I have written before about the menace posed to archaeologists by cattle, hornets, ants, and poison oak. Let me now add meat bees to the list.
A few days ago, I was performing survey in the Sierra National Forest. I had climbed down a steep slope to a canyon bottom, and was preparing to survey the narrow ledges of land on either side of the creek bed when I felt a sharp pain on my hand. Looking down, I saw a yellow insect fly away. I lifted my hand up to look at it, and saw a small divet where the insect had taken a chunk of skin out. I have been stung several times, and bit by numerous insects, but this was more painful than any of those. The person I was working with heard me swearing and came over to see what was wrong. When I explained that I had been bit by something, she pulled out the first aid kit and we cleaned the bite and put a band-aid on it. We then proceeded to continue working.
A few hours later, we returned to the vehicle to head back to town. By this time, the finger that had been bit had swelled a bit and hurt, but nothing seemed out of the ordinary for an insect bite, and I was not experiencing any shortness of breath, constricting throat, or other symptoms of anaphylactic shock, so I figured all was well. I dropped the other surveyor off, and then I went to the Forest Service office in the thriving metropolis of Praether to perform a records search.
While I was at the forest service office, I noticed that the swelling around the bite location continued to grow. Thinking that this might be an allergic reaction, but still not experiencing any symptoms that indicated any real danger, I took a couple of Bennadryl and went back to work. By the end of the day, much of my hand was swollen, and only two fingers were able to achieve their full normal range of motion. I spoke with a couple of Forest Service Personnel about this, and they said that they thought it was likely that I had been bit by a “meat bee.”
The next morning, I woke up with my hand experiencing throbs of pain every time my pulse beat, and all but my thumb and index finger immobile due to swelling. I turned on my computer and found the nearest Urgent Care center, and headed out. On the way, I left a message at another Forest Service office, where I had been scheduled to perform survey this morning, explaining that I was going to see a doctor because of problems with an insect bite.
Getting to the Urgent Care Center was a bit of a challenge. It is located in Fresno, and the directions I had told me to take Auberry Road out towards Fresno. The problem is that there are two Auberry Roads within 0.5 miles of each other, and both are right turns off of the main highway. So, I started my morning by going absolutely the wrong direction. Once I had figured out what had happened, I turned around and got on the right road. It was smooth sailing until Fresno, where the fire department was holding a fundraiser that involved firefighters in full gear standing at intersections, holding out their helmet for people to throw money into. This caused traffic to slow down considerably due both to cars stopping in traffic to give money, and to fire department personnel ignoring traffic signals and walking in front of traffic. In a way, it was rather like a PBS pledge drive gone horribly wrong, where they interrupt your schedule to inform you that if you routinely gave them more money they wouldn’t be interrupting your schedule.
I finally arrived at the urgent care center, filled out my paperwork, and called the Forest Service Office that I had scheduled to visit that day to let them know that I would be late. When the Forest Service archaeologist answered her phone, I explained what had happened, where I was, and why I was going ot be late.
“You were supposed to be here FIRST THING this morning!” Her voice sounded rather what I think an angry rotweiller would sound like if it were capable of speech.
“Yes, I know. I am, however, at a doctor’s office. I’m not blowing you off, I’m just making sure that I am not having a serious medical problem here.”
“You were supposed to have come in YESTERDAY! But, no, that had to get rescheduled, and then you were supposed to be here NOW! But YOU’RE NOT HERE!”
“As I said, I’m at a doctor’s office. My left hand is completely useless, I don’t know what is going on, and I’m trying to get medical help.” I tried to remain calm in the rising tide of craziness that was threatening to engulf me.
“Yeah, I know. But still, you were supposed to be here now, and I DO have other things I should be doing!”
I thought for a moment. Having this person angry at us would be a problem – she reviews the documents that go through her office, and she could easily turn a personal grudge into a bureaucratic nightmare for my company. And, hey, while I had a swollen, useless left hand, I hadn’t shown any sign of being in immediate danger.
“Okay, fine. I’m leaving the doctor’s office now. I’ll be at your office in an hour.” I managed to maintain a calm voice despite being royally pissed off.
“Oh…well…I didn’t mean for you to ignore your medical conditions…” she was suddenly sheepish, and sounded vaguely ashamed of herself.
“Well, regardless, I might as well just come up and do the job.” With that I hung up, and I headed out to the next Forest Service office. An hour later, I was doing the records search, with a very apologetic forest archaeologist in the office with me. She explained that she was under a lot of pressure due to nasty deadlines, and that she had not intended to guilt me into leaving the doctor’s office, especially after she saw the condition that my hand was in. I can understand that, I have been a royal asshole myself due to work stress.
