Beware of the Brown Recluse Spider

How dangerous is this ubiquitous creature?

| May/June 1984

As an amateur naturalist, I've always accepted the old maxim that advises, "If you don't bother it, it won't bother you." So I went happily about my business, feeling mildly sorry for all the small-bodied, long-legged spiders that were devoured by my vacuum cleaner each week, but otherwise leaving them unmolested.

However, one morning last summer my faith was betrayed. I swear to you that I didn't intentionally antagonize the little monster that had taken shelter in my old gardening jeans. All I did was bend over to pull some weeds, and the ill-tempered little beggar sunk his fangs into my leg. It didn't seem like much at the time . . . just a sting that hurt for a minute or two. At any rate, I forgot all about it (after making certain that the perpetrator was no longer among the living, of course) and went on about my chores.

That evening, though, while I was doing the supper dishes, my eyes and ears began to itch. And by the time I'd finished cleaning up the kitchen, the skin on my face and upper body had become red and irritated. At first, I thought that perhaps I was just having an allergic reaction of some sort . . . something that had happened several times before after a day in the garden. However, during the night I awoke with chills, nausea, and a severe pain in my thigh. I remembered about the bite, and after getting up and turning on the light to inspect my leg, I was horrified to discover that the flesh around the bite had turned a scary-looking deep purple and was beginning to crust over with some sort of hard shell.

Had I known then what I know now (how many times have you heard that old story?), I would have gone straight to the hospital emergency ward. As it was, I decided to tough it out until I could get in to see my own doctor late the following afternoon. Once I arrived there, he told me that I'd been bitten by a brown recluse spider. He "excised" the area of the bite (that's doctor talk for cutting the damaged tissue away), gave me an injection of cortisone, and then sent me home with a prescription for a painkiller.

For the next week, I felt as if demons were pricking my thigh with red-hot pitch-forks. Large blisters popped up all around the wound, forming dark brown, leathery scabs when they finally broke.

Then (worse yet) those scabs began to ooze a putrid, greenish yellow pus.

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