It all started for me early in the month. July third, to be exact. Hot sun, lazy afternoon, just finished a cool glass of mint tea. I was walking barefoot to go gather some blackberries at the park near my house. I stepped on a honeybee in the short summer grass. Very fateful day, very fateful step.
I’ll never be the same.
And I think I suspected that, too, even in those radiating moments of pain right after the shock of the sting and the lightening quick reach to look at the tender skin of my arch. I think I sensed a powerful thing was transpiring, even as I witnessed the honeybee detach and fly away. Even as I felt sorrow because I thought she would die. Because they die after they sting, right?
Then, almost an afterthought, as I pulled the stinger out of my flesh—would I die, too?
So when was the last time I was stung by a bee? Had to be childhood. That was forever ago. So does anaphylaxis come on like a linebacker’s tackle, or does it creep up like a ghost and give you a chance to run home and punch emergency numbers into the phone?
I paused, totally uncertain. Still innocently barefoot in a sea of green grass and tiny white flowers. Yep, hadn’t even noticed the honeybees drinking pollen far below near my toes. Now, I suddenly felt my toes were in a hostile land laced with hidden minefields that would explode again on contact. I tiptoe-limped the bee-stung dance until I reached the smooth and barren surface of a concrete path.
Phew. Safe. Yes, safe—but not unchanged. I bent my leg so I could balance on one foot and pull the other up to study. Well, there was a little swelling. Hurt like heck but it seemed okay.
Later that week I wrote this text to a friend:
I was fascinated with the sting all day. It felt so…I don’t know…I felt something. Later in the week lyme threw some neuro lightening strikes to that spot. One was so powerful I cried out while driving, and [my son] said what happened Mama? And I said something like, I just got a pain. And he said was it your bee-sting? And it was just strange and random that he knew.
A few weeks went by and then another fateful moment. I came across the word apitherapy online:
“Apitherapy (the term comes from the Latin apis, which means “bee.”), or bee therapy, is the use of honeybee venom for therapeutic purposes. Bee venom, bee pollen, raw honey, royal jelly, and propolis are products from bees that are generally considered to have medicinal effects. These products are effective against a wide range of ailments, from arthritis and chronic pain to multiple sclerosis and cancer, although few scientific studies have proved their benefits. The history of apitherapy extends back to ancient Egypt (Hegazi, 1998), China (Yu, 1999) and Greece. Apitherapy has been well documented in traditional Chinese medicine for treating systemic immune diseases, allergic diseases, viral diseases and organic-specific inflammatory diseases since more than one thousand years (Yu, 1999).” (http://weeksmd.com/2009/11/role-of-cytokines-in-bvt/)
Seriously, the idea of apitherapy actually being a real thing, and the previous experience with the surprise bee-sting on my foot, sent me on a quest to research more. Hadn’t I heard mention awhile back that some people were using live bee venom to treat lyme disease? And hadn’t I ignored it then? My exact thoughts: That’s too weird, too out there.
But feeling weirded out about being stung on purpose didn’t stop me now. I read everything I could about bee venom and its amazing properties. I watched a documentary called The Charlie Mraz Story on YouTube (awesome, watch it!). I called and spoke for an hour to another lymie, already a year ahead of me doing bee venom therapy, or BVT, who so kindly and generously answered all my questions.
And wow, a prominent lyme doctor treated his family with BVT and it worked. And bee venom might even be the first natural cure for arthritis going back into the mists of time. And people doing BVT learn to listen to their bodies, to create their own path toward healing, and even if it takes several years, people have reached full recovery. (Note: Whenever several years seems like a long time for recovery, just compare it to never, and then it seems doable, even almost speedy). It looks like melittin is a venom constituent shown in vitro to destroy lyme spirochetes, and melittin is exclusive to honey bees. And there is an injectable venom sold by the pharmaceuticals you can get in a syringe, but it isn’t as strong. It loses some of its important properties and power when it’s “canned”.
Yeah, bee venom therapy is a real thing. A way ancient human-and-honeybee relationship thing. And people really heal. And what’s more—well, I didn’t need any more. I knew.
