September 14, 2017
It’s another beautiful day on the trail! We hike past a pond, with brush overgrowing the path.
Jay is slightly ahead, and suddenly I hear him cry out.
“What’s wrong?” I’m immediately concerned.
“I think I’ve been stung on the hand,” Jay exclaims. “My hand just brushed the underside of a leaf, and I felt something like an electric shock. It hurts like crazy! Can you see if the stinger is still there?”
I peer at his hand. I can’t tell if I’m looking at a stinger or some hairs on the back of Jay’s finger. “Maybe it was a stinging nettle,” I suggest. “Here, let me give you an antiseptic wipe. Maybe if you sponge it off, it will feel better.”
Jay wipes his hand, but his expression says he’s still in pain. We continue on, as the trail begins to climb.
Ten minutes later, Jay tells me, “Something’s wrong. My eyes feel as if they’re about to pop out of my head. I can tell my heart rate is elevated.”
“Well, sit down!” I exclaim.
“There’s no comfortable place to sit,” Jay objects. I look around. He’s right, the ground is steeply sloped, and covered in the ubiquitous underbrush. But he shouldn’t keep walking if he’s having an allergic reaction.
We reach a slightly cleared place next to the trail, and Jay suddenly stops and sits, leaning up against his pack. His face is bright cherry red, with eyes completely bloodshot. I look at him, and my reactions go from concerned to outright scared. What is happening?
Jay takes his pulse. “My heart rate is 120,” he tells me. This is bad. His normal heart rate is in the 40s!
I don’t know what to do. Maybe if I could cool down his head, he would feel better? We just passed a spring a few moments ago. “I’m going to get you some cold water,” I tell him. “I’ll be right back.”
When I come back, Jay is still bright red. I hand him a wet buff. “Here, wipe off your face,” I order.
“Why? Jay asks.
“You look terrible. Maybe a cold cloth will help you feel better,” I tell him. (A reassuring bedside manner is not my strong point!)
Jay dutifully wipes his face and head, then takes his pulse again. It has gone down to 98. I’m glad to hear this, but still scared. “What do you think we should do?” I ask. “Maybe I should get more water?”
“Instead of running back for water, how about if you check to see whether you have any service on your phone? And how far away are we from the nearest road?” Jay asks reasonably.
Oh, duh. Why didn’t I think of that? I dig out my phone and look. No service, but I’m thinking the phone would probably work at the top of the hill. The nearest road is about two miles away, with a campground another half mile from that. I tell Jay this.
“I don’t think I should go anywhere with my heart racing like this,” Jay observes. “Maybe you should go see if your phone will work. Or go see if the campground has any Benadryl.”
“I don’t want to leave you just sitting by the trail,” I protest. “The next shelter is just one mile away. Maybe we should try to get you there. Or I could find a place to put up the tent. That would be better for you than just sitting here.”
“Is it cold this morning? I’m feeling chilled,” Jay asks.
I look at the thermometer on the back of my pack. “It’s 68 degrees. Not cold.” Nevertheless, Jay sits up and pulls out his sweater, jacket, and rain pants from his pack.
I now feel even more panicky. I’ve got to DO something! “Look, I’ll walk up the trail for just a couple of minutes, and see if I can spot a piece of ground flat enough to pitch the tent. I’ll be back in five minutes.”
I begin walking. Just as I see a bit of flat ground, I also see a hiker approaching. I greet him abruptly. “Oh, hi! Do you by any chance have any Benadryl with you? My husband just got stung.”
The hiker is a little taken aback by my obvious distress, but follows me to where Jay is still sitting. “Hey, how are you? Are you having any trouble breathing?” he asks in a deliberately calm voice. “When did this happen?”
The hiker’s unflustered manner helps to quiet my panic. His logical questions make my brain begin to work again. He confirms that we are a mile or less from the shelter, and suggests that it might be a more comfortable place to recover. He then continues down the trail. We never even learn his name, but I’m very grateful for his help.
Jay’s pulse has now receded into the 80s, and he thinks he might be able to try walking. I tell him about the flat piece of ground just a couple minutes ahead. Then I take his food and the tent to lighten his pack, and we walk very slowly onward. We pass the flat ground, and Jay says he thinks he can continue.
We get to the top of the hill, and sure enough, I have cell phone service. Jay sits on a rock as we try to decide the best course of action. Jay’s hand and forearm are swelling, the skin stretching tightly. I know that I want to be in a town right now, preferably with medicine for Jay. He echoes my thoughts as he says, “It would be good to be able to go to a walk-in clinic and see a doctor about this.” I look in our trail guide, and see a phone number for a local shuttle service. I call, and after explaining the situation, the shuttle driver agrees to meet us at the nearest paved road, about two miles from our location. We continue walking slowly, relieved to have made a decision and be progressing toward civilization!
We do make it to the town of Great Barrington, MA. The shuttle driver, appropriately named Trail Angel, drops us off at the emergency room of the hospital. The doctor tells Jay he is having a localized reaction, and prescribes Prednisone. The rest of the day is a denouement, as we go to the pharmacy, then ensconce ourselves in the comforts of the excellent Monument Mountain Motel.
We’ll take two days off, sitting out a rainy spell and watching Jay’s hand regain its normal shape. By Sunday, we’ll probably have recovered our enthusiasm for the trail.