Gut Rumbles

March 13, 2004


I am allergic to all kinds of stuff. I learned early in life that if I am stung by a honey bee, I may end up in the emergency room at the hospital. Wasps and hornets don't have that same effect on me, but something about honey bee venom surely does disagree with my body.

I once was playing football in the front yard of my house and somebody either threw or kicked the ball into a big hedge bush. I stuck my hand in there to get the ball and something stung me. I didn't know what it was, but it hurt like hell. I retreived the ball and intended to keep playing. Two minutes later, however, my right hand was swollen to the size of a sixteeen-ounce boxing glove and I was having trouble breathing. I fell down in the yard and I couldn't get back up.

My brother ran to get Mama. She almost had a heart attack when she saw me. By then, my right arm was the size of my right leg and I was breaking out in red splotches all over. The fact was obvious that something was terribly wrong with me.

My father was working a 4-to-12 shift that day and Mama had no car. She ran to a neighbor's house and asked for a ride to the doctor's office. The woman agreed, but her good car was gone to work with her husband and all she had to drive was an old 1938-vintage Buick sedan that he was restoring. The car ran, but the headlights didn't work.

"We'd better make this fast," she said. "I can't drive that car after the sun goes down."

I don't remember a whole lot after we piled into the Buick and went to see the doctor. Mama had enough sense to look in the hedge where I stuck my hand and it was working alive with some kind of brown caterpillars. She caught one and put it in a jar to take with us.

I still don't know what kind of caterpillar that was.

The doctor took one look at the bug and said that it had poisonous spikes all over its back. "They can sting, but most people don't have this kind of reaction to them," he said. Well, I did. They shot both my butt-cheeks with some kind of medicine, then sent me home. We made it back before sundown.

I fell asleep on the couch and hallucinated all night long. I remember waking up once to find my father sitting beside me. He was reading a book, but I saw horns coming out of his head and all kinds of other evil, nasty things. I was out of my mind with fever. He fetched a glass of water and gave me a pill that he called a "knockout drop" and he told me to take it. I did, and I went back to sleep.

I recovered after three days and went back to the doctor. He told me that I was in anaphlactic shock when I arrived at his office after the sting. If Mama hadn't gotten me there when she did, I might have died. "Boy, you need to stay away from snakes," he told me. "If you have this kind of reaction from a catepillar sting, you won't survive a snake-bite."

Maybe that's why I still have a visceral fear of snakes.

Right now, the dogwoods are in full bloom and the pine trees are starting to drop yellow pollen everywhere. I always get a chronic runny nose and sinus problems this time of year. I've been to more doctors and tried more medicine than I can shake a stick at, but none of it ever worked.

But I've been taking Advil allergy-sinus tablets for about a week now and I like them. My nose has stopped running. The pills don't make me sleepy or fire me up so that I feel as if my scalp is crawling. I may actually get through this spring without rubbing my nose raw from blowing it all the time. I can't be sure yet, but I've seen some good signs so far.

I still intend to stay away from snakes. No sense in pushing my luck too far.