Monday, September 22

Only Natural

THAT'S Bristol, the dominant hummingbird at our feeder the past three months, posing atop the shepherd's crook it hangs on. Her usual perch is in the electric wires running to the garage, up where the sky precludes getting a usable shot even if you did have access to the good camera, which I never do. I hope she wasn't saying Goodbye just yet, but I didn't see her the rest of the day. You never know when they leave; you just keep putting out fresh nectar every two days until it gets all slushy. Bristol and the slightly smaller Piper still fight it out occasionally, but Bristol was the obvious winner of their two-day dive-bomb-a-thon of early August. (That's assuming that there are only two of 'em. One year we thought it was a single male-single female fight to the finish, until one afternoon when we counted seven at one time.)

My Poor Wife says that Summer is officially over--the day before the equinox--because Big Shirtless Roy, the 54-year-old fireworks aficionado and lawn care cultist across the street, was mowing the lawn this morning with a shirt on. Which may, in fact, actually mark a new Millennium, or the Dawning of the Age of Aquariums. I typed that by accident and decided to leave it in. I don't recall seeing him wearing a shirt while mowing the lawn in twelve years. I'm not even sure he wears one operating his snowblower.

Did I ever mention that the man owns his own parking cones? So do the people next door to him. The cones turned up the last time we had a neighborhood yard-sale day, in mid-afternoon, sometime after he'd come storming onto our property and berated an elderly couple who'd parked with two wheels on his lawn. If I recall, that was the same year his lawn developed mysterious, random, circular dead spots almost overnight, which someone suggested to me looked like the result of person or persons unknown making herbicide ice cubes and hurling them on his lawn from somewhere nearby on some warm summer night, when they'd melt without a trace before morning. All I can say about that is, you really wanna be careful about that sorta thing. Like wearing first-rate hazmat gloves.

The other sign of seasonal gradation this time came in yellow and black, and nested in my woodpile out back, near the compost bins, and without permission. Naturally I found this out by getting stung, twice, a week apart, the second time being last Saturday morning and taking place in the vicinity of my left ear. Prior to that I'd never been stung by a wasp in my 54 years, and, having gone through it twice now, I'd urge you to skip the whole business altogether. A wasp sting is quite different from a bee sting; since the stingers are thinner and reusable, there's a sensation like someone trying to create a 1/2" hole by plunging a 1/4" drill bit in and around repeatedly. Except with burning. The first one got in my shoe. I felt her there about a half-second before the shoe closed in on her, which she took rather poorly. I went into the house to get oatmeal, only to realize I'd pitched the two-years-post-dated container of oatmeal out a week earlier in one of those half-decade cleaning frenzies of mine. So I settled for baking soda, which really did nothing whatsoever. Which makes me think the oatmeal would have been a Fool's Errand anyway, though it works well for me with honeybee stings. I then wrapped it in ice for a hour, and periodically after, which did an excellent job of numbing about the top 35% of the pain. There was a distinct impression of having been drilled. It hurt like a sumbitch until the middle of the following afternoon, after which it merely began itching me to distraction for 48 hours.

