On Halloween, I was cutting the grass aggressively with my new eco-friendly battery-powered lawn mower. I have a large yard that’s kind of unruly, and sometimes I get ambitious. I can get rough with my outdoor equipment.
I spotted some brush in the bamboo garden and plowed ahead, thinking how satisfying it would feel when the remnants came spitting out of the mower. As I pushed, I felt a sharp pain on the back of my ankle.
“SNAKE!” my very loud inner voice shouted, and I turned the mower around and started pushing it at lightning speed back toward the house before remembering I didn’t actually have to save the mower, too. I let it go and kept running. But then I felt another sting on my arm and one on my back, and I knew I was being attacked by yellow jackets, so I started flailing, and then I was running while flailing spasmodically and yelling for my children to help me.
By the time I reached the back porch, the kids had come to investigate. “I’m being attacked by yellow jackets,” I screamed. “Help me! Help me!” The 15-year-old picked up a bag of candy and prepared to throw it at me.
My 17-year-old son yelled at her. “That’s not helpful! Do something else!” He yelled this while standing completely still.
Meanwhile, the stings kept coming. My upper arm. My butt. Another one on my back. I knew I needed to take off my clothes, but motherly instincts prevented me from doing that in front of my teenage son because therapy bills are already too high.
Finally, after what seemed like an hour but was probably two minutes, my son thought to direct me into my outdoor shower, where I stripped and stood under the water until I was sure there were no more killer insects on me. I later found three dead yellow jackets in the dryer.
As I stood in the shower, I continued to yell at the kids. “I’M OKAY! I’M OKAY! But if anything happens, call 911. BUT I’M OKAY!”
“Mom what’s going to happen to you?” my daughter asked fearfully.
“NOTHING! Nothing. I’m fine! But if I pass out, call 911, okay?”
Note: I have experience with this situation and some residual PTSD. It’s frightening enough to be stung by a yellow jacket, but previous knowledge of the pain involved can worsen the trauma, and I have such knowledge. When I was 7 years old, my dad told me to pee behind a big oak tree one day when we were in the country, which I did, not knowing that I should have first checked whether the tree was hosting a yellow jacket nest right there between its giant roots. I peed right on top, and FYI little girl urine in no way renders yellow jackets harmless. They attacked me like a swarm of insects that had just been peed on, and I, naked from the waist down, started screaming and jumping up and down and flailing until my father swooped me up and locked us together in his car until the swarm went away.
He rushed me to the hospital. He drove while his trusted employee Mr. E.J. sat in the back and held beer chest ice on my butt. My little sister sat next to me. At the hospital, I refused to go in without underwear, so Dad made my sister take her underwear off and give them to me. My sister, now pants-less, had to wait in the car with Mr. E.J. while I received a hefty dose of Benadryl and a surly nurse pulled 28 stingers out of my buttocks area. My sister brings this up a lot.
That night, I got to fall sleep in my parents’ bed. They were scheduled to go to a square dance event, so Dad bought me some Cracker Jacks and the brand new Uncle Remus album so I wouldn’t feel abandoned, and I didn’t.
As an adult, after telling this story a zillion times for comic effect, I came to realize how lucky I was. Even one yellow jacket sting can kill a person (https://www.medicinenet.com/how_dangerous_are_yellow_jackets/article.htm) and multiple stings at once can be especially dangerous, facts which I am not making up for dramatic (or comic) effect.
Consequently, on Halloween, as I let the water stream over my stings, my anxiety summoned every article I had ever seen about deadly reactions to wasp stings as a result of multiple sting instances, and determined I could possibly expire right there in my magnificent outdoor shower. My poor children.
But I didn’t die. I put on my comfiest sweats and took some Benadryl, and lounged on the couch. I turned off all the outside and inside lights to deter trick-or-treaters. My whole body throbbed from just six stings, and I thought about how much pain little 7-year-old me must have endured.
A few days later, I went to Home Depot and bought some foam I could spray from a distance on the nest, which I had located. For the next three days, at dusk, I locked the dogs inside, put on my sturdiest shoes, and sprayed the foam for a full three seconds before flying at the speed of light back to the porch and inside. By now, I think they’re all either dead or gone.
I don’t like to kill forms of life other than mosquitoes. But sometimes self-preservation moves to the forefront of my brain and urges me to eliminate the detritus threatening to undo the progress I’ve made. Sometimes, sacrifices must be made.