My friend Doug Andrews is a statistician – a data science guy.
That means he obsesses over numbers and has been doing it for 29 years with students at Wittenberg University.
He does it to the extent that if we’re on a bike ride, he asks whether I’d rather take the route to the left or the one to the right on the way back to his Mills Road home, then tells me now many minutes difference is involved in our arrival time. While offering the data, he rounds the difference for me to the nearest10th or 20th of a mile.
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Which is to say that when Doug told me his near-death experience began at 6:35 p.m. three years ago yesterday at the edge of a prairie across Mills Road from a creek and a picturesque stand of trees, I believed him, plus or minus zero.
He had just finished cutting his lawn on his riding mower under a circumstance that was a statistical anomaly for Doug. For the first time in his seven years of beekeeping, he’d worn his beekeeping suit to cut the grass.
It was not in an attempt to attract female apiarists who might have been in the vicinity. He put on the suit because one of the three colonies that sat at the edge of his yard that year showed a more aggressive streak. Its guard bees came at him more often than guard bees from the other colonies. They also continued their patrols farther from the hive, breaking off surveillance only when they were satisfied the bogey on the riding mower was at a safe distance.
None of this worried him too much. He’d been stung before — in fact, not long before. Just three weeks earlier, he’d endured a dozen stings while helping a friend with bees, with no apparent effect.
But on this day, as Doug began to ride toward the prairie area he still keeps – an area whose pathways he mows for walking and as fire breaks when it comes time to burn the prairie — a guard bee came from the angry colony and traveled more than 50 feet from home base to sting him behind the left ear.
He brushed the stinger off with his hand – and in his mind — as he had a hundred times before. He gave it a second thought only three minutes later when, as he puts it, “my body began to go DefCon Three.”
“I started swelling and my skin was turning into rashes and hives that were growing down my arms and legs in real time.” Among the swelling parts were his throat and tongue. He was having an allergic reaction and realized he was out in the middle of an area served by an all-volunteer fire department.
Heading back home, he managed to stay conscious enough to call 911. His current day impersonation of what he sounded like during his 6:47 p.m. call is barely comprehensible. He remembers getting the words “bee sting” and maybe “anaphylactic” out, though the capacity of anyone in anaphylaxis to pronounce the word seems dicey.
“I remember starting to fall,” he said. But doesn’t remember his head slamming into the counter – an impact that gave him a concussion he’s been recovering from since.
He reasons that being on the floor allowed his blood pressure to even out, allowing him to regain consciousness. He then crawled into the shower to get water on him. Then he remembers pulling on a pair of shorts, crawling to his front door and propping himself against it.
Whether he was aware of it at the time or he later discovered it, I didn’t ask. But Doug does knows it took a mere eight minutes for volunteers from the Pitchin Fire Department to make it to his house.
When they arrived and Doug tried his hand at Charades to communicate his condition to Chief Chuck Bern, “he laughed,” Doug said. Doug’s condition was unmistakable.
An EMT stabbed some epinephrine pens into him, along with some Benadryl. She then inserted an IV. Soon he was stabilized, and with the immediate danger passed, on his way to the hospital.
Doug now brings a couple of epinephrine pens along when we ride bikes and gives his fellow riders instructions on their use. He also goes to the Pitchin Fire Department Pancake Breakfast annually, as he did last Saturday, with two of us in tow.
A neighbor who had been on the run was flipping pancakes. The choices were plain, with blueberries or with chocolate chips. There were also scrambled eggs and sausage, links or patties. A note that asked only for donations stood next to a firefighter’s boot.
The chief smiled at Doug, although the usual bee joke was not offered. They see each other every time Doug calls to say it’s time to burn his prairie. Doug regularly sees a couple other volunteers while riding around the township.
He tells me there was one other statistical anomaly three years ago yesterday. After the usual long gestation period for such things – the meetings, the budgeting, the purchase, the training — the Pitchin Department had put a new squad into service eight days earlier. His was its first run.
Another thing about the event was not an anomaly. He called for help, and they came.
“These are my neighbors that showed up,” he said, “and they saved my butt.”