I sent this text to a friend:
It is hard…it’s hard to understand using a bee for a sting, for medicine…but I’m trying to understand…we have a garden and take vegetables from the plants. When I pull a carrot or radish, I’ve used it to eat it. I think western culture is so removed from death…the cycles…when is death okay and when is it wrong? I eat animals. And they don’t live just 4-6 honeybee weeks and their much longer mammal lives are cut short. And they go through slaughter-houses. How can I eat this meat? But I do and I have to eat meat, my body does need the protein. I was a vegetarian for three years and I got really malnourished. Our world is so intense. If I could have a farm I would, but who can buy a farm? I’ve been dying of stealth infections…so if there is a cure, and I don’t try the bees…I’m grappling with this…that’s why for me this is shamanic because if I take I have to give back and it’s not optional it’s required. It’s haunting at first…but honeybees are dying everywhere because of us and our chemicals. And in them helping me save my life they’ve gained a powerful advocate…which is an advocacy I can’t preform until I’m well. So interesting, so intertwined…so deep.
So the honeybees for apitherapy are not wild bees, and in that sense they are not endangered. They are shipped in the last two weeks of their lives from a distant beekeeper, or collected gently in a mason jar from a local one. I guess you could think of them as elder bees at the end of their life cycle. Bees are hive animals which live by the guidance of an entirely different culture than we humans. They work together for the whole community, and as long as the whole hive is thriving, then all is well. It’s not about the individual, it’s about the group.
I have the deepest gratitude for bees—they pollinate our crops. Many of our fruits and vegetables. (Note: When you get a chronic illness you eventually may be forced to accept that vegetables have become your new best friends. Oh, those green leafy powerhouses of nutrition. All sixty-five thousand of their leaves and roots and bulbs and stems crowding your plate at every meal. Seriously? Yes).
Life on Earth would not be the same without bees. In fact, I’m not even sure there would be much life left on Earth without them—and though I can’t foresee that particular future, let’s not find out for real.
As I learned more about honeybees, honestly, I thought, what don’t we humans have to learn from these amazing creatures? As we go about building nastier weapons to kill each other and destroy our plant and catastrophically poison ourselves, a meaningful study of honeybees can help us remember how to save our own lives.
Well, I’m getting ahead of myself.
Maybe the honeybees can’t save us until we want to be saved. Or until we save them. Or maybe it’s hand-in-hand, right? Like a community? But lyme disease is at epidemic levels, and it’s only going to get worse. Chronic illnesses in general are on a rapid rise. And I know honeybee venom can help heal the out-of-control co-infections that are slowly killing me, the bacterial, viral, and parasitical overload that is ravaging my body. I know it in an intuitive way that befuddles words, I know it from that first fateful bee-sting on the grass, from the moment the venom broke the defense of my skin and woke my cells up like a five alarm fire—I know it because it was a calling. A spiritual calling to turn around on my path and walk in a new direction.
Yeah, and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t afraid. What will other people think? But you know what, it’s none of my business what other people think. What matters is what I think. What matters is my intuition. What matters is saving my own life. Because right now, with this disease and the treatments I’ve tried, the thousands and thousands of dollars lost in medical bills, it’s my future that hangs in the balance.
A text to a friend:
I ordered my bees…what an amazing experience with the beekeeper I’ll tell you later…totally freaking out but my whole body is on autopilot doing this with or without me. It’s like driven. My body is trying to save my life. My emotions are like…ack! This is strange and I feel scared! Even already maybe have a friend’s place to keep a hive to give back to the sweet bees. I can’t breathe. Want to crawl under covers and not come out. Not sure how to handle this new path but I’ll figure it out!! I strangely feel this will be a cure. I have no idea why or if that’s true…but it feels true.
I journaled this:
My first apitherapy bees arrive soon. I’m scared still, a little. But I feel sure. I want to heal, I’m praying to heal. And looking into getting a hive to give back and care for these beautiful creatures, too. Lyme is killing me and maybe these bees have the medicine and there is a powerful and deep spiritual connection blooming inside me.
