The Placebo Effect

We were going camping. Mom told the kids to load our ancient panelled yellow station wagon with firewood.

My parents fought an endless battle against bees, wasps, and hornets at that house. Night after night Dad suited up in jeans and a leather jacket and ventured out to spray wasps that had dive-bombed the mailman, or yellowjackets lurking in the lawn tractor’s path. Maybe the real battle began when Mom accidentally dragged a garden hose against a white-faced hornet’s home. That did not end well.

A yellowjacket nest occupied one niche in our wood pile behind the garage, so Philip, as eldest, gingerly extracted split wood from the stack’s other end and threw it a safe distance away for collection.

I stood twenty feet off, scooping up logs and jumping aside as spinning chunks of kindling hit the ground around my feet. Suddenly – ow! Ow! OWWW! Gold and black dots streaked by, and three or four yellowjackets jabbed their stingers in at once. They’d ignored the sacrificial-goat brother and charged straight for the eight-year-old.

It was my first bee sting. Philip sat on a bumblebee at age four. Peter bounced on a playground toy with a nest in its springs. I’d escaped, until now. We didn’t yet know that I’m allergic to stings and bites. Any sting aches and burns for weeks, swelling around joints until I can’t bend them; it’s only gotten worse with time. I rarely cried over injuries by that age, but as searing waves of sharp pain replaced the shock, I burst into agonized howls and  streaked for the house.

“Auughh!” Through the vegetable garden. “Gaaaahhhh!” Around the garage, over the grass. “Baaaa-aaaah-aaaaaah!” Up the driveway, banging through the back door with an imagined swarm of avengers at my tail. “Daaaaaaaaaaad!”

Dad was in the kitchen, surrounded by camping gear and last-minute checklists. “Dad! Daaad! Aaaaaah! Yellow jackets…..*wail*….wood pile….Aaggghh…stung me here and here and here and….” Through tears I rubbed at my searing skin, lymph nodes beginning to throb. Dad checked for stinger remnants, then opened the kitchen cupboard.

“It’s okay. I’ll get you something for that.”

He began pulling small bottles from the shelf and sprinkling their contents on a paper towel. I drew a shaky breath as the sobs slowed down and curiosity and expectant relief took over.  Dad handed me the compress: “Hold this on the stings.”

It still hurt. Or did it? Maybe it was a little better. Yes, definitely. I sat on the back steps regaining my self control and rubbing the towel on my leg and arm.

When Mom arrived home from errands the tears were gone, leaving only red-rimmed eyes and hiccups in their wake. She took in my face, the compress clutched to my shin, and the delicate green flakes on my skin.

“What happened?”

“I got stung by a bunch of yellowjackets, but Dad gave me this and it’s getting better.”

She said something sympathetic, gave me a look I couldn’t quite interpret, and walked into the house to talk to Dad. Eventually I threw out the bandage and went back to work stacking wood.

It took me years to realize basil and oregano are not a treatment for bee stings.

Image found here.


4 thoughts on “The Placebo Effect

  1. Ouch! I have been stung by bees and wasps before, but yellow jackets are a special breed. I got my first stings from them this past fall – one and then 2 more about 30 minutes later. I’m not one to make a scene over injuries, but MAN, the suppressed oaths and general yelling and hopping about was quite dramatic. It was weeks before they stopped itching, and over a month before the redness and swelling subsided to being barely noticeable. My lawn man kindly found the nest and killed them all for me. I’m glad the placebo worked on you! I do think baking soda helped a bit, but I could see a parent turning to anything to help a child calm down. I have never had such a reaction from stings, and hope I never encounter those nasty creatures again.

    • Ow – the one sting followed by more later really adds insult to injury! Good to know about baking soda. These days, I’m much more careful with stings as they’re more likely to shut down my airway rather than just hurting as they did in childhood. Bites aren’t much fun either – my least favorite discovery since moving south is the fire ants. I’m guessing you have to deal with those in your neighborhood as well.

  2. Yes! All over the yard. Just last week, I was moving a small log that my sister’s dog had dropped in the yard (the dog plays with logs, go figure) and it had been there long enough that the ants had made it part of their home. I dropped it and kicked it over to the side of the yard, but a few minutes later discovered that more than a few ants had remained with me. I think I got 3 or 4 bites. Baking soda helps those, too, and they only last 3 or 4 days.

    Those yellow jackets – the reaction I had scared me. I’m glad my lawn guy did the spraying. I definitely feared getting another sting. Most bees and wasps leave you alone if you leave them alone, but these things are territorial and aggressive. The first sting, I was right by where their nest was – under the handrail around the deck (of course, I had no idea). The other incident I was about 10-15 feet away, but that wasn’t good enough for them. Just glad it was me and not the kids. And I will give them wide berth in the future…you never know which sting might be the one that causes a life-threatening reaction.

  3. Yes, yellow jackets are ridiculously territorial. I got stung by another one a few years later for no reason at all, just standing on a porch!

    I’m definitely trying baking soda on the next ant bite – mine stay itchy and swollen for a month, and it would be wonderful if baking soda shortened that annoyance. The worst was when we were posted in Texas and had an outdoor procession for the Feast of Corpus Christi in the church’s courtyard. I knelt in a fire ant nest…in a knee length skirt.

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