BVT for arthritis pain: stung by the realization

Ouch! I jumped a bit in pain. I’ve quietly walked into a friend’s garden to his beehive. Holding a clear masonry jar up to a hole in the hive, I knock on the top of the wooden box. Lots of bees are moving into the jar, but one has stung me, and lots of the others are buzzing around me. Oh, no! Another has flown up my coat sleeve, and now another up the other sleeve.

Last June I would have panicked and run from the hive. No…. Last June I would never have walked into anyone’s garden to collect a jar full of bees. I become calm and stay still, hold the jar against the hive and slowly slide it away from the little hole and let all the buzzing ladies fly around me and slowly crawl out of my sleeve, and eventually all return to a cluster around the entry to their home. Sliding the lid back on the jar, I feel pleased with this successful harvesting of my new helpers. My husband, William, and I return home with Calypso, my standard poodle service dog, have dinner, chill the bees slightly in the fridge to slow them down, capture them in tweezers, and sting each other before going to bed.

Few of my friends would consider this a normal Saturday evening—and before last summer, neither would William and I. In April I told my rheumatologist that my arthritis pain was getting much worse and that I would consider taking an arthritis drug. My pulmonologist and GP were concerned about the side effects, so I said, “No, not yet,” and just put up with rheumatoid and degenerative arthritis pain, stenosis, asthma, and type 2 diabetes. It was the time when meds for one would start causing cross-complications with the others. So, just grin and bear it (and take ibuprofen 10-15 times a week).

I couldn’t walk enough to exercise my dog, so arranging doggy play dates was crucial. In August I was throwing a bright orange ball for the dogs to play with, but it rolled down the hill behind the fence. I could see the ball, so I reached around the pickets to get it. One of the dogs romped up to play this new game with me, and reached back around to paw at the ball and try to get it. Suddenly, I had a sharp pain in my left hip. I must have pinched a nerve. Then another sharp pain in my right leg, and another. Oh, no! Yellow jackets! I shouted out to my friend. She said, “Don’t move; be calm and they’ll stop stinging.” I stood still about 20 seconds and then said, “No way! I’m getting out of here.” I ran out of the garden, still being stung. My bright raspberry-colored shirt was covered with yellow jackets. I threw the shirt on the ground, and my friend ran inside for baking soda and an EpiPen. I had at least 25 stings, and they were very painful. As my friend was applying moist soda, I suddenly realized that I had no pain. I had run up the hill (ordinarily, I would limp slowly) within a minute or two of the first stings, and I now was moving around with no hand, neck, hip, or foot pain. “Okay, no more baking soda, and don’t take out the stingers.” I just calmly stood there and felt elated about feeling so good. The dogs had two or three stings each and were fine; their long curly fur had protected them. Some of the yellow jackets were still crawling and buzzing around on my shirt. We sat down to talk about this serendipitous moment. I recalled that years ago my sister-in-law had used bee venom therapy for MS. At the time I had thought it strange. Now I knew that I was going to find out more about it right away. What a great job my service dog had done, leading me into the proverbial “hornet’s nest.”

I walked much more than usual that evening, feeling quite comfortable and not limping. For three days I moved more easily than usual and was energetic and excited about what this might mean. On the third day, some of the pain in my lower back and legs returned.

After contacting the AAS, I found a local apitherapist, Kate McWiggins, who was able to see me right away. Kate did not expect me to have a bad reaction to the honey bees, since I’d had so many yellow jacket stings with no allergic response. Still, she gave only three stings to start. Even so, I got relief from the pain within two minutes of the stings.

Kate showed William how to catch the bees in the tweezers and hold the stinger end to my skin until the girls stung me. For the next few weeks we did stings at home every three days, increasing them by one each time. We returned to Kate for more bees and more supervised stings every week. I continued to feel better after every session.

It got easier for me to walk. The pain in my shoulder significantly decreased. Most of the time my hands and feet are pretty much free of pain. My lower back pain, a problematic disc, and bursitis pain in my left thigh are alleviated for several hours after stings. And my breathing has improved—I’ve used my rescue inhaler for asthma about 30% less than a year ago, and my peak flow measure of lung capacity has increased about 10%.

Without noticing these improvements, I would never want to get bee stings. They hurt at first and are uncomfortable for a day or so. Just as the stings quit itching, it’s time to sting again. It takes almost an hour. When I get stung, I cry out and sometimes kick. It’s not fun. But this is nothing compared with the pain of arthritis.

I had problems with weight gain and increased blood sugar levels. Kate communicated with a doctor in Romania (Dr. Stefan Stangaciu) and California (Dr. Andrew Kochan). After following their advice, I managed to lose the six pounds I had gained, and I got my blood sugar down to normal levels for me. I felt totally cared for and informed by these experts!

I increased the stings to seven and backed up a bit after a weekend of feeling flu-like, feverish, and chilled: a possible Herxheimer reaction. We worked back up to eight, and I have not yet gone above that—I’m concerned about possible anaphylaxis. There is much more arthritis pain to address, so I will soon return to Kate to have her walk me up to more than eight stings at a time. She is a gentle, nurturing, experienced apitherapist. What a hopeful and helpful journey this is!

- Marlene Anderson
January 07, 2009