One local’s brush with a bark scorpion - Ahwatukee Foothills News: Commentary

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One local’s brush with a bark scorpion

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Posted: Thursday, September 17, 2009 11:00 pm

I awoke to a beautiful morning on Sept. 1, and went outside to clean up from the previous night’s wind storm. As usual, I was barefoot. I picked up an umbrella and blindly walked onto a scorpion. I felt the sting, yelled and immediately put my foot into the pool. There was an immediate stinging. I ran into the house, applied ice and took some Ibuprofen and Benadryl.

I got on the Internet and was able to find the Poison Control number. I was told that I would probably be OK, but to call back if needed. I did call back and she said I should probably go to the emergency room. I am a bit stubborn and thought, “I think I will wait and see if it will go away.”

In the meantime, I got on the couch, called my neighbor, and by that time I could not get up because of the unbearable pain. Then tingling began to consume my body, and I could not see and was slurring my words. I called 911, and she said, “You probably don’t need to go the hospital, and the ambulance will cost you a chunk of change.”

I said, “OK.” Did I mention that I am a nurse and I have no knowledge of scorpions, their sting or the symptoms.

I called my physician’s office and her assistant called back and said, “We can send you pain medication, and you probably don’t need to go the hospital.”

The symptoms were continuing to pervade my body, and I was desperate. I called 911 again, and she said we can send paramedics. OK, relief – my neighbor began to prepare me to go the hospital. Five young men arrived in a fire truck. They took my vital signs and announced that my pressure was elevated, but I wasn’t having trouble breathing.

One said, “I was stung by a scorpion and it hurt for 24 hours. I said, “Can’t they give me an antivenin drug?” And one of the paramedics said, “They only give that to children.”

My neighbor kept pleading for them to take me and they said, “It would be an hour before an ambulance could get to my house, and they offered to help me to the car.” They were not encouraging and said, “Well you will probably have to lie around on a gurney, and they will just send you back home. It may be more comfortable to stay at home.”

By that time I said, “You’re telling me I am not dying, so I guess I will just stay here.” Again, I wasn’t anxious to be more miserable at a hospital.

At no time did they do a neurological assessment, or did they seem to know that I was in full neurotoxin shock because of the venom. Their fund of knowledge seemed to center around whether I was in anaphylactic shock, the symptoms of the basic scorpion bite, and not the poisonous bark scorpion. Nor did they seem to assess that I am 69 years old – danger point. I relied on them to know the symptoms, make the proper assessment and send me to the hospital. I should not have been asked to make that decision for myself. By that time, my cognitive resources were in question.

After they left, I called Chandler Regional Hospital Emergency Room, and said, “Should I come to the hospital?”

The lady on the other end, said, “No, you can use meat tenderizer and that will help the pain.” We got the meat tenderizer – it did not help. By this time, I am five hours into this ordeal, which is when the symptoms are at their worst. My husband is out of town, my children live out of state, and they are frantic.

During this time, the poison control nurse continued to call – thank God. Talking to my neighbor, she said, “The paramedics have no right to tell her not to go to the ER. Get her there as soon as you can. We know what she needs.”

By that time, I was ready to go.

My neighbors helped me into the car and drove me to Chandler Regional. As soon as I arrived, I knew I was at the right place. They immediately said: “You have all the rare, but dangerous symptoms of a bark scorpion sting and you are a candidate for the antivenin serum.

After the third dose of the serum, and Morphine, I began to get relief from the pain, the tingling rapid eye movements, quivering tongue, body twitching and difficulty swallowing.

Now that I have given you a detailed account of my experience, I would like to talk about what was needed.

1. I could have been more of a hypochondriac and headed for the ER quicker. I take that responsibility.

2. All health care providers and the public should familiarize themselves with the symptoms of the poisonous bark scorpion. None of the providers assessed for those symptoms. They seemed to be fixated on the pain, and that given some time, it would get better. The research nurse at the hospital informed me that symptoms depend on the amount of venom that is injected as to the severity of symptoms. Obviously, when I stepped on the critter, the venom was emptied with a force. That is an important assessment tool.

4. Those symptoms are: eyes unable to focus (rapid eye movement), perspiring, salivating, slurring of speech (tongue is quivering), severe pain (the pain was spasmodic and felt like knives were piercing the skin) and arms and legs feel like a thousand pins are sticking your skin. I had all of the above symptoms except for the salivating, but I had taken Benadryl. Also, remember that it is very easy to hyperventilate when one is having severe pain. If the patient is having the above symptoms, take them immediately to an ER. Always take children and the elderly as soon as the sting occurs. My mistake. I probably don’t like to admit that I am considered “elderly.” According to the literature, these symptoms are rare, but they do happen.

5. Encourage the legislators and the Board of Regents to continue funding the Poison Control centers. They truly saved my life. THANK YOU.

I also say thank you to the great ER staff at Chandler Regional Hospital, family and friends who cried, yelled and supported me through the worst day of my life.

6. I received the antivenin (Anascorp) because Chandler Regional Hospital participates in a four-year investigational study of the serum, which is administered by the University of Arizona. I hope they are able to present their results soon and receive FDA approval. This drug has been used in Mexico for many years with no undesirable results.


Norma J. Leslie and her husband, Truman Miller, have lived in Ahwatukee Foothills for seven years. She has a private counseling practice in Tempe.

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