Last May I related in this column my numerous and colorful encounters with scorpions (such as discovering them on my bath towel or inside my pajamas), adding, happily, that after 32 years of living, hiking and camping in Mexico I had never been stung by a scorpion.
Now I can report that, at last, I have joined the ranks of The Stung and can describe the symptoms, in case you someday happen to experience something similar and wonder what manner of creature got you.
My story begins just where I am right now, sitting at the computer. It was 4 p.m. Suddenly I felt something like a pin prick on top of my right knee. I stood up, shook my leg and saw nothing. “OK, whatever it is must be inside my pants,” I concluded, taking them off and turning them inside out, but nothing, neither ant, spider, centipede or scorpion did I see. My knee looked normal. There was no obvious puncture wound, no swelling or discoloration, but it was now sensitive to touch and slightly painful in some spots.
At 8 p.m. I began to feel strange things in my mouth. The tip of my tongue was tingling wildly! I drank water and the inside of my throat felt very strange, as if it were coated with crumpled cellophane. An hour later even my teeth seemed to be tingling. I took a very light antihistamine called Loratadina and went to bed. Although my knee now felt somewhat painful, I slept.
The next morning, I felt no more pain in my knee, but immediately upon walking, I began to feel a combination of “pins and needles” and numbness in my fingers and toes. While eating breakfast I noticed that all food and liquid began to taste salty, even yogurt. The tingling/numbness grew worse with every hour and I went to a small-town doctor who gave me an injection of Avapena, a very strong antihistamine.
This didn’t help too much, but I discovered that sitting in the warm sun (or crawling under a stack of blankets) took away the tingling. After four days my tongue went back to normal and after a week I felt no more pins and needles.
I still had no idea what bug had done me in until a friend told me her husband Miguel had had exactly the same symptoms as mine after being stung by a small brown scorpion. He had not only seen the scorpion, he also ate it, following an old custom. Apparently that didn’t do him a lot of good, as he still had tingling fingers and toes a month later.
While Miguel and I had identical symptoms, a check of some 50 internet reports of stings by the Arizona Bark Scorpion left me with the impression that people react very differently to the venom of the very same scorpion. For example, here’s the unforgettable story of my friend Paul King’s experience.
Paul had rented an apartment in Uruapan and had been walking around in it wearing sandals. He stepped outside and put on his shoes, which had been propped up against the wall. “I began walking towards my car,” says Paul, “when I got a really sharp prick in my foot. Then I took another step, but more gently this time and again felt a prick and this happened three or four times as I walked toward the car and I thought there must be a tack or nail or something in my shoe, but because it was dark, I kept my shoe on until I got to the car, which was packed with people.”
As he entered the car, Paul told his family and friends, “I’ve got a nail in my shoe,” and took his shoe off. “I put my hand inside to feel for the nail,” he says, “and what comes crawling out onto my wrist but a scorpion! Well, someone in the car shouted alacran! and within less than a second, I was the only one in the car. Then I shook the scorpion off and killed it with my shoe.
“(The pain) came in waves. It would begin in my foot and each time went higher up my leg until it was reaching the top of my thigh. We didn’t know where the local hospital was, so we sent off our daughter and friends by taxi and got another taxi to guide us to it. Naturally, the taxi driver took a very circuitous route, but finally we arrived at the hospital.”
It was a Saturday night, says Paul, and there were long queues. He got into the line reserved for Piquetes de Alacrán (Scorpion Stings) and found numerous other people with same problem as his. “The first thing I told was that the pain was intense. He told me if it really was a scorpion sting, the pain would last all week. What he didn’t tell me is you can treat it with painkillers. Instead he said I had to wait and see if the stings I had received would interact with my nervous system, like my mouth drying out or something. So we all waited there to see what reaction I would get and after an hour and a half I started showing symptoms that it was indeed reacting with my nervous system and only then did he give me the antidote injection and a prescription for painkillers, which helped a lot. Still, my foot kept throbbing for days afterwards.”
Should you receive a painful sting, try to capture the creature and take it with you to the hospital. This makes it far easier for the doctor to decide which anti-venom is the right one and whether or not to give it to you. Mexico reports around 300,000 scorpion stings per year (You can imagine how many are not reported!) and western Mexico is one of the most affected areas. So, if you live in Jalisco – where seven dangerous species of scorpions also happen to live – it would be a good idea always to check your shoes for unwanted inhabitants and always inspect that bath towel before you wrap it around yourself!