When I was about 7 years old, my dad and I were spending the day together and having a great time without anything particularly interesting going on besides me getting to retrieve his golf balls with a hand-held claw device designed to pick up, you guessed it, golf balls (which was fun and fascinating for this 7 year old kid). We then decided to explore the woods behind our neighborhood by hiking up a fairly sizable, heavily wooded hill that butted up to our street. We had reached the large cement retainer wall at the top of the hill when my dad suddenly stopped and said, “Stop. Do you hear that? What’s that noise?” I did as he said and listened. I remember saying, “It sounds like pipes with water in them.” I thought I could hear water rushing through pipes somewhere underground. Many years later, dad later told me that right after I said that, he looked down and suddenly felt dizzy. This was the vertigo he felt when the ground appeared to be rising up toward him. His vertigo was not caused by something as supernatural as all of that, but it was actually a solid layer of bumblebees rising up out of the underbrush we were standing on. There were so many of them, that their collective buzzing mimicked the sound of rushing water and explained what I thought I heard. The next thing I remember is him yelling, “Run!” I didn’t know what was happening or where I was running to (or what I was running FROM), but the terror in his voice caused me to instantly comply. However, I tripped on an exposed tree root before I made it even five feet, landing squarely on my butt in an upright position. He said that I was completely frozen, stiff as a board, and that was when I received the brunt of the stings. I felt no pain, I’m guessing due to shock setting in. I still vividly remember being flung over his shoulder so that my head was facing the direction he had started to run, which was mercifully downhill. I was only seven, but I remember everything I saw like it was yesterday. I can still see the scenery as it flew by in a whir. I was carried/bounced down the heavily wooded hill we had just climbed, unknowingly burning every image into my 7 year-old mind. Someone else’s back yard. A large roll of old, moss-covered carpet. Mostly trees, mud, and various types of foliage. When we reached the bottom of the hill, my dad lost his footing in a muddy outflow of sewer water and we both went down, face first, into ground. He landed on top of me, but it was so muddy, I just ended up sinking and eating a lot of wet dirt. He jumped up and I’m guessing he sensed that we were out of danger, because rather than pick me back up, he slowly walked in front of where I was lying on my stomach in the mud. I was just watching him, not moving or speaking. He walked in front of me a few feet where bumblebees were flying in low circles, slowly dying its altruistic, agonizing death about a foot off of the ground. He didn’t say a word, but I remember the intensity of rage and anger he displayed when he stomped it into the mud as hard as he could. Today, I can only recall seeing or sensing that level of rage in my highly emotionally disciplined father one or two other times in my entire life. I vaguely remember crying by the time we made it back to the street, but it was mostly just shaking, tears, and sniffling since everything had happened so fast. The grand finale was the fact that after our great escape, my dad lost the car keys in the process, so we ended up walking about 2 miles home, and both of us covered from head to toe in sewer mud and bee stings. My dad was only stung twice, ironically, most likely due to his movement and I, in contrast, was still for several seconds after freezing where I initially fell. He later told me that it was then he realized in horror that the swarm had honed in and descended mostly on me and I was covered in them by the time he got to me. I assuredly would not have survived if my dad had not been there. Almost every little girl sees their dad as a larger-than-life hero, but on that day, my dad really was my hero in every sense of the word. I have no doubt he would have sacrificed his life to save mine without a second thought.
All of this took place in the mid 80’s (yes, I was alive when there was still a cold war going on), long before the use of personal cell phones, so my mom didn’t know what happened until we completed the long walk back to the house, leaving the car behind. She did the “mom thing”, which included baking soda, a warm bath, and drying of my tears. This made me feel better and all seemed well again until two hours later. I was sitting on the couch watching cartoons when I suddenly felt a fiery icepick being shoved through my head from temple to temple, right behind my eyes. The pain was incredibly intense and blinding, literally. For maybe 30-60 seconds I went completely blind, then instantly became violently ill. Amazingly, I remember jumping up and sprinting to the bathroom to vomit, and somehow doing this without being able to see (as an adult, I would have ended up puking on the floor, most likely with a concussion to add to the list after running into the nearest wall). I’ve never heard of this kind of physiological response to anything, but there it was. There was no swelling that comes with a normal allergy to a bee reaction (anaphylaxis), nor did the symptoms present immediately after the event, so my parents didn’t even know if my illness was related to the bee stings. After assuming all was well again, my mom had left to run errands before I became ill, leaving my poor dad to tend to his child that couldn’t stop throwing up. Not knowing what to do, he gave me one of my mom’s favorite but very large cooking pots to puke in and off we went to the hospital (the cooking pot mysteriously vanished after that day, never to be seen again). My mom was pulling into the driveway as we were backing out and I was continuing to vomit into mom’s favorite orange cookware. He apprised her of what was happening and I’m guessing he sensed the urgency of the situation, as we didn’t wait for mom to get in the car but left her to follow separately. I didn’t feel pain except for that exquisite 60 seconds or so when the icepick had been shoved through my head. My vision had returned, but now I was tired. I mean, tired. I couldn’t remember ever feeling as tired as I did, not even to this day. By the time we got to the hospital, they couldn’t keep me awake. I remember puking on a nurses white shoes in between nodding off and being forced awake, then a doctor in a lab coat running to a cabinet and grabbing a needle that, in my 7 year old eyes, looked like it was the size of a hairspray bottle. I was so tired I didn’t even care that he wanted to stab me with a syringe the size of a hairspray bottle, I just wanted to sleep. The needle was adrenaline – similar to the kind John Travolta’s associate shot into Uma Thurman’s heart when she overdosed on heroin (this doctor didn’t do it Hollywood style, however, and shot me in the thigh, not the heart). Despite being pumped full of epinephrine, I was still so tired. I don’t remember much after that, but I was finally allowed to sleep under the watchful eyes of my parents and the hospital staff. I don’t know how long I was there, but some family dropped by with cards and flowers, so probably at least a day.
And on that day, a phobia was born.
*There’s quite a bit more to the reinforcement factor over the course of the next 5 years or so, but this is longwinded enough already, so I’ll spare you!