I first got stung by a bee (or yellow jacket or wasp or something) at a math camp when I was 16 yearrs old. I remember thinking, “Oh, I’ve never been stung before, I guess that’s what it feels like! I wonder if I’m allergic?”, and then five or ten minutes later, no longer having to wonder about that latter issue. I can’t remember all of the details: loss of vision, getting driven in a car to a nearby hospital, probably passing out at some point, and then getting drugs that took care of things. (Though the Benadryl the next day knocked me out in the middle of a class, I think I barely managed to make it back to my dorm room?)

Since then, I’ve carried around an Epipen with me. At some point (I think in grad school?) I got tested, and I was still quite allergic. But I haven’t actually gotten stung in the intervening 27 years.

That all changed when I was walking home from the train station today; I felt something sharp on my arm, I looked down, and there was a yellow jacket. Oops. I figured it would be better not to deal with this alone in case I started passing out, so I called home, asked Miranda if her mother was there, was told not yet, said “shit” and hung up. (Not the most reassuring call I’ve ever made.) Then I tried calling Liesl at work but didn’t get an answer, so I called Miranda back, asked her to meet me on her bike with her cell phone, and sent Liesl text messages explaining the situation; Liesl actually got home as Miranda was leaving, so she showed up in the car just after Miranda did.

I thought about using the Epipen while waiting for Miranda to show up, but I was still not feeling awful and using the Epipen involved stabbing myself in my thigh, so I figured I might as well wait until I got home to do that instead of partially disrobing on a sidewalk or in a park. And then I got curious: just how allergic am I these days? Given that I wasn’t seeing any serious reactions yet, just a bit of pain and maybe a bit more sweating than normal, I figured I’d wait a few minutes before stabbing myself. Liesl had some Zyrtec with her, and she said it was good for skin reactions for allergies, so I popped a couple of those instead; she also made a baking soda poultice to put on the sting.

And then I sat down and waited: I wasn’t feeling wonderful, but my vision and breathing were totally fine, and I wasn’t at all convinced that the problems I was feeling other than arm pain weren’t just nervousness. The arm pain got a little worse, but not horrible; 30 minutes later, I was still not feeling great but no worse, whereas the first time I’d gotten stung I’d probably already arrived at the hospital by that point. And, two or three hours later, I’m basically totally fine: a tiny bit of residual arm pain, but even that’s almost gone, and everything else is normal.

So: yay. Either I’m not as allergic as I used to be or I got stung by an insect that I’m less sensitive to (though my memory of the prior test that I took was that I was quite sensitive to all the insect types I tested) or Zyrtec is a super awesome drug (not out of the question, allergy drugs have gotten a lot better in the intervening decades). Whatever the answer, I’m not complaining; and I’ll definitely keep a bit of Zyrtec in my backpack as well as the Epipen so I can take that immediately the next time I get stung.

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