In an emergent situation, there are some people you just know that you don’t want to be around them. They are the type to panic, make poor choices and cause themselves or those around them further harm. I have done everything possible to NOT be this person- I am the type to read articles about how to handle getting lost in the woods (despite the fact I am not the person who would even visit the woods in the first place), how to handle emergency medical situations (when on my babysitting charges fractured their arm in my care I knew exactly the steps to take) or how to save someone’s life and not risk mine while swimming (thank you very much lifeguard Summers 2000-2004).
That said, I recently found myself in what we now know could have been a life or death situation, myself and my two year old daughter Penny were caught in a yellow jacket attack while playing on a playground in Dallas. Before it was over I stung over 23 times (some of my sting wounds appear to have multiple skin injuries) and Penny was stung eight times. My husband who was also there was stung twice and my oldest daughter, Evelyn, thankfully stayed away from the area we were attacked in and was not harmed physically though she is emotionally scarred from what she witnessed.
One of my literal thoughts while this was occurring was, “I have no idea what to do, I have never read on how to handle this situation.” The entire attack lasted no more than five minutes but the entire episode I felt completely out of control and had no idea what I should be doing. This is extremely far from what I normally feel during an emergency so not only was I left in pain, but I feel anger because I knew I could have handled it better.
I reached out for advice from one of my close friends from college who spent their entire academic career studying bugs for advice, my personal doctor and the United States Department of Agriculture’s website-I learned I did almost everything WRONG.
1. The first thing to know is where you might run into these types of nests. In our case it was landscaped grasses-tall grass that ran along the stone border of the playground. They can also nest in hollowed out tree openings or under roof awnings. Supposedly it is difficult to locate a nest, but if you see them flying in and out, that is a pretty good clue.
2. I know your instinct is to run, swat at them and yelp in pain because that is exactly what I did. Apparently yellow jackets become more agitated when you are running and swatting. I now realize that my swatting didn’t get them away from me, it only caused them to come after me further so fight those initial instincts and walk calmly and purposely away, shielding your face.
3. Try to find a safe place, indoors or in a car. In my situation I managed to get most of them off my daughter and literally threw her in the car. I knew that some had made it in there with her too but with the dozen or so buzzing around me I knew she would be safer there. This was one of the things I did correctly-experts say that instead of going after humans, trapped yellow jackets will attempt to find an exit near the windows.
4. At some point, I did manage to get all of them off me and jumped in the car with her, killing any that were flying in there with us. I was in excruciating pain but wanted to take care of my daughter. I held her checking her sting marks finding some stingers. While it is not characteristic of yellow jackets to leave stingers, it can happen especially if you have swatted them off. I made the mistake of pulling them out instead of scraping, this released more venom into her skin.
5. A typical human can take up to 10 stings per pound of body weight, the eight my daughter received was not considered life threatening. My doctor told me that had Penny been allergic she may not have had time to receive care. This has rocked me to my core emotionally because there was nothing I could have done to prevent this (beyond staying boarded up indoors, which believe me has crossed my mind). That said, within the hour she started to swell and break out in hives so we rushed her to the hospital. She was administered an epi-pen and the doctor said that while the amount of stings received wasn’t immediately life threatening, it was too much for her small body. Do not hesitate to go to the doctor if are in the least bit worried, a reaction can be delayed as it was with my daughter.
6. You will be in pain once the attack is over, more than you realize. I had my children drug free so I think of myself as having a high pain tolerance but this type of pain kept me in tears. I couldn’t lie down or rest my body because it hurt so badly, I did end up seeing a doctor the next day who gave me a shot of steroids and a prescription for them as well. The swelling and intense pain was gone within hours, so take my advice, even if it isn’t a life threatening situation, check in with your doctor!
The following day we called the City of Dallas and spoke with Parks and Recreation who were incredibly apologetic and horrified. They immediately left to treat the area. We don’t blame the city at all as they most likely did not know there was a problem but this could happen anywhere-nature is nature. While I hope you don’t ever experience this type of attack, if you ever find yourself in this situation, hopefully you will fare better than I did.