Yesterday Matt called me - and even though I was at work - I needed to answer so he could distract me from how I almost gave myself a heart attack and/or crapped my pants with 4 hours left before I could punch out and change clothes . . .
Lets meander towards my story, yes?
First of all - I'm a zookeeper at an invertebrate center. I specialize in entomology and arachnology. I teach little kids about spiders and bugs, I show them how to hold tarantulas, I let them touch starfish, etc.
But my favorite things to do at work are my back room chores. Helping newly emerging butterflies, feeding miscellaneous creatures, and cleaning their little homes for them.
The way our cleaning schedule works is on a basic rotation. Monday mornings means you feed millipedes and clean an aquarium of Madagascar hissing cockroaches. Monday at midday you feed tarantula spiderlings. You get the idea . . .
Well, yesterday was the first time ever that my shift fell on something I was subconsciously dreading. Cleaning the display spider cages.
My mind started going through all of the numbers I have stored in the "nerd" section of my brain.
34,000 species of known spiders in the world
4 number of medically important spiders in the world
2 number of medically important spiders in the exhibit I'm about to manhandle. All alone. Locked in a back room with only an audience of tarantulas to rely on for help.
6.5 average number of spider-related deaths in the U.S. each year
100% of those were children, the elderly, or someone with an already compromised immune system (at least as far back as 1986)
53 average number of bee/wasp related deaths each year in comparison
Millions dollars to be made if drug companies could harness the venom of the Brazilian wandering spider (deadliest spider known). Their venom causes elevated levels of nitric oxide in the human body which causes involuntary erections in males that can last for hours.
I'm psyched. I take the four spiders I'm scheduled to clean into the back and open them each one at a time.
Cellar spider: No problem. Check
Jumping spider: Piece of cake. Check
Black Widow: Kind of nervous. I should say that their tanks are 1 gallon. About the size of a shoe box. And they are in there while I have to change their water, clean up a bit with long forceps, and the worst part. Cleaning the glass - inside and out - with my bare hands. In a one gallon enclosure with a black widow.
Brown Recluse: Holy crap. All my reassuring numbers have left my head and been replaced with the following:
A brown recluse bite will cause a necrotic ulcer that can take months to heal. There has, however, been one case recorded in 1966 where the reaction was not localized - but systemic because the spider punctured a vein. The victim was a man who lived for nine days after the bite.
First - brown recluse venom is hemolytic. It kills blood cells. The blood cells literally burst in your circulatory system, releasing hemoglobin. Hemoglobin is was carries oxygen inside the blood cell, but released into the open is toxic to the kidneys. Hemoglobin in constantly increasing levels will eventually cause renal failure and the lack of working blood cells will cause asphyxia to every part of the body. Skin turns blue and organs shut down one at a time.
Back to me: need to clean the recluse tank. I remind myself that they are non-aggressive animals and I thrust my hand inside. Clean clean. Scrub scrub.
There's an expression of crapping oneself in moments of fear. I was ready to crap myself, people. But I'm totally getting over my fear! This isn't so bad. If I don't bother it - it wont bother me!
Then a renegade fruit fly buzzed into my face while I was concentrating so hard on the recluse.
Crapping myself? We're past this. There is proverbial diarrhea exploding out of my ass.
I couldn't have thrown a more girly fit if I was being attacked in the shower by a deranged, cross-dressing motel owner.
This? Is why we have fly paper in the back room. It not a tragic irony - its to prevent me from peeing myself.
I ended up cleaning them all without incident. At least I got my first time out of the way.
Matt's response when I told him about my bravery: What kind of insurance does that place have?