This past week our house has been getting swarmed by yellow jackets. It is hard to sit outside, especially holding on to something edible. They are mostly attracted by the gazillion ripe blackberries hanging in the bushes surrounding our single wide.
While I know that they are not a big threat to us if we just leave them be, I am terrified of their sting. Every time I have one buzz around my head I get flashbacks to my teenage years, when I looked like a monster, competing for the spotlight with the beast from “Beauty and the Beast” (and I would have won). Turns out I react very strongly to yellow jacket venom, not to the point of it being fatal, but by swelling up to extreme proportions.
It was Fall, we spent our regular two weeks in our little cabin in the Italian part of Switzerland. I think I was fourteen at the time, a gangly and slightly odd looking kid. Nothing quite fit together, thanks to puberty. My cousins and I were having a blast running through the vineyards and woods surrounding the cabin.
On one of those days, we decided to go hike up to a big rock that was jutting out a bit from the rest of the alpine landscape. The plan was to climb on top of it, enjoy the views and have a little picnic. Just as I rounded the corner leading to the small trail up the rock, I heard a loud buzzing noise, saw a yellow flash and felt a sharp stabbing pain in my forehead. As I yelped out in pain, my cousin turned around and started swatting at something stuck to my forehead. Eventually she got it off and we all stared at the big yellow jacket writhing on the ground, that had just flat out attacked me seconds before. I put my hand over the spot where that thing had just stung me and felt a small bump. I had a little vial with ointment for insect bites on me and dabbed some on. The bump burnt a little, but I wasn’t too concerned at that point.
We turned around and went back to the cabin. My Mom and Aunt weren’t there, they had gone grocery shopping one town over. I found my Dad working on the side of the house and told him what had happened. He took a look, said that it was about the size of a grape and put some more ointment on. Off we went to play by the fountain instead.
About half an hour later Mom and my Aunt came back. The sting still burnt and my forehead felt hot and kind of heavy. We ran inside to see what they had gotten for dinner. My Mom looked at me and let out a scream. She asked what had happened and if I am okay. I just laughed and told her that, yes, I was okay, why the big deal. She didn’t respond and simply held a mirror in front of my face! The once grape-sized bump was now the size of an apple. My eyes had started to droop and my nose looked like I had taken a hit. My aunt, being a nurse, grabbed some ice from the freezer and told me to hold it up to my forehead.
Within two hours of the initial sting, I could barely see out of my eyes, my nostrils were mere slits, I could barely open and close my mouth. My whole head felt like it was on fire and my neck was bright red and itchy. In other words I was miserable! Eating turned out to be a problem and my Mom had to make me one banana shake after another. I could fit a straw through my swollen lips. My head was about twice the size it usually was. I looked like a monster for about a week, then the swelling slowly started to go down. And once it did, it started to itch like crazy. It took about 10 days for me to get back to normal. I hid out in the cabin the whole time. I felt mortified by how I looked.
Now I look back and I wish my Mom would have taken a picture of me. I refused to have one taken at the time. Darn! I am also laughing at how we just accepted the fact that my face was incredibly swollen. We never even went to the emergency room or a doctor. It just was what it was! Nowadays people run to the ER for the smallest things. Heck, my cousin who is now a paramedic was called out for a splinter in a thumb!
So I guess it is no wonder that I now get easily spooked by anything that is yellow, buzzes around you and has a stinger. I’d rather not look like a beast ever again.