As a born’n’bred Yankee, I didn’t have the opportunity to meet fire ants until 2006, when I moved into a house in Alabama that had a fire ant hill right by the front door. After spraying it down with ant killer, I got away with only two bites.
I knew from the get-go I was allergic – as I am to things like bees, wasps, poison ivy, etc. – because my foot swelled to twice its normal size, and displayed the bites with little poison-topped white heads. It took months before the bites completely disappeared. Since then, I’ve been bitten handfuls of times but had less swelled reactions.
On Aug. 15, I had a completely new experience. After catching a couple bites out in the backyard, I went inside and washed my foot. I immediately applied topical Benadryl to the bites, and took an oral Benadryl.
What should be the end of the story quickly turned into an entirely new one.
Within 20 minutes, my hands swelled – which I found interesting, since I hadn’t been bitten there. Then my ears started itching, and I could feel them swelling, which was even more disarming. I thought maybe a shower would make me feel better but before I hopped in, I was horrified to see red welts rising all over my skin.
I’ve only lived in Georgia for a couple of months now. Most smart, skin-sensitive adults would probably find out where the nearest hospital was. But, as someone who has rarely had to go to the ER, I had not yet done so since my arrival in Bryan County.
When I realized my reaction was rapidly taking on a severe nature, I did the most sensible thing I could think of – I started to cry and called my mother who lives 1,000 miles away. While I was hysterically describing my symptoms, she told me to take a deep breath (such a mom saying), and drive to the ER.
Not having the slightest clue where the nearest one was, in addition to my roommates being away on vacation, I naturally continued my hysteria, and pointed out that I was now having difficulty hearing.
So I called 911. The operator gave me the number for Pembroke EMS, who took my information (and asked for directions – I now fully agree with Phil Jones that the county should add GPS to all ambulances).
First a Bryan County deputy arrived and told me everyone else was on their way. Then a nice EMS lady arrived and gave me a Benadryl gel cap. Then an EMS guy showed up with gear and another deputy in tow, and started an IV for me.
I’ve never had to call 911 in my life. I’ve also never had an IV hooked up to me. Watching EMS do it in my roommates’ kitchen was unnerving to say the least.
Next the ambulance arrived with two more EMS, Patty and Mario. At that point, I started feeling dramatic – did I really need all these people here? A Benadryl drip was added to my IV, which was indeed a pleasant switch from my anxiety-ridden hyperventilation, and I quickly began to feel like I might pass out. I also expected an immaculate evaporation of all symptoms, only to discover it would take hours.
Much to my dismay, EMS made me lie down on a stretcher in order to get from the living room to the ambulance – parked outside on my little street, in my development, out in middle-of-nowhere Ellabell. I’m sure the neighbors will be talking for weeks. "Did you see that New York girl? One minute she’s out walking the dogs; 30 minutes later she’s being whisked away by EMS!"My first ambulance ride wasn’t as exciting as I thought it might be. I was cold, dehydrated, tired, and couldn’t move my hands because they were so swollen. On the upside, I was beginning to feel a little better, I think predominantly due to the images in my head of liquid Benadryl pumping through my veins.
I was taken to St. Joseph’s/Candler ER in order to be "watched" under the eyes of Dr. Mary Sparkes, who definitely put me more at ease. I think originally, everyone was waiting for me to go into anaphylactic shock (which had definitely crossed my mind during my initial nervous breakdown), and the watch period would ensure symptoms could only get better, and not worse.
And I did continue to feel better. Within mere hours, I could hear again. Still couldn’t move my huge numb hands, but I was very happy to hear sound that didn’t make me feel like I was underwater. The welts/hives also slowly disappeared.
And thus I was released, alive and un-deaf.
I of course didn’t leave empty handed, and received several prescriptions, including one for an EpiPen emergency treatment kit. This consistently brings visions of myself entering stages of anaphylactic shock back to mind, but fingers crossed I’ll never need it.
I learned a couple things during my adventure. First, further proof for that nothing caters to tall people. I’m six feet tall, and my feet went beyond the end of the stretcher and my ER bed in. And second, it’s really not smart to enter a southern backyard without shoes on, because obviously flip flops don’t always cut it. Lesson learned.
I send out a great thanks to all those who helped me, I’m sorry I don’t know all of your names, but your efforts were much appreciated.
And, now I know where the hospital is.
Holthaus is a reporter for the Bryan County News.