They look so harmless. Soft, fuzzy, lambs ears. Don’t let them fool you.
My noble Lambs-Ear-dividing self was going to correct the fact they are overgrown to the point of hanging out into the path by two feet.
I start on the other side of the path: digging up, pulling apart, setting aside clumps to replant. I have my handy trowel. I don’t wear gloves. I like dirt. Dirt is my friend.
After a few clumps come out, I notice a bit of stealthy scurrying. (This post is not for the bug phobic. If you are, stop here.)
Completely harmless critters. I’m a bit surprised to see garden spiders, since most do not like dampness. Then I realize this is a dry zone: when was the last time I watered the lambs ears? August? The section I’m working on is under an overhang. Probably didn’t get any rain all winter: it’s a miracle they are alive. Bad gardener!
Stuff you need to know: my brother has a master’s degree in bugs. (Really)
He knew what he wanted to do when he was seven. I was the kid sister who pestered the crap out of him. (It’s possible I still pester the crap out of him, but there’s medication for that now, so I wouldn’t know.) Random fact: this is the same brother who knew where to find the animal lending library.
I have rarely backed down from a dare. A dare from my older brother? Ha. It was a done deal. I picked up tarantulas, lizards, snapping turtles, and snakes. He showed me how to safely pick up a scorpion. (Safely is relative, FYI.) He’d laugh himself silly after directing me to point at a certain lizard, only to have it lunge and clamp onto my finger (OW!) with a vengeance, while I hopped around trying to shake the sucker off.
Of course he knew it would bite me. Why else would he have asked me to point it out?
This is why, when I picked up a clump of dry lambs ears, and saw a very shiny black spider about to pounce on a very shiny brown spider, I had six kinds of heart attacks.
The spiders were, respectively, a black widow, and a brown recluse. Mortal enemies. That’s not saying much: everything is a mortal enemy to a black widow, including other black widows. Black widows are scary. Just seeing a brown recluse equals being near a sealed vial of Polonium-210,
I smash the crap out of them. Totally dead. Farther along, I find two more black widows, and kill them too. They’re not near each other. Widows are bugs with territory. I get to a damp area: I’m safe. Black widows do not like light, air movement, or dampness. Thus why they are usually in woodpiles or under a house. Never in a garden, unless you live in the desert. Or at Jane’s house.
We had some work done under the house. The spiders probably high-tailed it out when the side was ripped off and light and air swept through.
Next time, gloves. I had on long sleeves, old jeans and a hat. My gardening jeans are comfy. (read: nice and loose) I had to keep hitching them up.
That night, I didn’t feel so good. Not the flu again! To top it off, I developed a sore lump on my butt. How attractive. I smeared some antibiotic cream on the bump and focused on the flu.
The next ten days were migraine hell. I was ready to slice off my own head to make it stop. I don’t get headaches, let alone migraines. So weird. Chills. Nausea. You folks who get them? You are some seriously tough, life-affirming people.
Eventually my head started hurting less, and my butt started hurting more. I’m thinking Really? Really? After all that I still have a stupid lump? I looked up “boils” on the internet. My advice?
Luckily, my lump looked nothing like a boil. Whew. The relief!
Then my imagination kicked in.
Is there such a thing as butt cancer?!
I frantically search pictures of lumps on a medical website.
Gradually, I begin to piece events together while looking at some very gross photos.
OH. NO. It can’t be…?
I haven’t told Shaun about the lump. Now I have to drop my drawers and ask her to look. Mor-ti-fy-ing. She said “no big deal”. (Right, staring at lump on loved one’s bum is so romantic.)
“Honey? Do you see two red dots in the middle of the lump? Kinda lined up?”, I say.
Shaun looks up at me. “How did you know?”
“It’s a spider bite”, I say, yanking up my drawers. I wisely do not tell her my suspicions. I look up symptoms of a black widow bite: uncontrollable migraine-like headache, nausea, chills, fever, severe aches, sometimes pain…treatment is anti-venom, some immediate relief can be had by taking antihistamines. Victim should get to hospital right away.
The light goes on.
I take a kazillion antihistamines every day, because I’m lethally allergic to senseless stuff that no one is allergic to. I keep a certain amount of antihistamine in my blood stream at all times.
The good: huge amounts of antihistamine kept me from dying, or at least having worse symptoms.
The bad: it took me almost two weeks to figure out I got bit by a black widow, when a hospital (hopefully) would have been able to treat it immediately, no prolonged suffering.
This is what I want to know:
- Can one build up antibodies to the venom, if one is exposed?
- When can I sit down again?
I doubt I will ever forget to water anything in the garden, ever again. I am also no longer toying with the idea of xeriscaping.