Monday, March 31, 2008

The Internet Doctor is In

Patty here…

Several years ago I was outside on my deck, watering a potted ficus tree, when I felt something in my hair. I reached up to brush it away and felt a sting on my hand. A moment later, I saw a spider fall to the deck and scurry away.

I don’t generally kill spiders, not even in my house. Someone once told me it was bad luck, and the last thing I need is the Ayatollah Arachnid putting out a fatwa against me. However, I killed his one, because my hand hurt and that didn’t seem fair.

A short time later, my niece called. I told her about my encounter with the spider.

“OMIGOD!“ she said. “If it was a brown recluse spider, you're going to die!”

I didn't want to overreact, but my hand was becoming red, swollen, and very painful. So after we hung up, I went out to the deck to conduct a follow-up investigation. The spider was lying inert, legs pointed to the sky in that dead bug repose. I took a closer look and here’s what I saw:

Overreaction aside, I raced to by computer to consult Dr. Internet:

The female black widow gives the more serious bite, but its bite is rarely lethal. You can identify this spider by the red hourglass marking on its belly. The bite feels like a pinprick. You may not even know you've been bitten. At first you may notice only slight swelling and faint red marks. Within a few hours, though, intense pain and stiffness begin. Other signs and symptoms of a black widow spider bite include:

* Chills
* Fever
* Nausea
* Severe abdominal pain

(Here’s where I’d normally show you pictures of people with grotesque, flesh-eating spider bites, but I’ll spare you in case you’re eating breakfast.)

I waited to sense the debut of symptoms and fantasized about shooting spidey webs from my fingertips.

In fact, nothing happened. It took a few days, but the swelling receded and life went on.

Fast forward to a couple of days ago. I woke up with a series of seven bites along the right side of my body. They were about the size of shirt buttons and looked like the work of mosquitoes. I got up and showered, but as I was toweling off, I noticed the bites were now painful and swollen. They had also grown to the size of quarters, compelling me to again consult Dr. Internet.

The Mayo Clinic had this to say:

In some cases, hypersensitivity to mosquito bites may be associated with an underlying medical condition, such as chronic lymphocytic lymphoma or certain viral infections, such as Epstein-Barr virus.

That was more than I wanted to know.

The problem was I hadn’t seen a mosquito in my neighborhood in decades. In addition, the bites were now the size of Montana. All I could think of was fatwa.

Again, I consulted Dr. Internet and was relieved to find that:

Spiders get a pretty bad rap in the world of first aid. Plenty of red, raised welts have been identified, either correctly or incorrectly, as spider bites. Despite the belief by many victims that spiders are responsible for their pain, spider bites are often harmless. Indeed, most spider bites go unnoticed and untreated…Almost all spiders are poisonous. That's how they hunt. Most spiders are too small, or their poison too weak, to be dangerous to humans.

That produced a breathy whew! Still, I consulted a flesh-and-blood doctor who advised me to wait and see. That was even a bigger relief.

With so much information only a mouse click away, have you ever used the Internet to diagnose a medical problem? Did you find all that information comforting, confusing, frightening?

Happy Monday!


  1. I have scared myself silly with the internet - remember, almost anyone can write anything. (A related article in yesterday's Washington Post talked about our "anxiety generation" and all the conditions we worry about - giving the pharmaceutical companies a clean-up day every day).

    My brother was bitten by a brown recluse some years ago, just under the eye, and required quite a lot of attention. He explained that, following one round of shots a bump appeared under the eye (the skin was already showing signs that it was effectively dying) with a white protrusion. After a while, he could not resist the urge to try to remove the white bump himself - he ended up pulling a two foot long white thread of "poison" from under his eye and said it was like removing a length of fine dental floss. You can still see where the skin has never recovered, but he's lucky - those little tykes can kill!

  2. Why is it called a "recluse" spider?

    Does it live alone in a big, scary house like Boo Radley?

    Are other spiders more sociable? Do they hold Spider Galas and fund raisers for unfortunate spiders who've lost three legs in an accident and walk like Dustin Hoffman in "Midnight Cowboy?"

    And if the "recluse" spider is so damn reclusive, what's he doing coming out and biting people?

  3. I've achieved detente with the daddy-long-legs who think I've encroached on their territory. They are welcome to enjoy the ceiling in the living room, and hang out where I can't see them - behind desks and things. The shower and my bedroom are my realm and unauthorized explorers come to a painful end.

    I use medical web sites to look up the things people refer to in conversation, that I don't know about. Like hammer toes. Had no idea what it was until someone talking about a friend having an operation sent me to Web MD to investigate. Ouch.

  4. Not long ago, I used the web to check on a condition that concerned me unexplained blue-black lump (like an odd bruise) followed some days later by rather alarming bleeding from a place that I really didn't want to bleed.

    The web was completely unhelpful, perhaps because it was difficult to explain my symptoms in the correct medical jargon.

    Fortunately, following the bleeding, the removal of an ensuing bandaid revealed fresh pink flesh that soon returned to normal. Mystery never solved. Bug bite? Unnoticed injury? I'll never know.

    I might not have been quite so concerned but for the locale of the original bump. You know what they say in business, Patty. "Location, location, location!"

  5. I've used for lots of information. Things related to my non-Hodgkin's lymphoma; the MRA (I'd heard of MRIs but not MRAs) my mother-in-law had last week; and details on prescriptions. It's a pretty good free database from the US Library of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health.

