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When yellow jackets swarm, Run!

By Angela Reinhardt
Staff writer
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    While my seven-year-old daughter, her horseback riding instructor and an assistant rode a wooded trail during last week’s lesson, my father-in-law and I propped on a fence and waited for the group to come back.
    After about 20 minutes I saw my daughter Scarlett, on foot, top the grassy horizon just beyond the edge of the woods and I noticed she didn’t have on a shirt. Initially I assumed she got dirty on the trail, but as she came closer I could see she had on her “strong face,” the one she makes when she tries to hold back tears. Her shirt was in her right hand.
    Out of breath from rushing back to the barn, also on foot with horses in tow, the instructor and assistant told me they were attacked by a swarm of yellow jackets. She said as quickly as she noticed Scarlett’s horse stir, “they were all over us.” 
    “I just told everyone to run and get out of there!” she said.
    All three riders were stung multiple times, but my daughter – who was riding the horse that stepped on the nest - weathered the brunt of the blows. Scarlett had fallen off her horse and, from what I could tell, was stung at least 15 times. She had welts on her face, on her abdomen, on her legs and on the back of her neck, as well as a large scrape along her side where she fell off.
    I scooped her up and ran to a golf cart parked nearby to assess the situation. I knew how severe reactions to wasps and bee stings can be and I was scared - but my father-in-law (who is highly allergic) and the instructor (whose father is highly allergic) eased my mind. After several minutes of observation we could see she wasn’t swelling or having difficulty breathing. They told me at this point she would have displayed serious symptoms if she had  a sensitivity, so I opted to doctor her at home.
    When Scarlett and I got in the car and drove off she completely broke down. She was scared to death. In between manic crying and sobs she told me it was the worst day of her life and she wished she never would have gone to that dumb lesson, and “Do I have any stingers still in me? And how do I get them out? Am I going to get swollen? It hurts so bad, mommy.”
    On the way home I picked up ibuprofen and Benadryl and dosed her up. I wet long pants and a shirt in cool water and put them on her, which she liked and which seemed to sooth the skin. I put her on the couch, gave her some cookies and turned on the television to take her mind off the pain.    
    Over the course of two hours she gradually calmed from her manic state and I walked onto the patio to get some air. Ten minutes later she walked out after me.
     “Mommy, I think I feel better!”
    I told her what a strong girl she was, and that she would have a cool story to tell her friends the next day. With her face still splotchy and red from all the crying, she held up her arms like a body builder, muscles flexed, and made a “grrrrrrrr” sound. Assisted by several hours of wailing and the Benadryl she eventually passed out and slept through the night.
    Ironically, the very next day a family friend brought a paint gelding to the farm where we live so we could ride. While I was at work my mother-in-law texted a picture of Scarlett on horseback.
       “Can’t keep a good girl down,” the message said. “Back in the saddle.”
         After some online research I discovered that late summer/early fall is when yellow jackets are most aggressive. It’s during this time of year that populations peak and food supply is limited. They’re testy and hungry and crowded and attack more often.
    The situation with my daughter could have definitely been worse, but until the populations die down in late fall be sure to take precautions, especially if you have an allergy. 
    There are plenty of online resources for yellow jacket precautions, and information can be found at the UGA Extension Office located inside the Pickens County Chamber of Commerce building. 
    And, just like the experts say, if you find yourself on the wrong end of a yellow jacket stinger do what my daughter’s instructor told her to do - “Run!”