What does it feel like to be bitten by a black widow spider?
was a sunny Sunday morning in the summertime of 2006 in Redwood City,
California, and the Mrs. was back East with her gal pals for a weekend
of recharging her batteries and reconnecting with old friends.
was holding down the fort with the munchkins (boys 4 and 1 3/4), and in
the interest of creating a morning diversion, we began to make
preparations for a walk in the local hills. Sunscreen on, snacks
loaded, water filled, stroller out - you know the drill.
grabbed a pair of old shoes from the garage, and hastily threw them on
over my bare feet, and continued my charge around the house to build
momentum to get out the door. About a minute later, I realized that
there was some wiggling in the toes of my right shoe, and just as I was
about to take my shoe off, I felt a ***** on my 2nd toe - not painful,
but a bit annoying.
I took my shoe off on the outside steps, and
dumped it out, discovering a jet black inky spider with a body the size
of an engorged pea. I instructed my son to grab his bug-catcher which
was conveniently nearby, and I dumped the spider into the clear
container for inspection.
Imagine my horror when I rotated the
container and got a glimpse of a distinct reddish/brown hourglass figure
on the belly of the black black spider. OK, I reasoned, I'd lived in
those parts for the better part of nearly 4 decades, and I'd NEVER heard
of anyone seeing (let alone getting bit by) a black widow spider, so
presumably this is just a copy-cat spider that is harmless.
Well, I suppose before heading out for a walk, I ought to be safe and call the urgent care and see what they think.
being reassured that there was "no way" I had been bitten by a black
widow, the attending physician confessed that she was looking at
information on Google (!!!) and started to ask me questions about what
it looked like.
After 20 minutes on the phone (with the boys
starting to melt down), and getting on the Internet myself, I began to
experience my first tell-tale symptom -- a slight cramping in my lower
At this point, the doctor changed position entirely, and strongly recommended that I get medical attention immediately.
OK, kids, time to pile into the wagon. We're heading to the ER.
minutes later, I walked through the doors at the ER at Sequoia Hospital
in Redwood City, CA, with holding the hands of my two boys, along with
the bug catcher.
"30 minutes ago, THIS spider, bit me on THIS toe, and now THIS leg is cramping."
otherwise bored doctors and nurses who were numbed by their predictable
flow flow of blunt trauma, heart palpitations, and other mundane dramas
rapidly appeared out of the woodworks and collectively shouted a big
"Yah!!!". This, they thought, was soooo cool.
and bringing in the actual spider was by far the smartest thing I did
all day, as it brought me instant celebrity and credibility, as the bite
itself was completely and somewhat disappointingly unremarkable.
was delicately but firmly suggested that I make some phone calls and
line up some child-care, as soon I'd be all jacked up full of morphine
and other things that would make me a less-than effective father.
was able to get ahold of my neighbor friends, who gamely dropped what
they were doing, and came to pick up my boys. We had a long discussion
about how to orchestrate the movement of cars and carseats, including me
driving their car home, which was completely naive given how F-d up I
was about to become.
By now the cramping had migrated into my
groin area, and I was beginning to wonder what was in store. I was told
that an anti-venom does indeed exist, but it's kept in Arizona, and is
highly toxic in and of itself, so they don't fly that in unless I was
otherwise at risk (toddler, elderly, poor immune system). So, my fate
was to get jacked up on opiates and survive the onslaught of the
neurotoxin from the spider which would otherwise cause tremendous pain
and cramping for the next 6 hours.
At this point I texted (SMS)
my wife (who was on her way to the airport to come home from Boston):
"Hey there. I'm in the ER. Got bitten by a black widow. Love ya." So
much for a relaxing end to her fun getaway.
Several hours of
mental bliss later, I was discharged from the ER, and picked up by my
Dad, who took me to the pharmacy to pick up my meds (vicodin for pain,
muscle relaxants). I was slurring words, and otherwise out of it, and
happy to get home to relax.
The next 48 hours were literally a
blur. I barely remember any of that time, and mentally, lost track of
days and hours. It freaked my wife out when I said I thought my Mom had
spent the night so I guess I was hallucinating. We assumed at the
time, that the meds were the culprit, but now later, we're pretty sure
the delerium was a byproduct of the neurotoxins.
literature suggests that recovery happens within 3 to 5 days. Nights 3
and 4 and 5 were complete disasters for me. For some completely unknown
reason, I was sweating profusely at night. As in, literally soaking
through my sheets and changing my sheets 3 times on one night and twice
the next. Wet, not damp.
Specifically, I was leaking sweat out
of my legs. I'd wipe them off, and they'd bead up immediately. It was
freaky, to say the least.
Also, I was having trouble
concentrating, or being coherent for up to 5 days. Sleep was next to
impossible, and I was getting worn down. I later learned my wife was
doing her own Google searches to see what the risks were of permanent
brain damage. And, I think my life insurance was promptly renewed
The doctors switched me over from vicodin to
valium (one makes the pain go away, one makes you not care about the
pain). Finally, I got a decent night sleep on Thursday, and a good one
on Friday. I awoke on Saturday morning (Day 6) feeling like a human
being for the first time, and proceeded to clean the garage like a
Upon further inspection of my shoe in question, I
discovered that the spider was harboring an egg sac inside my shoe.
How rude of me to put my foot in there. She was actually quite
restrained in waiting so long to bite me, and it turns out that these
deadly creatures are incredibly passive. This is why it's so rare that a
bite happens, as in fact, I discovered, these spiders are everywhere in
the area where I was living.
If this happens to you, hang in there, and ride it out. You will get better, but it takes some time.