Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Wasps on a run (and a medium-sized coincidence)

As coincidences go, it was about a 6 on a scale of 1 to 10.

My editor had assigned me the article about the bee specialist in early July, but it was one of those rare times that I had nearly three weeks between an assignment and a deadline, much longer than usual. So I did the interview but then became a little indolent about drafting it.

And time was running out. Time was running out dramatically. In fact, it was less than 24 hours to deadline and still hadn’t written it.

On the day it absolutely had to be done, I set out for a four-mile run. A mile and a half in, I felt a sharp pain on the back of my ankle. I looked down and spotted an insect clinging to my sock.

A bee, I thought right away. Except I knew it wasn’t a bee, because one of the misconceptions the bee researcher had told me he hoped to debunk was that bees are the source of most stings. “If you are outside and something stings you, it’s more likely a wasp or a hornet,” he had said. “Bees rarely sting. And when they do, it’s not very painful.”

This was painful. A wasp, I corrected myself. And at that moment, the coincidence of getting stung on the very same day I was on deadline for an article about bees didn’t seem particularly significant to me compared to the stabbing pain emanating from my ankle.

But the wasp was gone; I’d brushed it off. And I was still running, and that seemed encouraging. My mother had her first experience with an allergic reaction from a sting when she was in her early fifties; it occurred to me at that moment that I might possibly have an allergic reaction to this sting, but even though it hurt, I wasn’t having any trouble breathing. I had a phone in my pocket that I could use to call my husband or call 911 if that changed. And I’d already completed a mile, so even if I had to stop, I still had enough distance to qualify as a streak day according to the rules of the United States Running Streak Association, under whose guidelines I was fast approaching my seven-year anniversary of daily running.

I wondered where that wasp had come from, though. I’ve been stung other times throughout the years, but never while running on the road, only when walking in meadows or fields or in the woods, or once while picking mint in my yard. And why on my ankle? Had the wasp been perched in the roadway near where my foot struck? It seemed strange.

The run was an out-and-back, and I resolved to keep my eyes on the pavement on the return trip when I reached the same point in the road, to see if there were wasps sitting there on the ground.

But this time instead of seeing them, I heard them first. A zooming noise and then four or five wasps flying straight toward me, landing on my arms and legs.

I ran faster, and flailed at them with a terry cloth towel I was carrying as I ran, and within seconds, they were gone. Now I had four new stings and the indignation of having been ambushed, but still no serious reaction. Four more places hurt, three on my legs and one on my forearm, but no trouble breathing. No lightheadedness. Nothing serious.

So it was yet another one of those situations that seemed initially unfortunate and then the opposite. They could have stung other places that might have hurt more, rather than keeping to my arms and legs. Had I not been carrying a small towel, it would have been harder to brush them away. And being ambushed by four or five wasps wasn’t like being swarmed by twenty or thirty.

Ever since my kids stumbled across wasps in the woods a few years ago, I had wondered what the best strategy was for escape, and after yesterday’s experience, I feel confident that running away from them in the right reaction. It’s not what you’re supposed to do if encountering a bear or a moose or a hostile dog, but it seems to work with wasps. Maybe hornets too.

But probably not bees. Because they don’t sting. And if they do, it doesn’t hurt. I learned that from the bee specialist I interviewed, and now I have an hour to get that article written. If the wasp sting was a not-so-subtle reminder from the universe to stay on task, I suppose I should be grateful.

But, coincidence or not, I don’t think I’ll accept any assignments to write about shark, bear or hippopotamus specialists any time soon.

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