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I Shot Up with Venom for 5 Years

And yesterday I discovered it was worth it

By Catherine KenwellPublished 2 years ago 5 min read
I Shot Up with Venom for 5 Years
Photo by USGS on Unsplash

I have a deadly allergy to wasps and hornets.

I’m not exaggerating. I’m anaphylactic, and I can go into shock, or have a heart attack, and die. If I’m stung, the world around me must stop; decisions need to be made.

And yesterday was the first time I’d been stung in more than 11 years.

The last time I was stung, I was running with my dog Sunny when I felt a sharp, needle-like pain in the back of my neck. I swiped the spot with my hand, and a yellowjacket wasp dropped to the ground.

The pain was excruciating, and immediately we turned towards home. In the time it took to run two blocks, my skin began bubbling like orange peel. My breathing was shallow.

By the time we got to the hospital, my lips were puffed up like balloons and my ears stuck straight out from the sides of my head. My heart was about to explode, and I couldn’t talk or swallow.

I’m allergic to any type of insect or vespid sting; I always just thought it meant I’d have more swelling and itch than other people. But no…my severe allergy had to put on a real show this time around, proving once again my proclivity towards drama.

Immediately after my hospital visit (and after the megadose of cortisone wore off) I made an appointment to get tested for anaphylaxis. Sure enough, a couple of test spots with the allergist made me swell like a ripe tomato, and he brought me into his office for a chat.

“Venom therapy,” he said. “Without it, you’re taking chances. Your first appointment is next week. And you’ll have 18 shots that day.”

Uh, what?

“And the shots will continue for the next four to five years.”

“Four to five years?”

By Ed Us on Unsplash

The next week, I dutifully attended my first appointment, which consisted of 18 venom injections, given every 15 minutes. One shot, wait for reaction, another. My arm was the size of a tree trunk. By the end of the first day of treatment, I was mentally and physically exhausted. I attempted to amuse myself by reading but even that got to be too much that day.

But my very optimistic nurse assured me that this would be the worst of it, and that I’d have only nine injections the following week.

We proceeded with two injections a week for a year, then I was tested again. After that, it was every two weeks, and finally, once a month before the treatment was complete.

Turns out I was anaphylactic to the entire Vespidae family, but I had to look up what that meant. Did you know that there are more than 5000 species? When I first learned I was allergic to vespids, I kept getting it mixed up with vespers, which are evening prayer services. I can’t help thinking that I was likely allergic to both, but again, I hadn’t been in church for a long time so I couldn’t actively test that theory.

By USGS on Unsplash

Here’s an insider secret: you know when you’re supposed to wait for 15 minutes before you leave after receiving a vaccine or immunotherapy? I can tell you why you should never leave before that time is up.

One morning, I received my routine injections and was waiting quietly with several other patients in the waiting room. Suddenly, I felt ‘funny’; then, it wasn’t funny at all. I believe I shouted out to the receptionist (who I knew quite well by that time), “I don’t feel right!”

Next thing I knew, I attempted to stand up to run to the washroom; instead, I threw up my breakfast of crumpets and strawberry rhubarb jam. Very red, very ‘crumpet-y’, very Exorcist. I can’t imagine what the other patients, some of whom were there for the first time, thought what they were about to experience. Then, the combined effort of standing up and spewing resulted in my passing out in the middle of the floor. The allergist came running out of his office, hollered to two of his interns, and they carried me into a treatment room where I continued puking like I was possessed and then was injected with adrenalin to counteract my reaction.

Now, this only happened once during the five-year treatment period. But the desensitization process is quite demanding on metabolism and the immune system. I had to schedule workouts and sports around injection days, and on really hot and humid appointment days, I sometimes took the day off to rest.

But really, that was the only excitement I experienced during my venom immunotherapy, and eight years after the process ended, I’m glad I had it.

We proceeded with two injections a week for a year, then I was tested again. After that, it was every two weeks, and finally, once a month before the treatment was complete.

Because I haven’t been stung by a vespid (any variety of wasp) in 11 years, I haven’t thought too much about the effectiveness of my venom immunotherapy. Research shows that it is very effective, but it’s unclear just how long the effects of treatment last. They sometimes wear off after several years.

This time around, the pain was excruciating, but we acted quickly. I downed a super-strength prescription antihistamine, we applied an ice pack, and my husband and brother monitored my breathing and behavior. The swelling reaction was severe but contained; my face and skin were a little tingly, but I experienced no respiratory distress.

Thanks to those five ‘inconvenient’ years of shooting up venom, I’m feeling fine. Our hospital is less than five minutes away, and we know anaphylactic reactions are treated immediately in emergency, so we were prepared to hop in the car if we needed to.

That being said, I’m considering carrying an Epipen and some steroids with me; I haven’t done so in a few years, but my recent sting has made me rethink the importance of doing so. I was lucky this time—now, only an incessant itch reminds me of the sting location. Next time, who knows—I could be on a hike or in the middle of the lake, by myself or unable to get help. I don’t think I’ll take any chances.

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About the Creator

Catherine Kenwell

I live with a broken brain and PTSD--but that doesn't stop me! I'm an author, artist, and qualified mediator who loves life's detours.

I co-authored NOT CANCELLED: Canadian Kindness in the Face of COVID-19. I also publish horror stories.

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Comments (3)

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  • Mariann Carroll2 years ago

    I hope you are feeling better. I am so sorry you had to go thru such experience. You are a strong woman. I don’t if I can handle so much shots in one day. God Bless 😍

  • Your experience made me go 'Omggg' so many times! I really admire your dedication to go through with those multiple injections per day for so many years. And yes, please carry your Epipen everywhere you go 🥰

  • Babs Iverson2 years ago

    Interesting and informative. On a trip to Mexico, I learned that I was allergic to mangos. That was over 24 years ago. My lips swelled up like balloons. It's fire ants here in Texas that are problematic. Loved your story. Take care!

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