February 27, 2013

Bee-sting This is going to hurt both of us...

All beekeepers get stung sometime. It comes with the job as they say, and in some ways the occasional sting is a very good reminder to the beekeeper to treat their bees with care and respect the fact that they are insects that are pre-programmed to protect their sisters and Queen in the rest of the colony.

Like many experienced beekeepers I would prefer to handle my bees with bare hands.  It makes it easier to work with the tools and manipulate frames and makes me feel much closer to my charges when I can feel their body heat on my bare hands as well as have them walk over my fingers without being bothered by my presence. We also try to ensure that we only have docile bees as aggressive colonies are a danger to all other creatures in the locality - not just the beekeeper!

However,  sometimes I inadvertently trap a bee in the corner of a frame or under my finger and they respond with a quick distress buzz followed usually by a sting if not immediately remedied. Stings physically hurt a lot, but kills the bee soon after which also pricks my conscience too - a sort of double-karmic effect…

After 11 years, of beekeeping, these stings are still as painful as ever and are accompanied with a little localised swelling for a day or so as a reminder of my stupidity. However, this summer, I had a couple of stings that made me come up in hives all over my body and caused my whole arm to swell up.  A visit to the doctor followed by a blood test confirmed my suspicion that I was developing a severe reaction to bee-stings and was veering close to anaphylactic shock which is potentially fatal.

This is probably going to hurt more than the original sting! This is probably going to hurt more than the original sting!

So now I take my Epi-Pens, steroids and antihistamines with me whenever I go to see the bees and always go in company as well as now wearing cursed sting-proof gloves that make me feel like I am using oven-mitts. Having learnt that I was passionate about my bees and ran a business around them as well as teaching others, my doctor took pity on me and put me forward for a rather expensive de-sensitisation course lasting up to three years - all on the good old NHS.

Today, I had the good news that my course starts in April at Guildford in nearby Surrey and there is a 95% chance that I will become "tolerant" to bee stings. For the first few months, I get injected with an increasing dose of bee-venom each week in a closely monitored environment to ensure I don't keel over. After a few months, the dose is gradually increased in a series of weekly injections and my reactions measured to make sure I can tolerate several stings worth of venom with nothing more than localised swelling.

It will still hurt like hell all round when my bees sting me as a reminder to do better in the future, but at least I won't end up in hospital…

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