We ought to note here that this was the second medical emergency I'd faced that week, and started the official countdown on These Things Always Happen In Threes which would be fully realized behind the garage a week later. On the previous Monday I'd managed to stab myself, not too badly, with a poultry needle. Since the needle had already passed through a poult before entering my left index finger about halfway up the first joint,  I took several hygienic precautions: I let the thing bleed quite a while, then did a hospital scrub, then applied triple antibiotic and a bandage, which I reapplied three times more in the next few hours. It stayed sore, but didn't puff up or anything, until Wednesday night, late, when I half-woke and realized my friggin' finger was on fire. It was puffy and blistered medially, right up against the nail, from about Two to Six O'Clock; this was not good. I blamed my carelessness in not reopening the wound each time I redressed it. The goddam thing now kept me awake the rest of the night, hurt like hell at the slightest touch--which means, of course, that I whacked it on a succession of doorknobs, jambs, countertop edges, and an assortment of inlays, filigrees, crenellations, merlons, cornices and dentils I didn't even realize we owned--and refused to remit more than temporarily to either cold or heat. I resolved to give it a single day before seeking the attention of an allopath, though I foolishly mentioned this plan to my Poor Wife that evening, guaranteeing I would go the next morning no matter what I thought. Which I did, even though it had begun to feel a little better.  I showed up early at the immedicare clinic place where I was eventually greeted, for want of a better word, by Dr. Surly, the same defrocked quack who'd looked at my knee nine months ago. "Looked at" in this instance was replaced by "glanced at from ten paces", at which time he announced I had a paronychia, and that if it did not improve I'd "need to see a hand surgeon". He said paronychia twice--that's in thirty seconds--which naturally led me to suspect he might simply possess an associate's degree in medical Latin plus a lab coat.  And it was fairly obvious he hadn't even looked at my chart, or account, since he otherwise might have remembered he'd already pulled the You Need a Specialist routine on me within what would be assumed to be most people's recent memory. Hand surgeon? You're either out of your fucking mind (which, I suspect is the reason you lost your medical license in the first place) or the kickback deal is sweeter than I imagined. I actually needed a specialist with the knee; for this I need an LPN with a lancet and an alcohol-soaked cotton ball, plus a course of antibiotics. I got the antibiotics. Which is all I fucking wanted from you, "Doctor"; we could have saved those twenty seconds you begrudged (three steps out of the exam room he told an underling, "Put a Band-aid on it."  As though I'd not only wasted his time by coming in to ask him to kiss a boo-boo, but insulted all those years he'd spent at all those med schools throughout the Third World.  You're not supposed to fuck around with a paronychia, Doc. Otherwise, believe me, I wouldn't be here.)  At any rate, once I got home and looked up paronychia, I realized my chicken-sticker wound was fine, and the whole thing was caused when I bit a friggin' hangnail on the same finger a day later, and accidentally tore it too far. Do not bite hangnails! I'm 54 fucking years old, and no one ever told me that.

So I guess the Third of Three I was waiting for was actually the first yellowjacket sting, and the second was the result of my false expectations. That, plus the fact that I thought the first one was a random encounter, and failed to check for a nearby nest until I got stung the second time. Little fuckers are mean this time of year, plus they don't have any pupae to attend to so they've got time on their hands. I'd never been stung in the head before, and if I ever am again I'm hoping for something more along the midline, since with it just above the ear it felt like I had a brick tied to that side all day. This time I went upstairs and put deodorant on it, which worked surprisingly well on the pain, though I still relied on an ice pack for the next four hours. I'm not disturbing the nest; I'm just gonna buy or rig a bee hat so I can work the compost piles once the leaves start to fall. I figure it's my little sop to non-partisanship.

LAST Wednesday, along about dinnertime, the phone rang, as it will.  I answered it, in the presence of my Poor Wife.  It was the clinic.  "Hi, I'm Roger, and Dr. Surly wanted me to call to find out how you're doing."

(Funny; that's more concern than he showed when I was there.)  "The finger's great.  The swelling is way down, and the pain is gone."

"Okay." (It's always "okay".  It's never "Glad to hear it," because that's not something you say when you're simply ticking items off on a checklist.)  "Was the doctor helpful during your visit?" (Right to the Customer Satisfaction Survey, I see.) "Did he answer all of your concerns?  Were you satisfied with the experience?"

"Yeah, oh yeah.  He was great!"

I hung the phone up.  My wife gave me the "I don't have anything better to do" look, so I filled her in.

"Why did you tell them that asshole was great?" she, like any sane person, wanted to know.

"Look.  I'm sure they get plenty of complaints about the guy--when I was there for my knee the two X-ray techs were grousing about him, openly, right in front of me.  If I really wanted to complain it wouldn't be to the kid who has to make the follow-up calls; I'd have called the home office myself, and kept at it until I got the VP of the malpractice section.  And they'd be thrilled to learn he'd given me twenty-seconds of his time, once they'd learned the finger was still attached.  If you wanna exact revenge, the best way to do it is to keep him there long enough that he tells the receptionist to put a Band-Aid on a sucking chest wound, or sends someone with a chicken bone in her throat to a speech therapist.  Six more months, tops."

"You're still the man I fell in love with," she says.


Rugosa said...

Aw, how sweet.

James Stripes said...

I suppose you named that bird Bristol last spring, right.

I suffered a wasp sting when the two of us were drinking from the same can of soda. From your description, I'd say mine was pretty minor. Even so, when I open a can of cream soda or Pepsi or root beer in the back yard, I make it a point to look in the can between sips. My sting was ten years ago.

