Whenever I mention that I got stung 22 times in one place, someone asks, “How did you do it?” as if it were a special skill of some sort. Truth to tell, it was quite easy.
It was a warm April morning that smelled of earthworms and spring onions. Stellar jays screamed at each other, flashing blue and hungry in the branches above. I was preparing a hive for section supers and I needed to consolidate two brood boxes into one. I chose a hive that was boiling with bees, removed the cover, and cracked loose the top box on all four sides. But when I lifted one end, I realized it was crazy heavy.
My can-do attitude gets me in trouble sometimes. Although I knew the box was way too heavy for me, I decided to move it anyway. I got a firm grip on the handholds, breathed in a fresh supply of oxygen, and move it I did. In fact, I had it nearly six inches from the hive before I realized I couldn’t sustain it. No way. No how. I couldn’t go forward and I couldn’t go back.
So, I dropped it. Actually, “drop” is too strong a word. I never let go while it made a rapid and uncontrolled descent to the ground, landing with a thud two inches from my left ankle. It’s hard to explain what happened next.
I don’t recall individual stings. Even before I managed to stand upright, my ankle was afire. It burned and throbbed as if immersed in a pail of boiling water. In the first few seconds, I couldn’t move. The pain felt like the time I fractured my leg into several irregular units. I stood there, immobile, while the bees continued to nail it.
Somehow, I finally found the wherewithal to move. I hobbled down the path toward home, grasping my ankle as I went. The heat bore through my sock and the leg of my jeans. I massaged the burning skin between steps, cussing the whole time. After I ran out of four-letter words, I began using the same one over and over.
Inside the house, I clasped my knee to my chest and rolled into a ball on the floor. When I finally took a peek, I couldn’t see individual welts because they all melded together into one pulsating coal bed. The choking scent of alarm pheromone rose from my clothes as a few errant bees continued to express their dislike for the whole dropping-the-nursery thing. It was only then that I discovered stings on my hands, wrist, knee. In fact, my clothes buzzed with displeasure.
Later, when the pain subsided, I sat on the floor and pulled stingers from my skin. I counted 22 in my ankle, and that’s the number I always use. But I had massaged and rubbed and scraped my leg so many times that I actually have no idea; it could have been 50 or 100 for all I know. And I never counted the miscellaneous ones on other body parts because, like crumbs from a sandwich, they didn’t seem to matter.
But I couldn’t sit around feeling sorry for myself because up on the hill the brood box was lying unattended in the grass, the hive was open, and hoards of unhappy bees were dipping and soaring in the April sunshine. I routed around in my closet and found woolly legwarmers left over from my skating days. I pulled these over my jeans and returned to care for my bees.
Now, many years later, I still wear those silly legwarmers when the conditions seem ripe. It’s all part of the “I love bees, but beekeeping not so much” attitude that I can never manage to shake.