March 10, 2020 (Tuesday)
The paramedics estimated that I had over one hundred bee stings on my head, face, neck, hands, and arms. And ears, nose, eyebrows and lips. There were so many that they were scraping the stingers off my body with a credit card. On a scale of one to ten, the pain was about a twelve!
I was in shock: dazed, bewildered, panicked, and screaming in pain.
But, like most stories of human experience, this is a story of the grace of God.
When it happened: it was Tuesday morning, March 10, at 11:10 a.m., and I had just returned from my post-back surgery consultation with the neurologist Dr. G. Alexander West. On January 16, Dr. West had performed a micro-laminectomy and fusion on my lower back. Recovery was going well, and he cleared me to return to normal activities. Little did I know then that “normal” would only last an hour or so. Not only did the “bee event” happen – this was also the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic.
Where it happened: our neighborhood is a small quiet enclave of one-story patio homes. We live on the west side of our street, Sandsage Lane, which is a long row of homes that back up to the seventh hole of the Meadowbrook Farms golf course, a beautiful par five dogleg-right hole. There is a very large sand trap right behind our house. Because our homes are on the golf course, we have open black wrought iron fences, instead of the more conventional cedar wood fences common to most homes in this area. We have great views of the course. We also have a gate from our backyard onto the course, one of the few gates along the fence line.
The Cast of Characters
Facing the golf course, Michelle and her husband Ron live in the house to the right of us. They have been our neighbors for many years. They are Canadians and are both in their fifties. Michelle is a green environmentalist who does not like chemicals in her garden, either as fertilizer or bug spray. She loves bees because of their vital role in pollinating the plants of the world. Because there is so much information out there about the endangerment of bees, Michelle is especially sensitive about protecting them.
Michelle and Ron have a pool in their backyard. They are very good neighbors, and we like them very much. Michelle is a kind, generous, and caring woman.
We didn’t know his name at first, so he will be referred to as the Golf Course Worker.
As you stand at our fence, facing the golf course, Colin lives three houses to the left of us. Colin is a white-haired retired oil industry executive of Irish or Scottish descent who just happened to be in his backyard as this story began to unfold.
Suzi is my wife of forty-four years of marriage. She is my sweetheart, my yoked-in-Christ partner who is also very allergic to bees.
Layne is the General Manager and Head Pro at the golf club. He is an old friend, even though we do not interact much anymore due to my back issues that have prevented me from playing golf for several years. We are like-minded Facebook friends and frequently share quips, grandkid stories, and political commentary.
I had been home from my doctor visit for an hour or so and was headed for the front door to join some of my neighborhood friends for our weekly “Sandsage Sages” lunch.
Suzi called out to me that there was something wrong with the Golf Course Worker. He had been driving a large mowing tractor back and forth along our fence line. He apparently stopped his tractor right between our house and Michelle’s. This man had jumped off the tractor and was running around screaming and waving his arms wildly.
I walked out to the fence at the gate to see what was going on. I looked down the fence line to the left and saw him standing and talking to my other neighbor Colin, who was in his backyard.
I unlocked the gate, stepped out onto the course and started walking down to talk with the two men. As I stepped onto the course, I became aware of a loud buzzing sound around my head. At first, I thought it was an insect of some kind and tried to swat it away. In an instant I was attacked by a large swarm of angry bees all over my head and I started to feel the pain of the stings.
I panicked, thinking I could run away from them, and ran out past the sand trap. They came with me, and the noise and pain intensified.
The bees were stinging the top of my head. They were in my ears, on my face, on my eyebrows, and even on my lips. As I tried to fight them off, they fought back, counterattacking my hands and arms. I was wearing my white Duke Blue Devil Family shirt and I tore it off trying to beat them off with it.
Later when Suzi took that shirt to the washing machine, she said dead bee bodies were falling out of it.
I staggered, then fell into a fetal position, barely able to move and feeling intense pain. It was at that point that I heard Michelle’s voice saying, “Stan, Stan, get up and come with me.”
