Toxic Soup

On October 12 I underwent robotic laproscopic sigmoidectomy surgery as the result of increasing bouts of diverticulitis, which means, in effect, removing part of the lower colon. 


After 48 hours of  pain and discomfort I became more aware of the regimen of pills I was being given.   One to prevent infection; another to promote bowel movement, another to stabilize heart rate; potassium because of a .2 deficiency in one of the blood samples, another to stabilize pain, and so on.  By the third evening, my blood pressure had risen to a systolic reading in excess of 180.


My wife, Mary, is a retired family physician.  She was at my side for the full 78 hours of this procedure, and was there consciously as my advocate.  Each time one of these new medicines was introduced orally or by IV she invariably enquired as to the thinking behind it and their purpose, sometimes to the irritation of the nurses.  One quipped “You cannot be both a visitor and a doctor,” and instead of replying “Yes I can!”   Mary spent time building a relationship of trust by asking him questions about his life; we were stuck with him whether we liked it or not, and needed him on our side.  I can empathize with the position many nurses find themselves in, caught between the orders of a resident (who may not have much training in internal medicine) and the often emotional demands of family members.


Mary and I had a conversation early on the morning of day 4 and agreed that, although each medicine had worth in its own right,   a probable cause of the increased blood pressure was the synergy between them, in which case the obvious solution was to go back to the medicine that I take daily and which we know works for me.


Abut 6:00 am the nurse reported that, in the interim, the supervising resident had written an order to double the prescription for the new hypertension medicine; the nurse liked our solution but explained, “It is too simple for the doctors.” We discussed it with the resident when he came by who seemed less than convinced, but agreed to write the necessary orders, altho they had not been written by the time I was discharged almost 6 hours later and I declined to take the new medication when it was presented. 


The overall result?  By 9:00 am, three hours without the new meds, my blood levels had dropped significantly and my discharge was signed.


Soon after getting home I realized that I was recovering from a multilevel traumatic experience.   I felt I had a fever but the thermometer denied it; my writing was filled with typographical errors which suggested a fine motor dysfunction, there was a sensitivity  to bright lights, my dreams were disturbing and vivid between which my mind at night was over-active, and my mouth was filled with a chemical after-taste which not even Manuka honey could over-ride.  It felt more than only a physical invasion of my body; I felt like I was swimming in a toxic soup.  


So, what are the lessons of this and how do they relate to honey bees?


First is the importance of a support system.  The bees have it and so did I, whether it was the e-mails, the visits and calls, the empathy of the nurses and their assistants or the skills of the doctors.  We know that one honey bee cannot exist for more than 24 hours in isolation; I could not have survived this successfully alone. 


Secondly, Mary was an informed advocate. If she had not been there my guess is that I would have been in the hospital for several more days,  who knows with what results.  Yet few patients are privileged to have such a champion and it is easy to feel overwhelmed by the language and status of the various medical specialists.  Presumably the family doctor should be the patient’s strong proponent but it is easy to see the practical reasons why that is seldom going to happen. 


Thirdly, we know that honey bees are exposed to a multi-chemical environment, some of it created by the beekeeper but much of it is omnipresent in our environment.  If there is any merit in the thesis proposed above, then perhaps I got to experience for a short while what the bees encounter every day.  If so, it is a miserable existence. 


Fourthly, once the option of leaving the hospital was offered, I could not wait to get out of there.  Mentally, if not physically, I was gone.  Is this what honey bees experience when they abscond from a hive, with every one of them leaving en masse, even though their chances of survival are minimal?


Finally, my step-son suggested that when a patient is the subject of conflicting conversations by medical personnel, often as a side-bar conversation in the presence of the patient, he or she is entitled to say, “I am the center of my world right now, and I need you to focus on me and include me in the conversation.”


The length of time that honey bees have been in the United States represents about .00001% of their evolutionary history.   Not only is that a drop in the transformative ocean, but my understanding of evolutionary theory is that it occurs when random genetic mutation or gene transfer give rise to heritable differences that become more common or rare in a population, thus enhancing their chances of survival in a changing environment.  


When Darwin first described this he imagined it in a relatively pristine environment, like the Galapagos Islands, unaffected by the detritus of mankind.  We have not only soiled the environment, but through modern globalization in particular we have exposed   species to threats that were inconceivable in 1859 when Darwin published “On the Origin of the Species.”  We cannot expect the slow, random process of evolution to compensate for,  or keep pace with, the dramatic effects of modernization. 


The exposure of honey bees to varroa mites introduced directly from Asia in the 1970’s is one of many such examples.  Some argue that bees are best left alone to conquer this through natural processes.  I would suggest that we, as the creators of this conflict, with potentially fatally consequences for the bees, are responsible for the solution and have a  moral and ethical obligation to speak up and act on their behalf.   


We are the only champions the bees have, and we need to be loud and clear  in our advocacy. As beekeepers, there are times to see honey bees as the center of our world, in desperate need our focus and support, rather than abandoning them to a world that is not of their making. 



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Latest comments

27.11 | 16:01

Moustache, wax? Of course. Now if all of the drones had mustaches ...

27.11 | 12:43

One of our club members says he got into beekeeping in order to make his own mustache wax. There's the explanation for the bearded/mustached ABF attendees!

13.08 | 05:43

Good morning Mr. Barnes, I'm so pleased to see the best of history teachers is still going strong! Looking at your website brings back some great memories

21.05 | 07:18

Its pleasure to read about Boy Scout here. He plays vital role to serve humanity. I will share after my