I’m Not the Only Recluse

The Brown Recluse spider is best identified by the shape of a violin on its back. It is a rather small spider, about the size of a dime. Its personality is reclusive, preferring to hide in wood piles, dark places, closets, boxes. A lot like me, although I don’t hide in those places, I don’t mind being left alone. While small, it’s venom is as poisonous to one’s tissue as a Black Widow’s is to the nervous system.

When I was 25 years old I was bitten by a brown recluse. I don’t know when it happened although they say the actual bite itself is rather painful, I didn’t notice it. At the time, I worked in a warehouse where it was common to have spiders. I had also returned that day from a trip to the back woods of Minnesota where I stayed in an old farm house that had been empty for quite some time. It could have happened at either place. They tell me the effects of the bite happen pretty quickly so I knew I had been bitten within about a twelve hour window.

I first noticed it that evening after my first day back to work. I had been to a baseball game after work and once I got home I noticed a bite on my foot that I thought was a mosquito bite, but instead of itching it hurt. I went to bed that night with just a slight bump on the top of my right foot and woke up around 3:00 AM with a huge, black hole about the size of a quarter. It would eventually grow to the size of a half dollar. It looked like a bullet hole. The brown recluse’s venom eats, dissolves, and rots tissue.

I went to the doctor in the morning as soon as they opened and my doctor explained I’d been bitten by a brown recluse. I tend to be overly sensitive to bugs and even a mosquito bite swells up like a softball on me and ends up blistering and oozing. My doctor gave me medication, told me to go home with instructions to call him the next morning if it was any worse.

Oh my gosh, worse the next day? Was I ever worse. The bite was darker black, bigger, swollen, and looked like my foot was rotting. The pain was terrible and I couldn’t put any weight on my foot. I called Dr. Hammond and he arranged for me to go immediately to see a local dermatologist who also specialized in poisonous spider bites. A friend took me to her office and upon seeing me, Dr. Westmoreland called EMS to transport me to the hospital. She informed me that in addition to the venom being poisonous, I was also allergic to it.

I spent the next five days in the hospital while my foot swelled to the size of a football. It was painful to the touch. I remember one night a nurse came in while I slept and tried to cover me with a sheet and I almost came out of the bed. I would have, had my foot allowed me to. I wasn’t lucky enough to have a private room, so I shared space with a very old lady who moaned and groaned all night, every night, that she was dying. She had a portable potty beside her bed and sat on it most of the time, smelling up the room. It’s a close call but she was almost as bad as the spider bite.

I was put on antibiotics and received shots in my stomach multiple times daily. After five days I was discharged home in terrible condition. I had been waiting for a job offer from Lockheed. I really wanted the job and they called to offer it to me while I was in the hospital. I explained my situation and they were kind enough to hold the position for me until I could come to work. In case anyone is wondering, Lockheed is a wonderful company to work for. I digress. Back to my discharge condition. I went home unable to walk. I had a two year old I had sole responsibility of and no family within 3000 miles to help me. I was in terrible pain. I had to move around the house with my bottom on the floor and my leg extended straight in front of me while scooting myself with my hands. If I elevated myself at all, the blood going to my foot increased the pain to the point of being unbearable so I couldn’t even get on the couch. I slept on the floor and stayed on the floor for a few weeks. Needless to say, I peed as infrequently as possible.

My foot was huge. Bigger than I would have imagined it could stretch. After a year, the swelling would go down some while I slept, but swell right back up once I got on my feet in the morning. I had to go see the specialist regularly for a year and was on antibiotics for about ten months. They tried me on a medication called Dapsone, which it typically used for leprosy, but I didn’t react to it well and it made me feel like bugs were crawling all over me so that was discontinued. Each time I saw the doctor she would peel the scab off of the bite and clip a sample of the tender skin beneath the scab to run tests on it. My skin peeled in huge thick sheets all the way from my foot to my hip. It stayed swollen for about five or more years. Slowly it would ease up at night while I slept but balloon back up in the morning when I was up and on my feet again. It turned all shades of purple, pink, green, blue, black.

Years later I still had what looked like a bruise on the top of my foot and a scar from the “bullet hole.” However I disturbed that spider, it meant business with me. When they say don’t disturb a brown recluse, they mean it. They are recluses for a reason. I guess it didn’t realize or care that we had a lot in common. At least I’m a nicer recluse.

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