Blister said...

Dude, There must be several thousand species of wasps. The charismatic families are the vespids, as in Vespa, a motor vehicle that reminded its designer of a wasp, and the sphenids, which include those millions of little guys you can sweep up out of dry grass with a butterfly net or that die against your window glass if you left the door open and pile up on the sill and you think they are fruit flies or something. What you ran into was a vespid, some of which exemplars you might call hornets or yellow-jackets or meat bees.

As Walking Marsh Trail used to say, when the meat bees fly close to the ground in September you can be sure it will be a cold winter.

Your post fails to include the back-story on of whatever you were doing that get one of those sweet creatures to sting you. Poking at a paper nest with the end of the rake? Pissing into the hole where the wasps were flying in and out? Stinking out the envirosphere with a full-body application of TanFastic and Right Guard? The details are important.

Either way, you give those little bastards too much slack. Next time you might try going in on the nest behind a sprayed cone of Ortho-Klor, like a fireman going into a burning kitchen behind a dialed-back brass fire nozzle.

Speaking of doctors, a lot of wasps are what you call "parasitoids", which means that they sting their prey into a zombie state, then take the zonked bodies home, build little wasp houses around them, and lay their eggs in them. Assume, for example, that the prey is a certain kind of spider. The baby wasps grow in the living zombified prey, eating it up from the inside. Meanwhile the spider thinks it is OK, just a little dizzy, sleeping a lot more than it used to.

I''m beginning to doubt that this will work out as a metaphor for the medical profession, but for some reason it reminds me of most of the doctors I've run into.

Houston said...

This is classic Doghouse. Young man, when you rock, you rock!

eRobin said...

While reading this I didn't think of the trillion-dollar giveaway to billionaires even once. Thanks!!

Julia said...


This is why you want to keep some meat tenderizer around, even if you don't use meat tenderizer. Make a little into a paste and put it on the sting. It neutralizes whatever it is in bug spit that makes you feel like the sting's on fire.

In the absence of meat tenderizer, lots of hydrogen peroxide. Maybe soak a cotton ball.

D. Sidhe said...

I got nothin'. My existence has taught me little more than that when shit hurts, you just have to wait it out. Sounds like you have that part down, actually.

But yeah, don't chew hangnails. They bleed and you end up leaving little bloody fingersmears on things which really freaks people out but admittedly does lead to some nice patterns on your origami cranes (as do papercuts).

Most of that made me laugh more than is respectful, but the bit about the hornets having time on their hands more than the rest of it.

doghouse riley said...

Blister, you really don't wanna go by me; in my youth "yellowjackets" were what everyone else in the world refers to as "bumblebees". This was an apparent warp in the fabric of Space and Tongue which affected only the western suburbs of Indianapolis. I didn't discover this until after I married, and for some time after that I attributed the confusion to my wife's circus upbringing. We went 'round and 'round about it for years. "It's a yellowjacket." "That's a bumblebee, idiot; yellowjackets are wasps." "Bumblebee" was just a generic term with us, and "wasp" and "hornet" interchangeable. I've also recently discovered that what we called "sweatbees", those gnat-like nectar-lovers, aren't. It should be possible to trace the etymology of this; I suspect my ancestors came from the tundra.

So these are stinging wasps, yellow and black striped, social, and sadistic. As for what I was doing: taking stuff to the compost pile, which is just beyond the bottleneck between woodpile and shed.

R. V. Dump said...

I second Julia's comment re meat tenderizer. It does to Hymenopteric venom that which it does to meat: diminishes it greatly.

Kathy said...

Benadryl cream, plus a couple of tablets will help, but only help. I will keep the meat tenderizer on hand.

Last summer I called an exterminator to spray for ants. "Oh, just spray some Windex around," the lady at the Exterminator Office said cheerfully. I said impatiently "Doesn't work! Also there's a red-ant nest I want sprayed "They'll just come back," the lady said. "...and," I continued, "Most importantly, I want the several Wasp's nests destroyed" Her reply: "Oh, just wack'em with a broom handle!"

FINALLY I realized I was being ?? mocked, pwnd, what? At any rate, I hung up and phoned someone else.

That is a True Story.

scott said...

Herbicized ice cubes?

Brilliant. Absolutelyfucking brilliant.

I'd comment more but I have to do some work in the freezer with some new ice cube trays I just purchased.