By now, I was in a hazy state of shock and was surprised to know that Michelle was there. I didn’t know where she had come from or why she was there.
Michelle Had Warned Joseph the Golf Course Worker
Here’s how that happened. She had heard the tractor driving back and forth along the fence. Realizing that there were bees in a tree in her own backyard, she had gone out to warn Joseph, the Golf Course Worker. By then, he had dismounted the tractor and, having seen Colin out in his yard on the last pass with the tractor, had headed there.
But then, some of the bees began to attack Michelle as well and were swarming and stinging her. She was talking on her cellphone with her business partner, who told her to go jump in her pool and call 911 – which she did. Soon, she jumped out of the pool and ran through her house out the front door.
Her husband Ron was in his office on a business call and had no idea what was happening.
Michelle then ran through our backyard telling Suzi what was happening. Michelle continued to run through the gate and turned left, knowing that Joseph was there with Colin. She did not know I was out on the course. In the meantime, Suzi had taken our dogs into the house and picked up a towel, planning to come out and rescue me.
By now Michelle had heard me out on the course. Therefore, she came the seventy yards or so with her own towel to save me. She has a vivid recollection that, while we were on the course being attacked, there was a beautiful butterfly flitting over us. The bees attacked that butterfly and destroyed the beautiful creature in seconds.
Michelle had somehow got me to my feet, and we were staggering toward the others. When we were a few feet away, I’m told Joseph actually hoisted me up by my belt and dragged me the rest of the way. I’m not sure if Colin had been watering, but by the time we got to his house, he had his hose on and was literally washing the angry bees off of us.
The Four of Us
So, there we were: the four of us. Three bee sting victims and a wise-eyed Colin, hosing us down and unsure as to how he got there himself. I am pretty certain I was in shock: partly from the pain, but also from the anaphylactic shock due to all that bee venom. My body was in full response to that.
The EMTs arrived almost immediately. I learned later that there were three teams and three ambulances. They had to find a way over Colin’s fence to us on the other side. (He didn’t have a gate.)
I’m not sure how the EMTs got over, but I have a clear memory of a red-headed medic kneeling next to me, giving me assurance, and competently administering aid. He said they would start with me among the victims, partly due to my age, but also because he thought I had the most stings.
The medic estimated over one hundred of them: a potentially lethal dose for someone over eighty years old.
I remember him scraping the stingers off my arms, hands, ears, eyebrows, and lips – with a credit card.
He immediately injected an EpiPen in my thigh thereafter. The man gave me an injection of Benadryl, then inserted an IV so that I would be prepped for the Emergency Room during the journey. The IV gave me steroids, more Benadryl, another antihistamine, and most importantly for me, a morphine drip for the pain.
Getting Into the Ambulances
The next challenge for the EMTs was getting us off the golf course and into the ambulances for the trip to the hospital. Colin had no gate and the nearest one was at our house. The EMTs went to take a look but came back immediately. There were still too many angry bees swarming there.
So they did what they had to do. They went to their well-equipped ambulance and returned with a saw to cut out a section of poor Colin’s fence. Then in came the gurneys, and we were promptly rolled out to the street and into the ambulances. Less than ten minutes later, we were in the Emergency Room at Memorial Hermann Katy Hospital – what a fantastic place staffed by fantastic people!
Because of my circumstances, I went straight into an examining/treatment room. Michelle, Joseph, and the golf course worker had to stay a while on their gurneys in the hall.
As for me, I got my morphine drip and fifteen to twenty minutes later, the intense pain started to lessen a bit.
It was the first day of the coronavirus, March 10, 2020, and the hospital had just initiated their screening protocols. So, Suzi and Ron (Michelle’s husband) had to go through screening, but eventually were able to come to us.
Four Hours of Observation at Memorial Hermann Katy Hospital
Michelle and Ron came into the room I was in, and Joseph the golf course worker stayed in the hall for a while. He was later admitted for an overnight stay at the hospital.
