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My Turn: In the company of bees - if not quite happily

Now that the long days of summer are winding down, so are my chances of running into a bee. I used to be a real bee-phobe. I’d yell and run away from them (a trait I picked up from my mother). Now I calmly step away if one is buzzing around.

Basically I don’t trust them. People say just ignore them, and they won’t bother you. But I witnessed a yellow jacket land on my friend’s leg while she was sitting at the Planting Fields in Oyster Bay, and it stung her. She had done nothing to aggravate it. I would have been beside myself if that happened to me, but she didn’t let it bother her.

I have a long history with bees. When I was 6, I stepped on a wasp. After it stung me, my foot swelled up. My parents took me to the ER, where the nurse gave me a shot of Benadryl. A few years later I reached under a bush to grab a ball and got stung by a yellow jacket. This time my hand became red and swollen. Off to the ER we went. I was given another shot of Benadryl and told that I was allergic to bee stings.

It is two decades later, and I’ve kept a safe distance from all bees. One night my sister and I drove to New Jersey for an outdoor concert. Our seats were toward the back of a covered section. We arrived early, so there were a lot of empty seats. When we sat down, about 10 bees swarmed around us. I thought, there is no way I can sit here. So we got up and called an usher over. I told the usher that I was allergic to bee stings and that there were a bunch of bees buzzing around our seats. He said he would grab some spray to get rid of them.

About five minutes later, the usher returned. He sprayed bleach and water on the seats and floor. That only infuriated the bees. They kept flying around our seats and wouldn’t leave. So then I asked for the manager.

When he came by, we explained the situation to him. My sister piped in, saying I absolutely could not sit there because if I got stung I could go into anaphylactic shock. I guess he didn’t want to take any chances because he soon escorted us toward the front of the stage. Our new seats were fifth-row center. I couldn’t believe I was watching my favorite female songwriters up close at Lilith Fair. And all because of those darn bees.

Years later I had some sinus issues, so I decided to go to an allergist to see if I was allergic to something in my house. I even thought it could be my dog. The first thing the doctor asked me was if I had any allergies. So I told him that I was allergic to bee stings. Then he asked if I had ever been stung before. I said I was stung twice. The doctor proceeded to ask me a series of questions. Did my throat feel like it was closing after I got stung? No. Did my tongue or lips swell? No. Did I vomit afterward? No. Did I have shortness of breath, dizziness or hives? No. No. No. Then he told me I wasn’t allergic to bee stings. I was shocked.

The doctor explained that the redness and swelling that accompanied my bee stings were a normal reaction to the bee venom. The majority of my life I had been highly afraid of bees, mainly because a medical professional in the ER had told me that I was allergic to them. Then I’d gone for an allergy consultation and found out that I’m not allergic to bee stings after all.

Now that bees are not such a threat to me, I’ve found that I can coexist with them more easily. If I notice bees buzzing around, I just remove myself from the situation. I feel freer now — but I still don’t trust them.

Daria Hong,
Garden City

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