I finished the record search quickly, and headed to the Forest Service office where I had been the previous day to tie up a few loose ends there. I then headed back to Fresno, and the doctor’s office.
I approached the receptionist, explained what I was there for, and that I had been in earlier in the day. She asked to see my hand so that she could describe my symptoms on the forms, and I lifted my hand up to the counter. She looked down, wide-eyed, and said simply:
“Oh my god…”
After a few moments of gawking, she then proceeded to finish up the paperwork and get me in the roster, calling me up to the desk every once in a while to ask me questions about workers comp. I then sat in the waiting room for an hour, alternating between proof-reading a paper that I am preparing for publication, and watching Mythbusters on the waiting room’s television. At the end of the hour, a nurse walked into the waiting room and called my name. I dutifully stood up and walked along with her. After the usual steps (blood pressure, weight, etc.), she asked me to described the problem. I explained, once again, that I had been bitten by an unknown flying insect that the Forest Service folks had suggested was likely a meat bee, and that my hand was swollen and in pain. I then lifted my hand to demonstrate my point. She looked at it, her eyes went wide, and she said…
“Oh my god…”
When the receptionist said this, I thought little of it. However, hearing a nurse say it brought me the kind of warm re-assurance that only trained and caring medical professionals can provide. She quickly shuffled out of the room, absent-mindedly assuring me that the doctor would be there shortly.
I sat down, pulled my laptop computer out of my backpack, and began working on a spreadsheet that had faunal collection data for one of my projects. About half an hour later, the doctor arrived. He was a short man, with graying hair and long beard, wearing a yarmulke and tzitzi’s peaking out from under his white coat. The traditional clothing paired with the fellow’s remarkable features gave him a rather striking appearance, and he looked like he should be the subject of a painting of a great and learned scholar and not a mere physician at an urgent care center. Though I know it is irrational, even uncharacteristic for me given my attitude towards traditional authority figures, the fact that the doctor looked like an aged and wise rabbi actually made me more at ease. Go figure.
“So,” he said, alternating between looking at the chart in his hand and looking at me, “you were bit by an insect, you don’t know what kind. Let me see your hand.”
I lifted my hand, do you want to guess what he said? Well, I’ll tell you anyway.
“Oh my god…”
As you might imagine, my sense of re-assurance at hearing this was beyond measure.
“So, is this normal for an insect bite? I mean, I wouldn’t think so, but I’ve never been bit by anything in the forest here before.” I asked, trying to keep my voice level and calm.
“Ahhh…no. This is…very unusual. Are you sure it wasn’t a highly venomous spider that bit you?”
“Pretty sure – it was a flying insect. A bright yellow one.”
“Maybe the venomous spider was being carried by the flying insect?” He looked like a man trying to grasp something that was impossible.
“Wouldn’t that screw with the flying insect’s aerodynamic profile?”
“I suppose you’re right. Okay…I’ll be back…”
The doctor shuffled out of the room, and was gone for a good twenty minutes. I returned to my spreadsheet. When he returned, he had a notebook and a number of different instruments, none of which ended up being used, oddly enough. He then proceeded to have me get up on the examination table, and he checked my breathing, my heart rate, shined the light in my eyes and ears, and finally sat down on the stool in the room. He sat thinking for a moment, and then finally spoke.
“Alright. It looks like we’ll have to get that swelling down first. For that, you’ll need injections of two different steroids. Then, well, it’s very red and this swelling is very strange. It could be venom from the insect, but it may also be an indication of an infection, so I am going to prescribe enough antibiotics to kill a horse, and that will protect you from the infection.”
Truly, this clinic employed the most sensitive medical professionals one could hope for. Indeed, bedside manner was their truest forte.
The doctor walked out of the room, and I could hear him discussing what to do with the staff. I then sat back and waited, eventually going back to the spreadsheet. After another hour, another nurse entered the room. She explained that she was there to give me the steroid injections.
“So, can I see your hand?” she asked, obviously, and strangely, curious. I lifted my hand.
And, guess what she said. “Oh my god…”
“So I’ve heard.” I responded.
“Well, I need to give you these injections.”
“Where will they be injected?” I asked.
“In the posterior. So, drop your pants.”
Having years ago gotten past feeling any sort of body shame in front of medical professionals (regular screenings for skin cancer kill any sense of modesty real fast), I complied. A few minutes later, I had a sore ass, just perfect for the long drive back to Santa Cruz.
The doctor came back in to see me one more time, gave me some final directions, and sent me on my way. I gave Kay a call and we spoke for a time about some feedback she's getting from folks (long story short, a lot of people are beginning to catch on to how talented a writer she is, see for yourself).
And then, with a sore but, I was ready for the four-hour drive home.