A bee sting allergic reaction can happen unexpectedly. It can be as little as slightly itching around the sting site to a full body response that can be potentially fatal. Read about this experience shared by a Peace Region Bee Club member which helps illustrate when to seek emergency medical attention and how to be prepared.

`` I’ve only heard of one experience from my co-worker and it triggered me to realize something serious was brewing. If this description helps others in the future, it will make me feel good. `` ... Olga

APRIL 14, 2021

I thought I had my day all planned out yesterday, but it took only two bee stings to get my plans all screwed up. I want to share this story in hopes it might help someone recognize a situation they might find themselves in sooner than I did.

I excused myself from work around 2 pm so I could be home in prime time to unwrap my bees and do my first inspection of the year. A new beekeeper-to-be was waiting for me at the house. I told him if he was to learn about bees, this was an excellent opportunity to observe me opening my hives after the winter.

This year, I’ve upgraded my bee suit and got a full-length Sheriff coveralls-style suit. Everything was going as planned, we opened three hives, found brood, the queens in two of them, cleaned, treated them with mite strips and re-arranged the brood nests. The fourth hive had a queen. My heart was singing, four out of four hives survived with healthy numbers and only one missing a queen! It couldn’t have been a better day to show the new recruit how it is done, pretty much a textbook spring inspection. While putting the fourth hive back together, I got stung through my glove in the index finger, twice. It was somewhat painful and my finger got swollen (nothing that hasn’t happened to me before). I was happy things went so great and we were done! The time was approx. 4.30 pm.

We gathered up the tools, and extra equipment, put away old frames and bottom boards full of dead bees to deal with later. Another experienced beekeeper told me to keep my dead bees and use them as fertilizer in the greenhouse. We got out of our suits, my husband offered us a couple of cold beers. I declined mine because I had a gym floor booked at 5.15 pm, just in time to be at the beekeepers meeting by 7 pm. I chatted with the guys, said goodbye to my new mentee, and went into the house to get ready. Timing was approx. 4.45 pm.

The palms of my hands were getting so itchy, I couldn’t wait to get into the house to wash them. I’ve never had an allergic reaction to anything in my life so I wasn’t recognizing the symptoms right away, but it felt strange to have itchy hands. When I went to wash my hands, I’ve noticed a new sensation. My scalp was getting itchy now, like really itchy and I had to scratch it vigorously. Then the inside of my ears felt the same. By now I knew something wasn’t normal. Next came the pressure behind my ear drums and it was building. I knew it may have had something to do with the bee sting, but still thought it might go away. I found my husband’s blood pressure monitor and measured my blood pressure. The blood pressure was too high for me, and the pressure behind my ears kept on building until I started losing my hearing. Long time ago, a co-worker shared a story with me how he got stung by a hornet and went into anaphylactic shock, but the first thing he lost was his hearing. This was my clue. I could no longer ignore what was happening. I told my son to tell my husband I was driving to emergency room instead of the gym. By this point, I could feel my lips and my eye lids swelling up. I was hoping 5 minute drive to the hospital I could handle on my own, leaving my husband with the company to finish his beer. A mistake I was soon to regret.

By the time I got to the intersection of the 100th Ave and the East Bypass road, I felt so bad, I could hardly drive. I felt lightheaded, my strength draining from me, and I developed sharp abdominal pain. I called my husband and asked him to follow me with a truck, because I was scared I wasn’t able to drive to last mile. I did make it on my own to the hospital by about 5-5.10pm. I walked in, doubled in pain, my breathing shallow and my body starting to shake. I could hardly hear the questions the nurse was asking me through the plexiglass. I mustered all strength and said: “I got stung by a honeybee twice and I am really not feeling good, I need help”. The nurse took me right in and ordered a cocktail of medicine for an IV, which they started me on right away. Doctor came right after, took a look at my swollen tongue and lips and ordered an Epinephrine shot. I could hardly resist any of it, because my limbs and my vocal cords felt so tired. I was glad they were taking such decisive action, and expected to start feeling better any minute.

It was two and a half hours later when I finally started to feel like a human and my swelling started to come down. That’s when I contacted Claude, I was upset I was missing another meeting which I so looked forward to, and this could be the end of my beekeeping career. The new shift was on, and my new nurse asked me how I was doing and what had happened, so I explained to her. She said she was also a beekeeper and got stung a number of times with no reaction, but last summer she experienced exactly what I had just been through. Surprised to find out she was still referring to herself as a beekeeper, I asked her. She said, she got stung since, with no reaction at all. That gave me another boost of hope! Not all was lost!

By about 9.30 pm I felt so fine that I could hardly believe anything has happened to me and I was anxious to get out of the hospital. The doctor has come in and said my vitals were fine and I could go home, but not before I got my prescription for an Epi-Pen, which I am to have on my person at all times going forward. One with me, and one in the house as a spare. She also said, once they expire, to not throw them out. They are still about 95% effective for about 5 more years, past the expiry date. So, always keep two fresh pens, and stash the expired ones around the house just in case. At 9.45 pm, I was pulling into the parking lot of Shoppers Drug Mart for my two Epi-Pens, a package of Benadryl, and a chocolate bar because I was starving! Two of them pens would set you back $225.

Lessons learned:

  1. Don’t ignore what your body is telling you and recognize it sooner rather than later.

  2. Ask someone to drive you to the hospital, even if you don’t feel like inconveniencing anyone, especially your husband drinking beer. Others on the road matter as much as you do.

  3. Grab a snack before going to the hospital, your might be there for longer than you anticipated.

P.S. As for my newly minted mentee, he did inquire how I was making out the following morning, wondering if he was to inherit my four hives. Not any time soon, buddy, not any time soon! Happy Beekeeping everyone!

... Olga Gregoire