Surviving the sting

Russell Baker

October 18, 1990|By Russell Baker

PEOPLE keep writing to ask if I survived the bee sting reported here in August. The answer is yes, but these letters are troubling. Do my published columns since then read like something written by a deceased person?

I have just reread them all and admit, yes, there is a certain lifelessness in them. Still, practically all newspaper columns seem to be issuing from the grave, don't they? Have mine since August been deader than the national average?

Maybe. Ever since the bee sting, life has seemed hostile and leaden. Something bleak always seems on the verge of happening, and this sense of impending bleakness has settled into my marrow. It is bound to take the last ounce of life out of a literary form as moribund as the newspaper column.

The hostility that seems to threaten me appears to originate among nature's smaller life forms, as though the bee that administered the first sting may have been just a shock trooper in the first wave of some all-out assault by bugs which is being mounted against me.

Just 10 minutes ago, for instance, I saw a small wolf spider loping up my pants leg, apparently headed for the pocket where I keep small change. Flicking him off and into the trash basket in something close to panic, I hurried outside with the basket and dumped it.

Then to calm myself, I walked into the garden and saw, apparently floating free in the sunlight, level with my nose, a minute living creature. Close inspection disclosed another spider. This one was extremely small and apparently weightless, for it seemed to move through the air in defiance of gravity.

Amazingly, it started moving toward me with sinister determination. I turned and left briskly, relieved to discover that I could move faster than the weightless spider without having to run like a coward.

These bug events began with the bee sting, although, to be totally factual about it, I might have escaped the bee sting without evil results if I hadn't used bare fingernails in a messy and unsuccessful attempt to get the stinger out.

The 10-day supply of prescription drugs needed to prevent an onset of fatal blood poisoning was slightly cheaper than a weekend in Paris, which is the usual cost of prescription drugs. But of course there would be the soul-crushing months of paperwork and correspondence required before the health-insurance finaglers agreed to come across with their constantly diminishing share of the bill.

Blood poisoning is quick compared with the agony inflicted by the health-insurance industry. If the immediate post-bee-sting columns were especially lifeless, that was how I felt at the prospect of going to the mat with a vast bureaucracy determined to wring the life out of me for trying to collect what our contract obliged it to pay.

All right, the bee had failed in its mission. So had the bacteria from my fingernails. Though the health-insurance company looked as invincible as ever, all seemed not too sick with the world when I noticed this terrible mosquito bite, right there at the belt line.

It itched for two or three days, but when you are busy copying forms in quintuplicate for insurance finaglers, who has time for mosquito bites? I finally did and noticed a tiny black spot at the center of it. Examined under bifocals, this proved to be not a spot, but a living organism: a tiny, tiny tick.

In fact, a deer tick, infamous carrier of the Lyme disease spirochete. Of Lyme disease it is said that it will probably not be terminal or fatally crippling and may not even be annoying if you take action right away.

Action in the medical world these days usually means contributing to a bonanza for the prescription-drug industry. For some reason, though, the tick pills are delightfully cheap. A six-week supply costs less than a weekend in Asbury Park, N.J.

The price is so low that for the tick-bitten it's hardly worth the agony of trying to make the health-insurance people cough up.

Still they do something to the stomach, these pills, that make your other parts aware of their mortality. Can it be the pills, too, that create this sense that something out there, something capable of organizing bugs in malevolent schemes, is out to get you?

Stinging bee, biting deer tick, romping wolf spider, that strange little airborne spider out in the garden -- don't tell me it's paranoia. No jokes either about bugganoia. That bee sting could have been the first stage of -- OUCH!

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