  6. Very scary about your brother, Our J. Good thing the bite didn't damage his vision.

    Paulie, I think the recluse got his name because he lives in dark damp place where no other spiders dwell, but I like your theory better.

    Rae, I seem to have many daddy long-legs in my house. I usually capture them gently in a tissue and set them free outside. I always wonder how they get inside.

    Glad you're on the mend, Jeff...

    Jody, thanks for the tip on Medline Plus. We Nakeds send blessings your way.

  7. All those bugs bites. You must taste good.


  8. I'm not going to touch that line with a ten foot pole.

  9. Hot tip for Naked readers: those black and brown widows love to raise families in the nooks and crannies of patio furniture. Or Patty's furniture. Telltale signs: they seem to exude white something or other that dries to a powdery white stain, and the webs are sticky and pod-like.

    Still, I prefer to put on gloves and relocate the little buggers to the outer perimeter where they can feed on aphids and such.

    Now I am responsible for scary internet content and mad with power.


  10. I think the recluse is so-named because he's a reclusive little bugger who gets really stroppy when someone upsets his personal applecart. As a landscape gardener, John comes across all sorts of nasty so-and-so's, and is generally very kind to all living things. He has no problem relocating black widows and rattlesnakes. Mind you, he did tell me that a black widow can hold its breath for 30 minutes, so when you spray insecticide down into a dark and scary area in the garage, the spider will just hold his breath and run away from the spray. Nice one.

  11. There are times when I love the internets. I found a great website that really helped when I had my hysterectomy, and I've been doing some research because of my upcoming colonoscopy. There's a ton of scary stuff out there, though!

    Living in New Mexico, I got used to being around both black widows and brown recluses, especially since, like you, Patty, my mom was a favored snack. Once she got a double-whammy - black widow bite behind her ear, brown recluse on her ankle. Sick as a dog for weeks, but ultimately she was fine.

    And had she had access to the internet at the time, she'd have been surfing and searching voraciously, I have no doubt!

  12. I have consulted the Internet and found it completely unhelpful.

    Back before the web I was bitten by a brown recluse. I called the ER and the doc was quite calm. If my leg started to turn black, he suggested I come in. Otherwise...

  13. Our J, I am now going to have a panic attack the next time I look at dental floss. EWWWWWWWWW! Your poor brother!

    Mostly I look things up online when my mother calls and tells me something her doctor said that sounds a bit far-fetched. I'll Google and then call her back and say something a la, "I'm not sure she wants you to 'grow new clothes,' mom--are you sure it wasn't 'blow your nose'?"

    Never a dull moment...

  14. I will happily make house calls!

    Could those marks have been caused by a vaccination? [That is supposed to be a joke, however bad or inappropriate some may find it. I have sent Cornelia's last post to almost a dozen friends and family, and the Naked site address so they could read it with pictures. I complimented her post in a comment (when there were only about 60), and think it to be one of the finest non-fiction pieces I've read in years..., or longer.] PLEASE, dear readers, I was trying to be funny.

    Side note: saw FIELD OF DARKNESS in Costco the other day. Only a couple left. (That's good, no? Don't know how you authors feel about selling your books in Costco....)


  15. Costco? Oh, how declasse!
    Course I bought many copies of FIELD deeply discounted on give as gifts to all my crazy relatives.
    BFF S has way too much education, so she is always going to the DR with her self - diagnoses.... often a brain tumour.

    Bro had the actual flesh-eating bacteria spider bite back when he was self-employed with NO insurance, so we spent the day together in the ER at Boston City Hospital waiting to be seen. Being very noticeably WAY white and WAY out of place, after hours and hours, we appreciated the advice given by another waiting patient, wearing a dayglo orange jumpsuit and chained to his gurney , who told us " you want to get seen here fast, the thing to do is get SHOT man! ".... Gee, thanks! Internet is good for looking stuff up, like an aunt's diagnosis of Merkel Cell carcinoma. Better more up-to-date info than much that was published the old way, and some the DRs werent aware of. Luckily her DR knew he didnt know what he needed and so sent her to Dana Farber. She is now in her 80's and still kayaking and drinking Manhattans. Life can be good!

  16. Mims, you're at your best when you're scary and mad with power.

    Fran, the double whammy spider bites sound really dangerous. Your mom must be a strong woman.

    David, funny. Didn't you worry just a bit?

    Groupie, I KNOW. Ms. C is our brilliant little sister.

    mbh, Manhattans? There's a drink I haven't had for decades. Maybe it's time for a come back...

  17. One thing we've learned. Never look up symptoms on the Internet unless you wish to die of fright. This also goes for the pets.

  18. Jim, you are too kind. I really enjoyed meeting you last week (in Houston) and I hope the next time you come you will know that I will eagerly take you and your buddy from Dallas ( and whomever you may be signing with ) to dinner. I know the BEST Italian restuarant outside of Italy! Just let Tom T.O. know you're coming to Houston (or me) and there will be good wine and food a-plenty!
    Look forward to seeing you again!
    (such a confusing name)

  19. Jim, anytime you come to Houston be sure to tell your buddy from Dallas and whoever else you might be signing with that you will be dining with Margaret (Tom T.O.'s daughter). Good wine, and the best Italian food outside of Italy (not to mention fabulous company).
    It was a pleasure meeting you at Murder By the Book. You are warm, funny, friendly and genuine, and I know why my father thinks so highly of you. You always have a new friend now in T.O. and Houston.
    (such a confusing name)