From ouch to itch: My encounter with the hornets’ nest

June 23, 2014

By Matthew E. Milliken
June 23, 2014

For me, midday Friday was characterized by Ouch! Ouch! Ouch! By now, the repercussions of that incident boil down to Itch! Itch! Itch!

After bicycling home from a coffee shop Friday, I took my two-wheeler to the side of my house.

Now, over the time I’ve lived in this rental, much of the foliage on and especially alongside the property has sprouted unchecked. In the little-used backyard, this isn’t really an issue; the vines are welcome to overgrow the fence as much as it wants.

This isn’t a problem in the front yard, either. There are two bushes that flank the path to front door. In their shaggy state, their stray branches scrape anyone who tries to walk between them. This is only a minor annoyance, however, because one is free simply to walk around these plants.

So the real challenge is on the one side of the house where I keep my bicycle chained to the backyard fence. The abundant branches and vines have encroached on the space, which was relatively narrow to begin with.

On Friday, I was struggling to raise the bike into its usual spot without being scratched by the plants when I felt something on one of my legs. I looked down and noticed a hornet, which I hurriedly brushed away.

Then, as soon as I’d returned my attention to wrestling with the bicycle, I felt more movement on my legs. I looked down again and saw that there were hornets on both legs.

I dropped the bike onto the fence and ran into the front yard, brushing awkwardly at my legs. My heart was racing, but I diverted enough of my attention to the street in front of my house to make sure I could cross safely. There were no oncoming cars, so I managed to make it to the far sidewalk without being pancaked.

Fortunately, there were also no hornets swarming after me, so I slowed to a walk. My legs seemed to be free of insects — but my left foot was not. Some eight or 10 hornets were crawling on the sneaker. I tried to brush them off with my right foot and then ran back across the street to avoid being stung.

I still wasn’t being pursued by bugs, so I came to a stop. My heart was racing.

I’d been stung several times — twice on my right thigh, twice on my right calf, and two or three times on my left ankle. The stings hurt, although not unbearably so. The sites were swelling slightly, and I noticed a small dark spot marking a few of the points where the stingers had been applied.

It had been a while since I’d last been stung, and I couldn’t remember ever having been stung so many times at once. I was frightened that I might have a severe reaction to the hornet venom.

So I put my backpack in the house and hopped in my car. My regular doctor’s office wasn’t able to accommodate me on short notice, but the urgent care center next door could.

The physician’s assistant who saw me told me that she’d once been stung about 20 times, with no lasting effects — an anecdote I found reassuring. The fact that my breathing had remained basically normal was just as reassuring.

Later on Friday afternoon, I lay in bed for an hour or two icing the various sting sites. (Much to my surprise, I possess about five ice packs. I’ve no idea why or when I acquired so many.) To reduce swelling, I filled a prescription for prednisone and popped an extra allergy pill.

And…I’m fine! Pain from the stings has been negligible since around noon and Saturday. Now, instead of ouches, I’m grappling with itches.

The bottom line, though, is that I’ll live.

And also that I’m going to start chaining my bike in another spot until I can find and remove the hornets’ nest that I apparently stepped on on Friday.

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