I was listening to an interesting piece on NPR over lunch that reminded me of two things. The first is a useful piece of entomological information I think more people should know. The second is a period in my brother's life that I find just hilarious – even if that does make me sound evil.
First, the PSA*: If you ever go to the Dr. and are diagnosed with a Brown Recluse bite, get a second opinion. Brown Recluse bites are the go-to scapegoats for all manner of necrotizing wounds that Dr.'s can't explain. In reality, Brown Recluse spiders are very rare, and their bites are even more so. Brown Recluses are NOT common throughout the US. For instance, they do not live in Michigan, and they do not live in South Carolina. And in the states where they do live, they are hard to find. They are called the Brown RECLUSE for a reason.
The professor who was being interviewed on NPR pointed out that there is a list of over 95 causes for wounds commonly mis-attributed to Brow Recluse bites, and one Dr. even called in to say that medical training includes only about ½ hour of information on entomology (bugs), but that diagnosing something without another obvious cause as a Brown Recluse bite is not uncommon.
When in doubt, you can always contact your nearest USDA extension office, who will be more than happy to tell you about the prevalence of different kinds of spiders in your area, and will even identify specimens for you. Many, many common, harmless brown spiders are mistaken for Brown Recluses, which is probably a contributing factor to the myth of Brown Recluse bites being common.
Second, the story: Broken Boo. A few years ago, my little brother went through a really hard time in his life. And my family, never missing the opportunity to demonstrate our love for each other, still laughs about it today (much the way we still laugh about the time my mom got acid in her eyes at work and had to wear 2 eye patches for a few days – hilarious!).
I was in law school in NY at the time, when I got a call from my brother, who I think was around 20 then. He tells me he woke up that morning, and his arm didn't work. His hand was bent into kindof a claw, his wrist was bent down too, and his arm was completely useless. "What do you think I should do?" He asks me. Being the brilliant law student that I am at the time, I advise him to go to the figging Dr.
He goes to the Dr. He calls me back. "They think I might've had a stroke." This is where I try to stay calm and not scare him. Ahem. "They think what?"
"They think I might've had a stroke."
"Might have? Did they do any tests?"
"No. Should they have?"
Ultimately, he goes back to the Dr. a couple of times. They determine he DID NOT have a stroke (thank Heavens and all that is holy, that would NOT have been funny at all. I was sooooo worried about him for a few days. But then we found out it wasn't a stroke and I went back to taunting him). The Dr.'s can't figure out at all what's wrong with his arm or how to fix it. I believe they tried steroids and maybe something else, but, ultimately, nothing worked, and he was left with a gimpy, curled up arm.
A few days later, he called me again. "I think I have mono."
He lists off his symptoms, and, as someone who's had mono twice, it sure as heck sounds like mono to me. "Do you know anyone else who has mono?" Yes, a couple of his friends do. Great. He's gimpy and he has mono. I advise him to go to the Dr. Again.
He calls me back. Yep, it's mono. AND strep throat. And the antibiotics aren't doing much of anything for the strep. Yay. Poor kid. Mono, strep, and, still, a gimpy arm. (PI really, really hope no one is offended by my horrible use of the work gimpy, but it is the word I used whenever I talked to him, and the word my parents both used to describe is malady, so accurate storytelling mandates that I use that word).
Guess what happens a few days later?
You got it, another call from Boo. "I have this big painful sore on my shoulder. What do you think I should do?" After a battery of questions, including whether this is on the gimpy arm (no, it's not, it's on his "good" arm), I suggest, for the fourth time that month, that he go to the Dr.
And what does he relay back to me from the Dr.? "It's a Brown Recluse bite."
"No, it isn't," I flat out tell him. I'm starting to think your Dr. is an idiot. Brown Recluses don't even LIVE in Michigan. Ugh. But that's what the Dr. said. He also said it would heal on its own. Ugh! So I called one of my favorite Entomology professors from undergrad. This guy is awesome. Literally wrote the book on entomology in the Midwest. He agrees with me, it is very, very unlikely that Boo has a Brown Recluse bite. The professor also informs me that it is really common for Dr.'s to say Brown Recluse bite when they just don't know what it is.
Plus, I didn't want Boo to believe he'd been bitten by a spider. The kid is terrified of spiders (and ants) as it is. To a very humorous degree. We wanted SOOO badly to get one of those remote controlled tarantulas to have crawl up to him during our wedding just to get him to scream like a girl in front of all those people.
So I send Boo back to the Dr. It turns out he has a staph infection (or something of the sort, I don't remember exactly). He has infected skin on his "good" arm, a gimpy arm, mono, and strep throat. On the one hand, I felt so bad for him. On the other hand, it was just all too funny. My mom made fun of him constantly.
When I got home for MacGyvertmas that year, I found out why. While the staph, mono, and strep had cleared up, his arm was still screwed up. It had gotten significantly better, he had use of the arm, he just couldn't move his wrist and hand. The pictures are in the post below. Don't forget to look!
Moral of the story: Don't blame it on the bugs. Don't always take your Dr.'s word as infallible – especially if that word is "Brown Recluse." (Ok, so it's two words. Bite me).
* Not all, maybe not even a majority of this info is actually from the piece on NPR or from the USDA. I specialized in Entomology in undergrad and have always had a fascination with insects and other arthropods, so much of this is based on my own education and experience, which is still, I assure you, quite credible. But feel free to look it all up.
These are pictures from when we went to MI for Christmas the year Boo had the messed up arm. We surprised my mom by setting up and decorating her little Christmas Tree while she was asleep. Note Boo's gimpy, curled up wrist and hand. What you won't see in these is how many times I had to stop decorating because I was laughing so hard watching him try to hold things and maneuver his twisted hand. I'm giggling now just remembering it.
I know. I'm horrible. But it's even funnier now, because a couple months later, Boo woke up one morning and his hand was just better. Poof, no more twisting or paralysis. And it hasn't happened again since (for about 3 years). But that kid. He just has issues.
(Also, please note: Punky had no idea what we were laughing at. She knows better than to ever laugh at someone for a physical problem, and she knows it is NOT ok to make fun of anyone - even Uncle Boo - even though Mommy does - a lot. Let's just hope she doesn't think it's ok to make fun of her new little brother just based on the interesting relationship I have with mine ;-)