Michelle and Joseph got very sick and threw up, but that didn’t happen to me.
Michelle and I were kept for four hours of observation and then discharged with prescriptions for EpiPens, steroids, and two types of antihistamines. As one of the consequences of this experience, we were counseled a couple of times by hospital personnel that we were now highly sensitized to bee stings and should carry an EpiPen and Benadryl at all times. I was told that if I were ever stung again, even once, I should self-inject and call 911. Our bodies would react to one sting as if it was a hundred, and the danger of anaphylactic shock would be very real.
That night Michelle called professionals to come and remove the bees. It took a little longer than expected because the bees continued to be agitated until after 8 o’clock that night.
What a story! Real-life drama – full of surprise, shock, pain, fear, heroism, and most of all, GRACE!
Michelle was so full of remorse throughout this event. She had known that the bees were in her tree for some time and liked that. She had thought she was providing safe harbor for them, without fully realizing the danger that posed to her neighbors.
I knew the burden she was carrying about this and went to see her the next morning. She was so full of emotion: relief, pain, fear, and a heavy burden of guilt. I told her that there was grace in this story; she had seen what happened and learned the hard lesson.
I told her that we are Christ followers and, as such, are forgiving people. I wanted to help lift that burden from her, much as Jesus lifted those heavy burdens from us.
Notes of Grace
There are so many notes of Grace in this story.
- The fact that Colin was in his backyard and that Joseph had seen him. Because of that hose and the washing off of bees that came with it, lives were probably saved. Since I’ve started to tell this story, I have heard several times of people having died from those lethal stings.
- Suzi was headed out to the course to save me. She has a serious allergy to bee stings and, without Michelle arriving at the scene first, there could have been a bad outcome for sweet Suzi Q.
- While the EMT was administering to me, he said this, “I love bees. They are my favorite animals on the planet. Without them to pollinate the earth, we would not be able to eat the way we do. They just don’t belong in your backyard.” I am unsure as to where Michelle was at that moment, but I do sense the medic was talking to her.
- The fact that Michelle, when she heard me out on the course, possessed the courage and compassion to come and get me and drag me to the hose, in spite of the ongoing attacks on her.
The following day I drove over to the golf course clubhouse. I really felt a need to lay my eyes on Joseph, whose presence during the event was a dim blur to me. After all he was the man, I went to check on at the outset – and the man, I was to learn, who had picked me up by the belt and got me the rest of the way to the water hose.
I found that Joseph was taking a couple of days off and that his boss, my friend Layne, was out on the course. The clubhouse called Layne and he came in to see me.
It was nice to see each other and share the bee drama. But then the conversation took an even more pleasant turn. Layne told me that he thought of me often. For many years, a core concept of my Leadership Coaching practice was the essence of Mastery. In fact, my business name was The Mastery Group. Several years ago, Layne had invited me to come over and share these principles with his staff.
- Layne told me that he had adopted these concepts and integrated them into his work and life. He was grateful. This is – for a Master/Coach/Teacher – the greatest reward: to see the seed you planted bearing fruit in others. This is grace. I was led by bees back to a reconnect with Layne.
- I told Layne that one of the greatest motivations for my back surgery was to be able to play some golf again. He was very encouraging and offered to introduce me to other golfers in their eighties who would welcome me to enjoy the game with them. This too is grace!
- A couple of days later, when Joseph had returned to work, Layne brought him by the house. We stood by the gate and shared our stories. It was part of a healing. This is also how grace
- I see Colin almost every day out in front of his house. I told him that I will never see him in the same way again. This is grace.
- Suzi, Michelle, Joseph, and I have experienced a real ordeal together and survived. We are closer because of it. This is grace.
James, in his exhortations to the early followers of Christ put it this way, “Count it all as joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faithfulness produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.” (James 1:2)
Steadfastness. Perfect and amazing grace!