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Chris Fordney - 'Tis the season of the wasp

By Chris Fordney -- Daily Columnist

It's August, when life slows down, people go on vacation, and those of us allergic to wasp stings begin several weeks of insect-induced paranoia.

This state of mind is not helped by such obituaries as that of skateboarding pioneer Andy Kessler, which came across the wire last week. He suffered a heart attack during an allergic reaction to a sting, one of about 100 Americans who die of that every year.

Late summer and early fall is yellow jacket season, of which I was reminded when one flew slowly past my nose as I sat at my computer at home last week. Then I spotted two more bobbing against a window.

Even for the nonallergic, these little devils can be dangerous. They're aggressive and can build nests in our work and living spaces, as I discovered last week.

Sometimes I think they can sniff out those who are allergic. In my first-grade class in 1962 at Kent Gardens Elementary School in McLean, we were all in a circle reading "Dick and Jane," I believe, when a yellow jacket flew slowly around our group, seeming to size up each one of us.

"Be still!" the teacher commanded as the wasp flew behind me and down the back of my shirt.

The teacher -- I think her name was Mrs. Dingbat -- then came up behind me and shook the back of my shirt.


Within a few minutes I got sick and the principal drove me to a doctor for a shot of adrenaline. With that, my parents learned I was allergic.

Eight years passed before another one got me on the foot as a friend and I cut across a golf course in Bethesda, Md.

I wouldn't wish anaphylaxis on anyone. You break out all over in unbearably itchy welts, your blood pressure crashes, you pass out and go into shock, and then you die -- all in as little as 20 minutes.

That time I got to the emergency room and they had just given me a form to fill out when I hit the passing-out stage. It took several shots and a week of recuperation before I looked and felt like a human again.

Since then I've carried EpiPens when hiking or out in the woods. It's a self-administered injection of adrenaline that can hold off the reaction until you can get to a hospital.

I suspected I might have a yellow jacket problem in my house last year, when I noticed a queen and a male clinging to a fluorescent light bulb in the basement as they mated. A well-placed shot with a large rubber band put an end to that romance with all the suddenness of a Predator strike on an al-Qaida wedding reception.

But another queen has been lurking somewhere else in the basement. After the encounter at my desk last week, I found about 30 small dead yellow jackets clustered around the basement door.

Within a few minutes I spotted yellow jackets swarming around a gap between the siding and foundation at the rear of the house.

That night, after they had settled down, I hit the gap with a good dose of hornet spray -- that stuff that goes out in a stream for 20 feet. The next morning, they were still swarming, so I didn't penetrate to the nest.

With that, prudence overcame my desire for revenge.

It was time to call an exterminator.


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