I almost died twice in one week. This is part 3 of the story-- Part one is here.
(Part two is here.)
When I was little, my mom was allergic to bees -- "allergic" in a way that made her, if she so much as saw a bee, go running at full speed for the nearest enclosure. I don't know if she ever had been stung by a bee; she must have, I suppose, or else she wouldn't have known how bad it would be if she was stung again, and clearly, in her mind at least, it would be bad.
I remember one time, we were out gardening. At least, Mom was gardening. We -- my brothers and I -- were alternating between saying "Is this a weed?" and pulling up her rose bushes in an attempt to never ever have to garden again. Mom was wearing jeans and a longer-sleeved shirt, which at the time didn't seem so unusual, since that was what people wore back then. This was the late 70's or early 80's, when adults generally dressed like adults instead of like people who secretly wish they weren't too old to shop at the GAP anymore, the way adults dress now. (As usual, I except myself from that, as I dress like someone who primarily buys whatever clothing is on the discount rack at Wal-Mart.)
My parents wore pants for almost every activity -- Dad being somewhat the exception, as Dad did not wear pants when sitting at the kitchen table on Saturday mornings doing his checkbook and paying bills. He'd get up about 8 a.m. to go through the shoe box of paperwork he had in his closet -- old checks from the bank, bills, other things that we didn't care about and didn't want to know about because Dad worked on them in his underwear and a t-shirt. Or, in hot weather, just the underwear.
The rest of the time Dad wore pants, even for yardwork, and even for coaching our t-ball team. Mom wore pants, too, and generally speaking, my parents wore jeans or pants for everything other than occasional trips to the beach, when Dad might put on a pair of cutoff shorts that used to be pants.
Mom wearing pants to garden, then, didn't seem unusual or anything to note... then. Looking back now, I think it was a protective measure, too, one that gave her no solace from the constant presence of bees in our backyard. Mom loved to garden and loved her flowers, but bees were certain death, so she was torn between digging in the garden and not dying. That generally led to one of us being posted out there even if there were no weeds or rose bushes to pull up, so that we could watch for bees, a duty we performed halfheartedly. At best. After all, how much of a threat could a bee actually pose?
Mom thought they posed a huge threat -- certainly a bigger threat than all the serial-killing-rapists that populated the world we lived in, and we saw just how big of a threat one day, live, when Mom was kneeling and attacking something near a plant with her little garden claw -- the three-pronged metal garden claw that would frequently become a metal appendage for someone fearsome in my games -- when suddenly she leaped up, shrieking and waving her arms. Her yells were unintelligible as she fled towards the back door, garden claw still in her hands, and we watched in wonder as she got into the house and slammed the door.
When we got inside, we learned she'd seen a bee, and that was it for that day. For her. We had to go back out and finish pulling up rose bushes. But we always laughed, a little, about Mom's crazy reaction to the bees, and teased her about that day for a long time.
I bring this up because after I got out of the hospital on Sunday afternoon I decided I wasn't going to be like that. I spent the Sunday After The Bees itching and watching CNN and waiting to be released and wondering, sometimes, if they had forgotten about me because nothing was going on. I can't be blamed for that, though. The hospital bothers you so much when you're there, coming in and taking blood and blood pressures and asking how you're doing and having housekeepers come in and dust off the television while you lay there wondering if you're supposed to make small talk with them ("So, um, how's the weather outside?" I'd ask some of the people who came in. Most of them said something along the lines of "I don't know, I've been here for 13 hours and got in at 3 a.m.," trying to out-guilt me about how tough their lives were. I was tempted, each time, to say, "Oh yeah? I got stung by 16 bees!" But then I'd have to tell the whole story all over again and I didn't really care to make that many new friends.)
After all that activity between 8 p.m. and 10 a.m., there was amazingly little going on for the rest of the day. I got lunch -- real food, not broth -- and sat and watched TV. I didn't have my Kindle with me, I didn't have a magazine with me, and I couldn't find a magazine, either, not at first.
It's amazing how often I forget my Kindle; after getting it for a present and commenting to Sweetie at the time that it meant that I'd never be without reading material, I have a habit of leaving it at home and consequently getting stuck without anything to read. It first happened just after I got the Kindle, when I went to visit my mom, then very ill, and decided to spend the night and help take care of her to give my brother a break. I decided that before I learned that there was nothing to read in Mom's house -- or at least, nothing I wanted to read -- and before I learned, too, that I had to be up about every hour on the hour, so I wouldn't be sleeping at all. As a result of that, I spent the night occasionally flipping through a three-day-old Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, and mostly watching Three's Company marathons.
When I'd gone to the ER before, I'd forgotten, in my haste and not-really-being-able-to-breathe state, to pack anything and so I frittered around all day Sunday, watching TV shows and cartoons and hoping that someone, anyone, would come in and let me go. At one point about two o'clock, when a couple of hours had gone by without even seeing a nursing assistant, I wondered "What if I just got up and left? They can't stop me, can they?"
We're never really sure what power people have, are we? At least, I'm not. I once took my car to a mechanic to have the brakes looked at. When he called me back and I went back to the shop, he had it up on the platform and the tires were off and he said my brakes were really unsafe and he couldn't let me drive the car. I'd have to get them fixed, and it would cost $2,000.
"I don't have $2,000," he said.
"I can't let you drive that car, legally," he said. I was about 20 years old at the time, and did what all 20-year-olds do in that situation. I called my dad and asked to borrow $2,000, explaining that I needed it because I couldn't legally drive my car due to the brakes.
