Wednesday, June 10, 2015

The Stings That Linger

I dab the Neosporin gingerly onto my bicep. Eight days after my initial encounter with our backyard Tracker Jackers, the five hornet stings are long gone, as is the shortness of breath, the hives, all the consequences of my clash with the insect world remain only in words and memories, the fodder for amusing stories at parties.

In fact, everything the hornets did to me was gone less than a day later. Given the right drugs, medical attention, and rest, even a moderately allergic body can recover from a losing battle with venom, and with surprising efficiency. The poison entered, and it ran its course, and it was gone.

The lesser scrape and burn area on my left forearm, while sensitive and red and in the itchy phase of healing, will soon be gone from sight. My bicep, on the other hand, might scar.

That bicep is the “ooh/ew what happened” conversation starter. Whether I have it covered by a large bandage or leave it to air out, it catches the eye of friends and acquaintances. I joke that it’s my trial run at a cool tattoo. (And seriously, that wound makes my muscles look totes bigger!)

It will heal slowly. The injury is in a sensitive spot, right where a T-shirt or short sleeves can rub against it. The pus has left ick-inducing stains on several shirts that I’m optimistic will wash off.

Stuck more than 20 feet in the air and under assault, that secondary injury is the result of my escape plan. It was, in the heat of the moment, my best of many bad options. Had I jumped, I might have sprained or broken something, possibly worse. Had I descended more carefully, more stings were certain.

The primary crisis, the Attack of the Hornets, is the centerpiece of the story. But it is the secondary injury, the wounds stemming from my escape efforts, that will linger and, if scarring comes, be a permanent part of my bodily record. The unintended consequences of trying to get away from the initial problem has become the bigger pain.

To be sure, I could have avoided all of the pain had I been more mindful of that tree house in the first place. Had I approached the structure more warily, more thoughtfully, neither the primary nor secondary injuries occur. But I had this fun idea in my head, and I didn’t much think that nature would dare interfere with my vision of how things ought to play out.

Once in the middle of a mess, there’s no easy way out. Any escape will include pain, or injury, or both. And it’s those injuries, not the primary stings and venoms, that will hurt worse, heal more slowly, and, quite possibly, scar us.

In most great science fiction and thriller films, the attention often goes to the supernatural creatures, the freaks of nature. The alien or the zombie. The invasion of some species or the threat of extinction. But the real antagonist, in the best films, is not the external threat but the human one. It’s our brother or sister. Our friend or colleague. Or the person looking back at us in a mirror.

The hornets didn’t do this to me.

You do it to yourself, it's true
and that's what really hurts.

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