The weather here in South Florida has been the rainiest that I can remember in many years. I know the rest of the country is experiencing the worst drought in centuries and that they would be grateful for some of this rain, but for me, enough is enough. In fact, as I am writing this blog it is pouring outside. There is a tropical wave south of us that is pushing moisture in our direction. It is one of those days that you just want to snuggle up in bed or on the couch and read a good book or watch a good movie. It is dark and there is a deluge of rain coming down. It has been a difficult summer as a relatively new beekeeper. First, it took some time to re-queen my hives after the splits. I feel this was mainly due to the weather. It has also made it very difficult to get into my hives on a regular basis. As a Top Bar Hive Beekeeper I like to go into my hives every 10- 14 days tops. The last two times I have gone in it has been more like 14 days, or just over. The last time I was in the hives the bees were crowded and I opened up the brood area for the queen to lay. Being crowded can make the bees very grumpy. Yesterday was mostly sunny; this was going to be my one opportunity to get into the hives. The first hive looked very good. It is a gentle hive, a pleasure to work. The bees are very small. The queen is laying well. There are still a few small hive beetles present but they look better and under control.
When I am inspecting the hive I am looking for many things: first, do I see the queen? What is her laying pattern like? How does the bee population look? Is there honey and nectar, and pollen present? How is the activity of the hive? I try to look at the combs and keep most of the honey comb towards the back of the hive with the brood nest all in one area up towards the front of the hive. Are there any pests present? Are the combs straight? Does the brood nest need to be opened up so the queen has room to lay? Are there brood, larvae, and eggs present? It is important to know the time frame for these different stages so that if there is a problem with the queen you are able to recognize it. I am telling you this because as I went into hive #2 yesterday, the bees were immediately defensive. I smoked the hive well to let them know of my arrival. There was a very heavy comb of honey that I had positioned as the last bar the last time I went into the hive. It still had just a small circular area of brood. I removed it while I worked the hives trying to decide whether I should sacrifice the small brood area for the nice capped honey. As soon as I reached for the second bar the bees came out and stung me on the hand. In fact they chased me for several feet. I gave them a chance to calm down smoked them a little more and discovered many queen cells present. Sometimes when a hive is queenless they can be very defensive. There were numerous capped queen cells present on many of the top bars. This was my opportunity to practice what I learned in Albuquerque, NM. I learned about a mixed origin divide. I left several bars with queen cells in hive #2 for them to make the queen. Then I started selecting out bars of brood, nectar and honey to make the mixed origin divide. This hive is the same hive that several months ago did the same thing as far as the queen cells. I had split this hive and it had made a new queen. She was laying nicely, but two weeks later she was gone and there were numerous queen cells present within the hive. I don’t know if this hive swarmed, or if they didn’t like their queen, or what exactly was happening. So I began examining my hives for the appropriate bars to make the divide. As my inspection continued I got little stings through my gloves. There must have been bees on the ground around hive #4 and I got stung for the first time on my ankle. I continued to select out bars for the divide and was putting them into the new hive that I had resting on the ground. I decided that I was going to take the honey and shook those bees off into the divide. As I did that they stung me in the other ankle. There were two bees stuck under the top of my shoe so I got stung there several times. I went back to hive #3, where I had separated out three bars of brood and nectar that I was going to move over to the divide. As I was doing that I started to feel a funny sensation in my hands. It felt like itching and swelling at the same time. I immediately knew something was wrong. I gathered the bar of honey and went inside. By the time I got inside I couldn’t function to turn my cell phone on to call 911. I was totally incapacitated. In hindsight it is amazing to me that I was unable to do a simple task like turning on my phone and dialing 911. I had gotten certified on the use of the epi pen when I attended Bee College, and because I have had some pretty severe local reactions my Doctor ordered the epi pens for me. Never did I think that I would need them.
At some point I must have passed out. I think I might have had a little seizure as I remember shaking violently before I lost consciousness. I don’t know how long I was out? I don’t know if it was a minute, or several minutes. I know that when I woke up I again tried to call 911. Somehow I had enough cognitive function to dial my phone. The 911 operator stayed on the phone with me. She was very good but I still could not figure out how to open the epi pens. I was telling her I couldn’t see because I had many spots in front of my eyes. Finally I was able to open the pen and administered the epinephrine to myself. I am a nurse so it is mind boggling to me how I struggled to do this simple task. By the time the paramedics arrived I was feeling slightly better. During that conversation with 911 I was nauseous, and felt like I was going to pass out again. I was relieved to see the paramedics. My blood pressure was extremely low 80/60. This was an awful experience. They ended up taking me to the hospital because of the syncope episode, and my B/P being extremely low.
As a beekeeper I cannot stress enough how important it is to be prepared. How many times have you heard of the 30 year beekeeper getting stung and having an anaphylactic reaction. I am a new beekeeper and my local reactions have been pretty severe. Never did I really think that I would have a systemic reaction, but I did. I am so glad that I had the epi pens available. I also want to stress how severe my reaction was, so severe that I did not have enough cognitive function to manipulate my phone or epi pen. That I think is the scariest part of this whole experience. I am very grateful that I am ok and I woke up off the floor. I do have numerous bruises on my knees and butt and I think I must have hit my nose on the way down. It is swollen and I probably will have two black eyes in a day or so. My feet and hands are also pretty swollen from the bee stings. I will survive, and I’m very grateful and very lucky that I am ok.
Again I will ask; was this honey worth all these stings?? Yes!!
Remember I am not necessarily doing this for the honey, although I enjoy all the byproducts of beekeeping. I am doing this for the bees. After my bees settle down I may have to reevaluate my queen situation. Maybe I need to re-queen all my hives with a gentler Italian Queen. I feel that when I am in the hives I am calm and Zen like. This makes me question whether I’m just a terrible beekeeper. As a beekeeper I need to be able to do certain things while I am in the hive. My bees definitely react aggressively. Yesterday when all this happened I was very saddened to think that I may not be able to keep on beekeeping. My long distance mentor Kate, apparently had a similar incident happen to her after getting several stings many years ago. She also lost consciousness. She went through immunization therapy and now has very little reaction to her bees. I am hoping that I will be able to do the same. I would be very sad to give up my bees at this point. I plan on calling my physician and the allergist first thing Monday morning, and start desensitization therapy for bee venom as soon as possible. I also am going to order more protective gloves and boots so the bees can’t sting me.
Now for a little humor around this terrible experience, I am now going to start calling myself the” Sexy Beekeeper”. I decided yesterday that I wouldn’t wear anything but my bra and panties under my bee suit. It is so hot and humid in Miami right now and I sweat through all my clothes. Unfortunately I was not anticipating paramedics entering my house and me not being fully clothed. Many of you probably don’t know that I have a lot of animals. I have several dogs and I am a breeder of sugar gliders. When the paramedics arrived the dogs were barking very loudly. They asked if I was able to move to a quieter area. When they entered my bedroom there are 8 sugar glider cages in my room. They asked me if I was a recue. I said, “ no I breed sugar gliders and those were all my dogs.” They were probably thinking I was some crazy animal hoarder!
I need to find some humor in this terrible experience and have a little laugh. Any sense of privacy was definitely gone as I the “naked beekeeper” had to undress in front of these paramedics. Since I had also left my hives in limbo I had to go back into the hives later that evening to finish closing them up and finish the divide. Talk about getting back on the horse! What a crazy day! I am grateful to have survived!