Monday, 16 May 2016

I’m fatally allergic to bee and wasp stings – Here’s what it means

Yup, a serious post from me today.  Pretty well as serious as it gets.

When I was eight, a wasp stung me.  Within minutes, I had fallen asleep, and couldn’t be wakened. My terrified parents rushed me to Emerg, as my heart rate fell and my body went into anaphylactic shock.

What I can tell you is that people who are allergic to venom cannot ‘tough it out.’  They aren’t awake to do so.  And what happens next is often a complete respiratory shutdown.  That means death.

My cousin’s teenaged daughter had a terrible experience when she was a lifeguard.  While she was working, a man in his mid-thirties died in her arms.  He had never been stung before, and thus no one knew he had an allergy.  Such a tragedy haunts you and everyone around you, for years later.

Those people understand the seriousness of a wasp or bee allergy.  Thing is, a lot of people don’t.

Our northern culture is one that worships summer

In Canada, it’s considered outrageous not to enjoy every moment of summer.  Let me go further: it is almost considered a sin.  We are scolded for not being outside as much as possible.  Bookworm?  Get outside!  Don’t be a weakling.

Here’s what it means to be allergic to bee and wasp stings:

I can’t eat outside in bee and wasp season, which is pretty well from May until the first frost in October. 

I can’t be outside around people who have food and drinks.

Translated, this means no outside patios at restaurants.  No backyard or corporate BBQs.  No pool parties.  No large events outside where food is being served.  No Wonderlands and CNEs.

In September, it doesn’t matter if food is being served.  I don’t spend much time outside at all during the day, because of the yellow jackets.  Doctors warn me that if you are allergic to bee and wasp stings, you are most likely allergic to spider venom too.  Avoid them. Never touch them. Have someone else remove them.

I can’t go camping.  I can’t travel to third world countries.  My specialist tells me not to be more than twenty minutes from a hospital at any time. 

I’ve adapted pretty well to these restrictions.  I carry an epi-pen at all times, which will give me ten minutes.  Enough time to get me to the closest hospital (if I’m awake enough to inject it.  Hopefully someone else will be with me.  I try not to think about that too much.)  It sucks, but better safe than dead.

Don’t make it difficult for people with bee and wasp allergies

No, we can’t come to your BBQ.  I’m sorry you decided to have your book launch or wedding outside.  Please enjoy it, but don’t insist that I be there, or make me feel guilty for declining. 

Please don’t shame me into taking a risk on my life, so that your plans won’t be upset.

Don’t say the following:

1.  ‘Don’t bother them, and they won’t bother you’

Of all the things I get told, this useless statement angers me the most.   And yet, I can’t count the number of times people have said this to me.   I’ve been stung four times.  On none of those occasions did I deliberately bother the wasp/bee in question beforehand.  I didn’t even know the insect was there.

4.  ‘If the wasps are bad, you can just go inside.”

I’m sure people don’t realize how cavalier this sounds.  They can’t know how little value they are putting on my life, right?  Would you knowingly go to a party where rattlesnakes are commonly found in that patch of grass at this time of year?  Would you say to someone, ‘don’t be silly, they hardly ever strike…’

My allergist said it best: “Tell people, ‘would you be comfortable eating dinner outside with a rattlesnake lying six feet away from you?’  Because that’s the sort of danger we’re talking about here.”

Thank you for reading this!  You may save someone’s life.

On the other hand, you may come up with a really neat plot idea for a murder mystery.  Remember to credit me in the acknowledgements.


  1. This situation is similar to some we encountered in the schools. There were parents who insisted their child could eat nothing but peanut butter for lunch, despite the fact this meant a highly allergic child in the class could breathe it in and die. They often said that the allergic child should just go home for lunch, without realizing that any spot left on a desk or a hand could be fatal. We must learn to make accommodations for and understand all "disabilities"; fatal allergies being among them.

  2. One thing I've learned with allergies is that you have to take care of yourself--no matter what people think. You have to protect yourself against people who just don't get it. Sometimes you have to protect yourself from yourself and your desire not to disappoint others.

    Yup, I'm talking about myself and my asthma. You're too smart for that, Mel.

    1. "Your desire not to disappoint others" - that's it in a nutshell. For years, I took chances. Then the specialist read me the riot act. Told me about the woman patient he lost the week before. You are so right, Ali.

  3. Cathy, I've always thought those poor kids with peanut allergies have it even worse than I do. I can avoid the outdoors. Those kids have to rely on trust that the adults around them will maintain a safe environment. I think the sad part is: an intolerance is so different from an allergy. Some people seem to think an intolerance is a character weakness. But an allergy is often deadly.

    1. Related only via "character weakness", I have dry lips that easily get chapped. When I was in Katimavik and reliant on someone else getting me lip balm, I had a group leader who insisted that I didn't need to protect my lips. They should learn to protect themselves. Two painful weeks later, my lips cracked and bleeding, he finally relented. Then he had to buy the high-end medicated balm.

    2. That's a telling story, Ali.

    3. Told me the guy was a bit of a jerk. ;)

  4. Apologies if this is a duplicate, Melodie, but I tried yesterday and my comment got swallowed. It was a rambling rant which generally called wasps b@stards, so perhaps it was just blocked for being offensive. But I'm getting up a petition for the universe to eradicate wasps for being aggressively useless (and b@stards). Will you sign?