Last Sunday at 11 a.m. I was attacked by a swarm of wasps. More on that in a minute. But first, what good is a trauma like this if you can’t come out of it with a good story. A good story is the souvenir of traumas –providing you recover.
Two decades ago I was visiting my friends Bob and Ellen in San Francisco when we decided to go camping in Yosemite. I’m a California native but had never been to this national park. Bob and Ellen found this odd, but mostly sad, and they took it upon themselves to fix this. So we traveled from sea level to 11,000 feet in one glorious day. Except, by the time we got to Tuolumne Meadows to begin our hike it was nearing dusk and I was starting to feel a bit queasy. Sunset turned into night. Queasy turned into altitude sickness and we were all so tired we just slung our food over a low branch, rather than follow the strict guidelines for keeping bears at bay.
In the middle of the night we were attacked by said bear. The details of this encounter have become legendary and, much to the chagrin of our friends, have been told and retold a thousand times. Over the years, the details of our attack have diverged. Bob, Ellen, and I all now tell very different stories (the bear was light brown, no, black, no, dark brown). Most importantly, our relationship was forever cemented by this event. But if it wasn’t for me, there wouldn’t have been a story.
The next day, tired and traumatized, we had to move to a new campsite at 6,000 feet so I could recover from the high altitude. There we happened upon friends of Bob’s and Ellen’s. Still in shock, they started to retell their tale: “Guess what? Last night a bear came in to our campsite.” They waited for the expected reaction of horror and sympathy. Yet, there was none. “Oh yeah, that happened to us a while back,” their friends replied. Bob and Ellen were crestfallen. It was time to step in. “Friends,” I said, “you need to know how to tell a good story. You don’t say ‘a bear came into our campsite.’ You say ‘Guess what? We were attacked by a bear!'”
And so, I was attacked by a swarm of wasps. Only this time I really was ATTACKED. Relentlessly.
A couple months ago we reseeded our lawn and after nurturing the new grass it was finally time to mow. It was hot and muggy and I constantly had to wave the gnats away from my face. We never had gnats before. Suddenly, the “gnats” started stinging. As I look back now, everything seemed to happen in slow motion. I remember my surprise at this sudden gnat aggressiveness until it dawned on me. These were no longer small harmless bugs. I didn’t actually see the wasps. Not yet. But I instinctively tried to protect myself as I ran to the front door. Which was locked. I pounded and heard someone scream. Me. Simultaneously, I was both being attacked and completely disembodied.
My youngest daughter sauntered to the door. She had no idea what was happening. As always, her timing could best be described as “teenage leisurely.” But my oldest yelled out to my wife that it sounded like Dad was being mugged. I ran into the house and the wasps came with me. Then I came face-to-face with my savior. My wife had just gotten out of the shower and as I ran screaming into the bathroom she pushed me into the tub and turned on the water. Again, I was operating in two entirely different worlds. I was still being stung but I had the wherewith all to remove my iPhone and wallet before being drenched fully clothed. I told my wife I couldn’t breathe but told her it was because I was just out of breath, not because I was in anaphylactic shock. The adrenaline rush was huge. She got me a kitchen chair so I could sit down in the tub. As she removed my clothes I watched the mound of drowned wasps grow by the drain. She placed my soaked jeans in the sink.
People in shock usually don’t know their in shock. It’s simply their reality at the moment. As I retell this tale it’s pretty clear I was in shock. As I sat in bed, I realized my head was really hurting. The wasps’ stingers had mercilessly banged at my skull. Ice pack in hand, my wife tried to figure out the right dosage of children’s Benadryl we had on hand. I’d never had a systemic reaction to bee stings before but I’d never had so many stings at one time. She calculated six teaspoons. But when I talked to the on call nurse, she thought that probably was an overdose. I survived. With ice pack in one hand, I posted my status to Facebook with the other. I was coming out of shock.
Later I found at least eleven stings but also found out that, unlike bees which sting once and die, wasps can continually pump venom into you over and over. They were angry and vicious. Apparently, the sound of the lawn mower going over their nest in the hole in the ground set them off.
The nurse told me what the next few days would be like. The stings didn’t itch yet but they would start the next day. That would last about 48 hours and then it would start to subside. Luckily, I had time to recover from the actual attack before the untenable itching commenced. It was unbearable. I couldn’t sleep. My only saving grace was that each sting seemed to take its turn at being insufferable. Itching can literally drive you mad. I tried digging my nails into my fingers to offset the itch. It didn’t work. In the relative calm of the middle of the night I contemplated my insanity. The next night I slept with boo boo bunnies we had saved from our children’s childhoods (little plastic ice cubes wrapped up in a plush little rabbit). Ice saved my sanity. And, just as the nurse had predicted, by the third day the itching started to go away.
My wife counted over thirty wasps in the tub but was shocked to find 22 more (some still alive) in my jeans. I was very lucky.
I usually am good to insects. Live and let live, I say. But we had an exterminator to the house on Friday. Those insects met their match. And they paid dearly for their innate aggressiveness. I made him go over the entire lawn, inch by inch. But it may take me a while to get back to mowing. A trauma is a trauma. I was attacked by wasps. I’ve lived to tell this tale. And this is my souvenir.