, it might also be a good idea to have a smoker on hand to mask any alarm pheromone emitted by the stinging bee. Of course if you don't work with bees, this is a more extreme measure, but if you know you will be outdoors for the day, it is worth the consideration.
4. React quickly.
I was really lucky that I work in a bee lab, because it meant my supervisor knew exactly what to administer to me (although he seemed disappointed that he didn’t get to use the epipen this time!). I think it was because of this quick thinking and the support from the ladies of the group that really got me through this, because I do not want to imagine what could have happened if they hadn’t.
5. Don’t be embarrassed if… shit happens ;-)
This was a first time event for me. It was terrifying and embarrassing experience and I was so shocked about what happened. But it happens to everyone, and I have nothing to be ashamed about. We shouldn’t let our bad experiences stop us from doing what we love, if anything we learn more from them, and develop as human beings because of them.
So yeah, this post is a bit of a diversion from the normal plastic-free talk, but this is really important to me and I wanted to record this, so others could learn from my experiences. I shall be back with a summary of Plastic-Free July next time ;-)