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About the cover

  D e s e r t   E x p o s u r e   October 2008



Bite Me!

Even an experienced outdoorsman can be brought to his knees by a spider bite or scorpion sting.

Ever think about the consequences of being bitten by something and wonder what the consequences would be? After reading the excellent "What's Bugging You?" by Peggy Platonos (August), where she informed us about the potential harm or non-harm of local insects, I decided to tell you about some of the experiences I've had. In an upcoming column, I'll tell you about other folks' experiences that go beyond insect bites.

Coincidentally, not two weeks before that article came out, I was mortaring in the bottom of an old shed that sat on wooden skids, using stones and cement to fill in the 12-inch gap. I had worked my way around all four sides and was feeling under the last corner for the last hole. I wore a pair of thin latex medical-exam gloves against both the cement and any harmful insects my hands might encounter; I thought I was protected.

I reached up under with my left hand, felt the hole, then proceeded to close it in. No big deal.

After I had finished the job, maybe 10 minutes later, I began pulling weeds nearby, still wearing the gloves, but I noticed my left thumb was stiff and swollen. Pulling the left glove off, I observed that not only was the thumb swollen to about twice its size, but my hand was swelling, too, all the way to my wrist. I touched the thumb with my right fingers and was alarmed to find that the swollen digit was totally numb!

"Uh, oh, I've been bitten by a spider," I thought. Getting up, I walked to the phone and called my doctor, who ordered me straight to the emergency room.

I then called my wife to come and get me, since I didn't know what further effects I might experience while driving. As I waited for her, I Googled "black widow" and "Apache violin" (closely related to the notorious brown recluse) spider bites to see what the heck had gotten me.

By now my thumb had a half-inch purple/red area on the tip and, curiously, my middle finger was red/purple the length of it. I still had no pain whatsoever, which was also curious.

The Web site described the symptoms of both spider bites, saying a black-widow bite has tiny puncture marks similar to a minuscule snake bite. I looked closely and yep, there were the puncture marks side by side within the purple patch.

By now I was slightly "warmish," too, but that could have been caused by anxiety.

At Gila Regional Medical Center, they took me in almost right away to an exam room where they checked my vital signs. Shortly the resident expert on snake and insect bites came to see me, informing me that it could be either type of spider that got me.

How would they really know? Well, he said that if it was a violin spider, in a coupla days my flesh would begin to rot at the bite site!

Because of my medical history with needles and shots and the fact that my heart gave me trouble a coupla times as a result of them, the doc opted to treat me orally with prednisone and antibiotics. Four days would do.

The swelling was gone in 48 hours and the redness gone within the four days, and there was no rotting. Whew! So, my conclusion was a "widow" had bitten me.

But why no characteristic pain or other strong symptoms? I hypothesize that it was for four reasons: 1) The latex gloves did indeed impede the venom's full effect. 2) I went to the hospital immediately. 3) Treatment was started within the first 90 minutes. 4) I didn't panic and get the adrenalin flowing, but stayed calm and still.

I now wear leather gloves to "feel" around unseen spots that might harbor something that could mean me harm.

About a month later, I went to take the garbage to the road. I have one of those big blue vinyl containers that the town of Silver City provides; I noticed a large dead bug hanging from a single strand of web attached to the ridge that doubles as a handle. Closer examination revealed a random array of very fine webbing right at the handle. I carefully tipped the container over and there was a "widow" tucked up in a corner, her bright red hourglass contrasting with the glistening black body. Had I grabbed that handle, she would have gotten me again for sure.

I took a broom to her home, but I couldn't manage to dislodge or kill her. An ensuing shot of carburetor-cleaner did do the trick. If you don't have access to real bug-killer, this stuff works on all kinds of bugs.

Now I wear leather gloves when it comes to garbage duty, too.

I had another similar incident many years ago. We were still living in Silver Acres, outside of Silver City. I was dead asleep at two or three in the morning, when I felt a sudden white-hot, searing pain in my left armpit. I had been sleeping with that arm over my head and had put it down to roll over when the varmint got me.

Wow! That hurt like blazes, and I immediately awoke and swatted blindly at the offender, knocking it across the dark room. I awoke my wife and told her. She replied that I was dreaming, but when I revealed the large new welt, she changed her mind.

We looked and looked but never found that critter. I even looked the next day, pulling out everything from the closet, but still found nothing.

I recall that the "bug" was about an inch long and very hard shelled; I reason that it was a scorpion that got me, and the symptoms were similar to a scorpion' sting. For days the upper inside region of my left arm was swollen and painful to the elbow, let alone my armpit itself! The left side of my chest had slight pain, too.

I never went to the hospital that time because I read that scorpion bites are seldom life-threatening, but I did immediately take ibuprofen and applied cortisone to the site. In the morning I also applied ice packs, doing so sporadically for a day or two.

Probably an entire week went by before all returned to normal. To this day, some 10 to 15 years later, I can still remember that white-hot pain!

As I said, most local scorpion stings are painful but not fatal, although if you are allergic to the toxin, you could have severe consequences and even die. I once knew a woman who had reached into an upper desk drawer at work, and she was stung by a scorpion on her finger. Within weeks she started to have paralysis in her limbs as her nervous system began to shut down. By six months she could barely walk without help; she died within a year.

With all venomous bites and stings it is important to not panic, perform or have performed immediate medical treatment, and, if needed, go to the hospital right away. At best, it will all be a minor inconvenience, but why take a chance?

As usual, keep the sun forever at your back, the wind forever in your face, and may the Forever God bless you.




Larry Lightner writes Ramblin' Outdoors exclusively for Desert Exposure.

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