And then the bees did arrive. In a little baby box in the mail stamped with the words: LIVE QUEEN BEE. (Note: Um, there’s no queen there, just her gals). And when I removed them from their package they started humming and I thought this sound kinda scares me. Like, a lot. And I had to set them on the counter and I had to take a few deep breaths.
But you know what? I’m the one who takes spiders outside the house by picking them up by hand. Yeah. Never spider-bitten once that way. And I’ve picked up a lot of other creatures including snakes, mice, bats, and I even had a wild squirrel friend once who would sit on my shoulder and eat walnuts. And bees?—I’ve picked them up a million times, too. I remember long ago, when there were a lot more butterflies alive in the world, that they used to sometimes land on my arms when passing by. I’ve always had an affinity for the wild things.
So I got my bees into their temporary mason jar with water and honey to eat. Epi-pen, check. Rack of reverse tweezers, check. Vitamin C, check. A whole lotta courage, check.
Sting session numero uno: I pressed myself up against the bathroom wall rather dramatically. Almost hyperventilating, anticipating the pain to hit my mid back one inch from the spine. I tried to relax—not much luck with that. My sting buddy carefully used the reverse tweezers to hold the bee and gently pressed it to my skin. Then it was done. I was stung. I thought, that’s all? It barely hurt. Hey, how cool is that?— I did it! (Note: Some stings do hurt like crazy. It varies from sting to sting as I was soon to find out).
Two days later, sting session numero dos:
Text to a friend:
I’m sitting in the car in the shade outside [my son’s] gymnastics class. Stinging this morning went in a rush due to running late. I opted for no ice, we rushed into the bathroom, I grabbed a bee (improperly because I don’t know how yet and feel awkward and horrible!!), gave the reverse tweezers to C, leaned face forward into the wall thinking it will be no big deal and ZAM!! the pain hit. OMG this one hurt!! I almost cried. It was intense. C was like are you okay are you okay? I’m like I’m okay get it off. And she’s like it’s stuck! Then it detached and fell on the floor. We picked it up. Then she was like can we flush it? Looking at me with compassionate, exhausted, night-shift brown eyes, and I’m like no we need to put it in soapy water (the ancient Chinese way I’m told…), and she’s like no it will suffer can we do it quick? And I’m like no. And my back is stinging like fire. And I’m like okay, but we need to pray. And then she says a quick prayer like thank you and I’m like no, that wasn’t a good enough prayer!! And she’s like what else should I say? And then we’re laughing because we’re doing our very best and this is still new and strange but funny, it’s a moment full of light and love and the awkwardness of being a Modern American removed from nature but not by choice! So flush!! And then later I went back to the toilet and got on my knees and real tears of gratitude poured from my eyes and I feel in my heart that I am doing everything possible that I know to do spiritually. And it is genuine. And I do need to figure out the flush or not to flush thing. If I do soapy water I did find a recipe for homemade lavender soap…gotta do this in a way that feels honoring and peaceful.
I’m working on a space in our vegetable garden, a special corner to plant a lavender bush. It’s a spot for my bees where I can sit and reflect and whisper my prayers to their sweet souls. Life and death. Cycles upon cycles upon cycles, like ocean waves upon the shore. It’s about spiritual balance. My own spirituality rises up from such a deep and rich and powerful place within me.
My time is not done on this Earth, and I can not fulfill my destiny with an infection-ravaged body that has spent the last fifteen undiagnosed years digging itself deeper and deeper into the grave.
And you know, honestly, in reflection—I could be wrong about all this. But I guess what I have to say to that is simple. Where would my sense of adventure be if I was right about everything? In the end, it’s all going to be okay. Life is a journey. Sometimes the map gets smudged or torn or just completely vanishes when you need it most. Chronic illness is like that. We know we want to heal, but how do we get there? How do we find the mythical land where we feel alive again? Without a map all we have left is our intuition, and indeed—it may be the most powerful guide of all.
I love you, my sweet honeybees. I’m going to learn to be a beekeeper when I’m well enough. Thank you, thank you…thank you.
Valerie Brook © 2015