October 15, 2014 – To Bee
I don't often write about having rheumatoid arthritis. When I think about it I feel like saying as Jennifer Aniston’s character in Office Space said, “I don't really like talking about my flair.” So I wear RA the same way she wore those buttons-- without wanting to acknowledge them. But not wanting to talk about it doesn't mean that those obnoxious buttons aren’t there, that arthritis isn’t there.
RA is a thing, a disease, a disorder I've lived with for the last eight years. Right or wrong, I’ve treated myself with a variety of natural solutions and sometimes high doses of ibuprofen. The past two years have been especially hard. My old natural tricks no longer worked to curb the chronic inflammation and pain. Weather, stress, food, and the wear and tear of life affected me in ways that were hard to predict and avoid. As each day dawned, the background noise of pain was already risen to a fever pitch. Each night I fell asleep to some varied degree of hurt. I swallowed over-the-counter painkillers when I woke up and before I went to bed to take the edge off, to be able to function.
One day, my Nashvillian friend Sarah asks me, “What are you going to do?” What am I going to do about the pain? What am I going to do about the inflammation? What am I going to do about my future? What am I going to do if things just get worse? What will happen if my joints fuse and I can no longer use my hands?
What am I going to do?
It’s a question I've been putting off answering. There seemed to be too many insurmountable considerations: health insurance, money, paperwork, checkups, doctor visits, x-rays, blood work, a life of medical surveillance, and the idea that if I really thought about it I’d have to finally move past denial and get on the hard-core RA drugs like a sensible person. I’d have to admit I was a person with a disease. Now Sarah's question forces me into a reality check. However uncomfortable, I needed that push. I realize 1. No one should live with this kind of pain, and 2. To not get relief-- traditional medicine or otherwise-- is foolish.
On the strength of that impetus, I begin to call rheumatology offices, hoping to bypass what I feel are unnecessary steps and get in straight to see a specialist. To no avail. Over and over I am told the same thing, that I’ll have to get a referral from a general practitioner. I'll have to start from the beginning.
A handful of calls later, I phone my mom to vent my frustration.
“What about bees?” she asks. We’ve talked about bees before. Several times. I’d even tried to find an apitherapist in Dallas at the beginning of the year with no luck. My grandfather, her father had cured his gout by being stung by bees when he was a beekeeper in the 1980s. If it worked for one inflammatory problem why not another?
I query the Internet for Nashville apitherapists. The search yields no results but gives a list of naturopaths and chiropractors. Carried on by this whim, I begin calling them. Most of the receptionists have never heard of bee venom therapy. But then I get one who offers me a tidbit of hope. “I don't know,” she tells me. “The doctor is with a patient right now but I'll ask him if he does that.” She takes down my number and promises a call back.
Hours later my phone rings. It’s the doctor himself. “How did you find out that I do bee sting therapy?” he asks.
I explain my internet search.
“I helped my friend heal bursitis in his shoulder,” the doctor reminisces. “Back when I had my own hives.”
“Do you still do sting therapy?” I ask.
“I know someone who has a few hives. We could drive there from my office and get you some stings.”
We talk cost and then I schedule an appointment for the next morning. Sarah is able to loan me her car so it’s all set. I’m excited. I’m nervous. I feel bad for the bees.
The next day, I arrive early to the doctor’s office. He’s sitting at the reception desk making phone calls trying to find a specific bottle opener to buy as a wedding present. He’s having about as much luck as I was trying to get in to see a rheumatologist without a referral.
“Are you the high school student?” he asks me when he hangs up the phone.
“Um. No. I’m here for the bee sting therapy.”
“Oh, right,” he says. “I thought you were the girl here to follow Mark around.”
“No…,” I say, trailing off.
“I’ve got to find this opener,” he tells me. “It’s for a wedding. I thought I’d ordered it, but it says it’s on back order.”
“I know I’m here a little early,” I say. “I can wait.”
Twenty minutes and ten phone calls later, he gets up, grabs his keys, and we head out to the car.
The bee hives are at a walking park five minutes away. The hives are just off the path in the grass with a backdrop of shrubbery and trees, just around the bend from the parking lot.
“You wait here,” the doctor tells me, “and I’ll bring the bees over to you.”
I stand back, about twelve feet away, and wait as I’ve been told. The doctor kneels next to a hive and tries to capture a bee. Finally, he succeeds and brings the bee to where I am. I hold out my right hand and he places it on my skin and the bee stings me.
“Thank you, little bee,” I whisper. “I’m sorry.”
Three more bees, three more stings. Two total for each hand.
We go back to the car and drive to the office. “It was really nice to be around the bees again,” the doctor says. “They have such a good energy.” He tells me a story about a friend of his who was an animal whisperer who’d whispered to his bees. The bees told the whisperer that they wished the doctor wouldn’t work on their hives in the hottest part of the afternoon, it made too much work for them to have to clean up. I listen to the story while I’m watching my hands, while I’m trying to evaluate how my body is responding to the venom. I’m not going into anaphylactic shock. I’m okay.
“How did you find out I did bee sting therapy?” the doctor asks again as he pulls into the office parking lot.
I’m beginning to think he’s a space cadet. I shrug to myself. So long as he will administer the stings, I can deal with that. “I did an internet search and your name came up.”
“Oh,” he says, nodding.
He keeps me at the office for twenty minutes to make sure I don’t have an adverse reaction and, when I don’t, I pay for the session and drive back to the house.
That evening the doctor calls to check up on me. He’s rambling some, but the gist of the conversation is that he’s not sure bee venom therapy is covered under his chiropractic care umbrella, he’s found a supplement that he thinks will help me, and that I should eat a mostly raw food diet. He takes the time to list all the ingredients he’d put in his own breakfast smoothie that very morning and which would be good for me to incorporate into my diet.
The euphoria brought on by the mellitin and the apamin in the venom has worn off. This was a one time deal, I think with disappointment. It did feel a little too good to be true.
I’ve been down the supplement path before. I’ve been down the raw food path, too. I wanted the bee venom cure. I take a deep breath and let it out with deliberation. I’ll have to start over again in the morning. Rheumatologists. Health care assistance. General Practitioners. Drugs.
I get in bed and pull the covers up over my shoulders. Wounded and sad, I cry for the pain in the world. I cry for the circle of life. I cry a little for myself. And I cry for the bees.