"Let me talk to the mechanic," my dad said, and I put the guy on the phone. After a few minutes, the guy hung up and said "It'll be $200 for the inspection," and put my car back together. I paid him and drove away not long after that. My dad called me later and had me take the car to his mechanic, who charged me $500 to fix the brakes.
I didn't know, then, that mechanics don't really have the legal authority to hold a car and determine who's safe to drive on the road and who's not. And I don't know, now, what authority a hospital has to keep me there if I just want to leave because it's Sunday afternoon and I'm bored and itchy and want to go home so I can rest up before calling in sick the next day, something I'd already decided to do because if being in the hospital overnight doesn't get you a Monday off of work, what does?
I assumed that I could just get up and leave, but I was reluctant to do that because what if I was wrong, and I up and left and dropped dead in the middle of the parking lot? Who would Sweetie sue if that happened, and it turned out I'd left without being discharged? Far better, I decided, to wait until they let me go and then if I drop dead, it'll be an open-and-shut case.
So I sat there and finally got out that night, and it was probably pretty good that I sat there, because they had to give me some prescriptions to make sure that I didn't actually fall over dead or something.
One of the prescriptions was for one of those adrenaline pens, the kind that you jab into your leg if you eat shellfish or get sprayed with peanut butter when a little boy tries to show you his invention and it doesn't work the way it should but instead explodes all over the room, ending the chances for that couple to adopt him but setting him up for an adventure involving time travel and dapperly dressed talking frogs.
"Keep this with you at all times," they warned me, and showed me how to use it, and told me when to use it, and then gave me this improbable disclaimer, too: "Be careful not to stab yourself in the thumb with it."
When I said "Does that happen a lot?" thinking maybe they were joking, the nurse assured me that it did, in fact, happen a lot that people, while trying to save the life of someone who's nearly dying (of allergies, of all things), because of the way the cap is pulled off, accidentally stabs the pen into their own thumb.
"What happens then?" I asked.
"We usually have to amputate the thumb," she said, explaining that the adrenaline would close off blood vessels in the thumb and maybe kill it.
We agreed that was a terrible thing to have happen, and I determined to be careful. I only later realized that such an accident would not only result in the loss of a thumb on the jabber, but also the loss of life on the part of the person who would have been jabbed with it.
I began carrying the pen around with me that week as I eased back into work. I'd already decided, on Sunday, that I was going to call in sick to work on Monday; as I said, I'm not one to waste a trip to the hospital and the resultant obligatory day off watching television, and I had episodes of Lost to catch up on. But when it came time to return to work Tuesday, I hadn't counted on the lingering effects of the bee stings and how'd they'd be hitting me.
The primary effect that I noticed was being tired. That, combined with the ongoing itchiness and some dizziness, really concerned me. How much can a bee pack into a sting? I wondered as I was driving to work on Tuesday morning and trying to clear my head through a medicinal combination of coffee, the Dan Patrick radio show and using my own uniquely opportunistic road rage. When people did stupid stuff in front of or around me on the road -- and let's face it, everything every other driver on the road does is stupid, right? -- I would say to myself, inside my air-conditioned-and-Dan-Patricked car, something like "Geez, get it together! I just got out of the hospital after nearly dying, and you're going to make a left turn in front of me?"
It would have been an even more compelling argument if the other driver had heard it, I'm sure.
The other lingering effect was one I hadn't counted on. The doctors and nurses were warning me about what to do if I got stung by a bee again -- and also asking me, repeatedly, if I'd seen My Girl, because apparently only Macauley Culkin and I are the only two people ever to get seriously stung by bees. Or maybe it's that Hollywood has a dearth of movies in which the lead character dies of bees. Either way, I heard about 10 times in the hospital stay about the movie My Girl.
(For my own part, I far preferred to think about Dane Cook's "F-- bees.... I would punch every bee in the face." But I didn't say that to the doctors, and also, Dane Cook, you may want to take note from my experience that it's really hard to punch a bee in the face. I couldn't even see their faces.)
When the doctors and nurses would give me those warnings/reviews of My Girl, I'd take note and think to myself "Yeah, okay. Stay away from bees." The only real repercussion of that, so far as I could tell, was that I would never now finish the perennial garden in our backyard, which, let's face it, was never going to be finished, anyway. How could I ever tell if there were bees out there? I couldn't.
I did make an effort at making sure there were not. We have an extreminator who comes around once a month because once we had ants in the house and I vowed never again will I have ants in our house. So for $80 a month, the exterminator comes around monthly, usually at an awkward time, and sprays some poisons around our house.
"We should call him," I told Sweetie as we talked about the yard and the bees on the way home from the hospital.
"Why?" she asked.
"Because maybe he can do something about the bees," I said.
"I'm not sure he does bees," she said.
So we have an exterminator, but he's picky about what bugs he'll exterminate. I bet I know who he was rooting for in My Girl, too.
At least, I thought that was the only serious repercussion of my need to get a Bee Restraining Order: No yardwork, really, forever. (Sweet.) But there was another one, one I hadn't counted on, and I didn't know about it until I got out of the car Tuesday morning in the parking garage, tired and itchy and frustrated that my stay in the hospital had not in any way caused the other commuters to be less stupid.
As I got out of the car and picked up my coffee cup and began to lock up the car, I felt something land on my arm. It was just a little brush, almost unnoticeable, and I in the past would have probably ignored it. In this case, though, I jumped nearly out of my shirt, dropped my briefcase and nearly spilt my coffee and retreated about ten feet waving my arm around.
It was a fly.
Somewhere, my mom is laughing.
Next: The Other Almost-Dying, and The Chili Dogs Of Fate.