Thursday, July 01, 2010

stung in the line of duty

The pain that radiated up my right thumb wasn't immediately familiar to me. I was mowing the front lawn at 11:30 this morning when the pain began to flare, and my first wild, irrational thought was that the lawn mower had developed a weird short circuit, and the electric current was running up the metal handlebar and into my thumb. But within a second after that thought arose, I realized that I had just been stung by some sort of insect, or had been bitten by a particularly irascible spider. It couldn't have been a honeybee; I'd have seen and heard it flying away. The pain translated itself into a simultaneous sting-and-ache, and I realized that the offending creature had most likely been a wasp of some sort. A glance at my thumb seemed to confirm this: honeybees leave their stingers embedded in their victims' skin, whereas my thumb revealed nothing.

It hurt like hell-- worse than what I remember of my previous stings, all of which happened years and years ago. And who the hell gets stung on the thumb? More than anything, I was pissed off. I stopped mowing as my thumb began to throb, and went inside. In the kitchen, I made myself a glass of ice water, and rammed my thumb into it to deaden the nerves. That worked, and I stood behind the kitchen counter, cursing the insect and muttering bitterly about the odds of being stung on the goddamn thumb. I pulled my thumb out periodically to see whether there was any swelling; strangely enough, there wasn't any. After a couple minutes, I went back outside, thumb still alive with that weird combination of generalized throbbing and localized pins and needles... and got stung again-- this time on the bicep.

Luckily, I was able both to see the culprit and to understand why I had been stung: a gang of hornets had decided to establish their secret base inside one of the bushes lining the side of our front yard. The cloud of dust and debris kicked up by the mower had infiltrated their hideout, so they had come out-- not exactly en masse, but in little squadrons of twos and threes-- to attack the giant in the dark tee shirt. In retrospect, I think the dark tee was a bad idea: many stinging insects are actually attracted to strong color contrasts (such as when you wear a dark tee on a bright, sunny day), and are thus more likely to target them when they're in a fighting mood.

Hours have passed, and my thumb still hurts. I was stung plenty of times as a kid; one of my best childhood friends and I used to patrol our neighborhood, looking for wasp nests to destroy, so we were both routinely nailed. But today's two stings seem somehow worse than the stings of old, which leads me to believe that I've never been stung by hornets before. I'm also assuming that I've correctly identified the beasties in question; there's a chance that I haven't.

The good news is that, aside from the annoying pain, nothing further seems to have happened. There's been no visible swelling (my thumbs remain symmetrical), and I've ruled out the possibility that the insects were possessed of a strong neurotoxin (my heart would have registered that frightening turn of events within a minute or two). It hurts, somewhat, to grip things with my right hand, but the pain seems finally to be subsiding. By tomorrow, I hope, my right thumb will be its usual contented self. My bicep, meanwhile, seems almost perfectly fine; I think I managed to slap the hornet away before it got too far along in its attack.

Epilogue: while still pissed off and in a vengeful mood after my second stinging, I stomped back into the house and retrieved a large can of Raid bug killer, then applied the spray liberally to the bush whenever the wind picked up. A few hornets flew at me while I did this, but no more of them stung me. Whether I actually killed any bugs is anyone's guess, but my assault made me feel better. I did notice, during my siege, that the bottom of the bush was laced with honeysuckle-- a powerful attractant for all nectar-seeking insects. I might have to do something about that.



Anonymous said...

Kevin, the best spray for bees and their relatives, wasps and hornets, is Diazanon, if it is still available. It is totally deadly.

Rather than fill your comments with a story, I will post a story about me and bumblebees to my blog.

Also, you can take diphenhydramine, the generic name for Benadryl for the stings and it should help. Or get some Benadryl ointment to rub on them. That is a definite relief.

Kevin Kim said...

Thanks, Bill. Luckily, my right thumb and left biceps both feel perfectly fine now, but I may go on the hunt for Diazinon... or maybe for something similar, because:

"Residential uses of Diazinon were outlawed in the U.S. in 2004 but it is still approved for agricultural uses."

A quick online search reveals a whole spectrum of recent alternatives to Diazinon. It might be time to go a-huntin'.

Lee Farrand said...

This may be of interest to you Kevin:

Kevin Kim said...


Thanks, man.

The entry on the bald-faced hornet (rating 2.0 on the pain scale) was accompanied by a description that matched how I felt after being stung: "Similar to getting your hand mashed in a revolving door." That's about how my thumb felt at first. Within 24 hours, however, the pain was pretty much gone, and I noted with interest that it crept up my arm as the toxins dispersed. About half a day after the sting had occurred, my forearm was experiencing the dullest of dull aches. 12 hours after that-- nada.