The Sting of 89

One hot Saturday in May, 1989, I was competing in my final pole vaulting competition held at Father Judge High School in Philadelphia. It was the Catholic League Outdoor Track and Field championships and I was expected to challenge for the gold medal. I was seeded third but had beaten the top two vaulters just one week prior. The day was promising enough with lots of sun and the occasional summer breeze wafting through.

It was my turn to jump. I was craning my neck to see who had hollered my name, when I reached down, grabbing for my pole, and it suddenly happened. I abruptly pulled back my right hand as if I had recoiled from a red-hot poker! I saw that I had unintentionally crushed what appeared to be a very large bee. I didn’t win the gold, or the silver, or even the bronze. I took fourth place. But that was only the start of my worries.

A New Sensation

A burning lump of pain had lodged itself somewhere between my middle and ring fingers of my right hand. Within less than an hour that lump of pain had grown to the size of  oversized golf ball and an hour later it had morphed into a softball or small melon. It was enough to convince my grandparents and mother to take me straight to the Nazareth Hospital emergency room before the end of the championships, cutting short any shot at the gold medal.

Looking back on it, almost laughingly, I must have been heading into delirium thinking that I still had a shot at a medal with what had become of my right hand. Despite sitting in the air-conditioned hospital ER, I was feeling dizzy, nauseous  and anxious. I didn’t know better at the time but these were three of the symptoms for severe allergic reactions.

Dizzy, Nauseas and Anxious In the ER

The triage nurse’s eyes nearly bulged as large as the thing that was once my right hand as she exclaimed, “Wow, what happened to you?” I explained that I accidentally grabbed a large bee with my right hand while attempting to pick up my pole. She asked a series of questions and finally explained that I probably have allergies to bee stings. Almost immediately a physician had administered an epinephrine shot and held me for a few hours of observation. It did the trick, and I was soon out of there thinking that I just may have had my first brush with death. Now I do my best to always have my EpiPen.

The following Monday, back in school, I endured the friendly taunts of classmates who were my teammates. One asked why I waited as long as I had before heading to the hospital. I explained that it was because it was the last time that I would compete in the pole vault. He looked on in disbelief, not understanding how much it had meant to me to compete in the finals.

Severe Allergic Reaction To Bee Stings and Other Nasty Things

If you or someone else has a history, or might possibly have a history of bite and/or sting allergies seek medical attention immediately. Call 911. Some common symptoms of a severe bite/sting reaction are:

  • Difficulty breathing or wheezing
  • A feeling that the airway (throat) is closing
  • Nausea, abdominal pain or vomiting
  • Anxiety or dizziness
  • Skin that itches, tingles, swells, or turns red
  • Hoarseness or trouble speaking
  • A rapid heartbeat or pulse.
  • A loss of consciousness

For more information, please visit our insect stings page here.


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