Archived Opinion

The insect sting that launched a frenzy of pill popping

If I overdose and you have to take me to the emergency room, I told a friend Friday night, please tell the doctor I took three ibuprofen, two Benadryl and a Hydrocodone. Then, mercifully, I passed out. And, awoke to tell what happened.

That afternoon, unaware of the great agony that loomed before me, I’d gaily tripped barefoot into the garden to water my parched looking turnip and collard beds. While rendering this vital aid (my garden shoes were downstairs and I was too lazy to fetch them), I inadvertently stepped on and smashed a large, yellow thing under my left foot, an overgrown version of a yellow jacket with slightly heavier striping, and it stung me — hard.

It hurt like no other sting I’ve ever experienced. I really don’t know what to compare it to, except to say it was akin to what I imagine it would feel like if someone took a hot metal poker and rammed it into my foot.

As a beekeeper, I have great practice in and attunement to the varying pain levels of stings — there are the drive-by stings that, well, sting. Then there are the I-really-should-have-lit-the-smoker-before-getting-in-this-hive stings, when the honeybees bury in as deeply as they possibly can, and you actually bleed a bit after scraping the stingers out. That hurts, a lot, but they are weak nothings compared to Friday’s sting.

I’ve been stung in the hands, the arms, the legs, the butt, and three different times on my face — I swell like nobody’s business, and my eyes puffed shut each time. The face stings curtailed my social outings for the three days or so required for my eyes to reopen. But even being stung in the face didn’t hurt like this latest sting.

In addition to honeybees, during my life I’ve been stung by wasps and by countless yellow jackets. I’ve squished sweatbees by accident into my armpits, and been stung in retaliation. As a child, I once endured 14 stings on my back after blundering into a hornets’ nest out in the woods. That really did hurt, and I seem to remember the shock sent me screaming out of the woods, but again it doesn’t even come close to the pain levels reached after this unidentified yellow thing stung me.

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It stung, and once I reacted to what had happened, I started hopping about on my right foot, cursing. I got cold chills, and briefly considered throwing up.

I remember an elderly beekeeper in Bryson City who told me he’d never truly known how badly a sting could hurt until a bumblebee nailed him. I hope I never get the opportunity to compare pain levels with his experience, but I can’t imagine bumblebee stings could hurt more than the yellow thing sting. The very thought makes me shiver and cringe.

I hopped, one footed, back into the house and found a version of Sting Ease. It eased the pain nary a bit. The top of my foot quickly turned an angry red, and then my entire foot started swelling. I took two ibuprofen, thought about it a minute, and took another. I might as well have swallowed sugar pills for all the good they did.

I started in on Benadryl. First I took one pill, waited for a bit and when nothing happened, took another. Still my foot throbbed. Eventually, seeing my agony (loudly and frequently expressed, I wasn’t suffering in silence), my friend dug out some Hydrocodone left over from a previous broken-bone experience that I’m sure paled next to my foot-sting pain.

At that point, I’d have taken arsenic if someone had simply assured me it would dampen the throbbing.

I’ve taken Hydrocodone before, after having my wisdom teeth taken out, in my mid 30s. It had a very strange effect on me — I’d started talking, and couldn’t shut up. Usually, of course, it knocks people out. But I got totally wired, and talked for hours and hours despite the gauze crammed into my cheeks.

I didn’t give my prior Hydrocodone experience a thought, however. The idea of babbling mindlessly, but free of pain, was infinitely more desirable than dealing a second longer than necessary with my throbbing foot. As it happened, the Benadryl tipped the scales in favor of sleep, and I conked out.

The next day, the pain was gone, but my foot looked foreign to my body; hugely fat, grossly sausage-like. I cancelled my planned run, and settled in for a supine day indoors. But by lunchtime Saturday the swelling had all but disappeared. And, as I write this on Sunday morning, I can’t even tell where I was stung. Amazing.

There is no moral to this story, no lesson to be learned. Except, perhaps, that I need to set a pair of garden-designated shoes upstairs to slip on when I go out to water; I should keep a close eye out for unidentified yellow stinging things; and, as my friend sometimes says, there are times when the living is better through chemistry. Hooray for drugs, that’s what I say.

(Quintin Ellison can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)

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