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Tuesday, August 7, 2012

When the Yellow Jackets Come

Yes, I am going to talk about the pesky flying insects called yellow jackets, cousin of the honey bee yet much more aggressive.  For those of you who don't know, I am allergic to yellow jackets.  My allergy has not reached the point yet where my throat starts closing up when I get stung, however, my reaction has gotten progressively worse.  I have only been stung by yellow jackets a handful of times in my life, the first time being when I was maybe ten years old.  That first time brought about very minor swelling around the sting if I remember correctly.  The time after that, the location of the sting brought about swelling about the size of a small pancake.  After that, my whole forearm swelled up.  The last time, and by far the worst, I was stung on my pinkie finger.  To start with, my hand looked like someone took a latex glove and blew into it almost to the point of exploding.  On top of that, I became covered in hives and my head felt a little woozy.  Needless to say, I don't want to get stung again because frankly, I don't know what will happen to me.  I know I should carry an epi-pen, but I don't.  I should also have Benadryl with me at all times, but I don't have that either.  I guess it boils down to the fact that I count on not getting stung ever again (even though I know that I very well could get stung again.)  Despite the fact that I have been stung a number of times and my reaction has gotten progressively worse, I still don't inherently fear yellow jackets.  That could be because the only times I have been stung, every single time,  was after I stepped on a nest of theirs.  I have never had a yellow jacket simply sting me for no reason and that perhaps is why I don't fear them.  That being said, I do respect them and give them as much distance as possible. 

Which brings me to the whole point of why I am writing about yellow jackets today.  As a painting contractor, I deal with yellow jackets on almost every exterior job I work on.  That could be because out of all the bees out there, it seems that yellow jackets love to make their nests anywhere on a house that offers some modicum of protection from the elements.  Normally, I leave them alone and they leave me alone.  I have found that if I treat them with a little respect, remain calm around them, and don't get in their way; they don't bother me.  If I simply ignore them, they will fly right by my head without even noticing or acknowledging me.  So with all that being said, the job I am working on right now has me a little unnerved.  The job is painting a mechanics garage.  I think that there are more nests on this one building than on any I have ever been on before.  To keep estimates reasonable, I would have to say that there are about ten yellow jacket nests on or around the roof of this building.  Each nest probably has at least 10-15 yellow jackets residing in it and during the hottest part of the day, you could look in the air and easily see 20-30 yellow jackets flying around at any one time.  Picture that and then picture me up on a ladder in the midst of all them trying to paint.  There are times when I will lean my ladder against the building and see 2-4 yellow jackets fly around the top of it trying to figure out what foreign object was just placed next to their nest.  And yes, I then have to climb up the ladder and paint.  Normally I have no issue remaining calm around yellow jackets, however this job is testing my ability to remain calm and not freak out around them. 

Yesterday had to have been the worst day yet.  The first incident happened when I was up on a ladder about to come down and move over a few feet.  As I turn my head to look down, there appears a yellow jacket about an inch from my left eye.  I gave it a little swat, felt it hit my thumb nail, and I quickly made my way down the ladder to walk away for a minute or two.  Close call.  The second freaked me out even more.  As I was carefully moving my ladder between a fence and a building (where the yellow jackets love to congregate) I guess I disturbed one of them resting.  It flew around me a little so I placed the ladder down and went to walk away for a second.  As I was walking away, I felt the yellow jacket land on my ear.  Not exactly what I was looking for, so I ducked my head quickly (no swatting that time) and luckily the yellow jacket flew off and left me to my own devices.  Two close calls in the space of about 15 minutes.  Yes, it sucks, but it is part of job and outside of trying to hunt down all the yellow jackets nest and killing them, there is not much I can do.  Most of the nests appear to be larger in size and as they are not in the way of my painting, I would rather just leave them alone.  There are a few nests I will have to take care of as they are directly in the way of my painting and will probably cause me issues at some point.  Whatever the case may be, I am going to make my way to a pharmacy today and buy some Benadryl at least.  The oddest thing about the yellow jackets is that they are the only type of bee I have that bad of a reaction to.  I have been stung by other more friendly bees and have not had even close to the reaction that I have had with yellow jackets.  In any case, I will just have to do my best to deal with them and get the job done as quickly as possible.  Then I get to go to another exterior job and see what kind of yellow jacket nests I get to deal with there. 

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