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:
* 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?