Tuesday, March 24, 2015
How a Bee Sting Saved My Life
Ellie Lobel was ready to die. Then she was attacked by bees. Christie Wilcox hears how venom can be a saviour.
"I moved to California to die."
Ellie Lobel was 27 when she was bitten by a tick and contracted Lyme disease. And she was not yet 45 when she decided to give up fighting for survival...
When the bees finally dissipated, her caregiver tried to take her to the hospital, but Ellie refused to go. "This is God's way of putting me out of my misery even sooner," she told him. "I'm just going to accept this."
"I locked myself in my room and told him to come collect the body tomorrow."
But Ellie didn't die. Not that day, and not three to four months later.
"I just can't believe that was three years ago, and I just can't believe where I am now," she tells me. "I had all my blood work done. Everything. We tested everything. I'm so healthy."
She believes the bees, and their venom, saved her life...
After the attack, Ellie watched the clock, waiting for anaphylaxis to set in, but it didn't. Instead, three hours later, her body was racked with pains. A scientist by education before Lyme took its toll, Ellie thinks that these weren't a part of an allergic response, but instead indicated a Jarisch–Herxheimer reaction – her body was being flooded with toxins from dying bacteria. The same kind of thing can happen when a person is cured from a bad case of syphilis. A theory is that certain bacterial species go down swinging, releasing nasty compounds that cause fever, rash and other symptoms.
For three days, she was in pain. Then, she wasn't.
"I had been living in this… I call it a brown-out because it's like you're walking around in a half-coma all the time with the inflammation of your brain from the Lyme. My brain just came right out of that fog. I thought: I can actually think clearly for the first time in years."
With a now-clear head, Ellie started wondering what had happened. So she did what anyone else would do: Google it. Disappointingly, her searches turned up very little. But she did find one small 1997 study by scientists at the Rocky Mountain Laboratories in Montana, who'd found that melittin killed Borrelia. Exposing cell cultures to purified melittin, they reported that the compound completely inhibited Borrelia growth. When they looked more closely, they saw that shortly after melittin was added, the bacteria were effectively paralysed, unable to move as their outer membranes were under attack. Soon after, those membranes began to fall apart, killing the bacteria.
Convinced by her experience and the limited research she found, Ellie decided to try apitherapy, the therapeutic use of materials derived from bees.
Her bees live in a "bee condo" in her apartment. She doesn't raise them herself; instead, she mail orders, receiving a package once a week. To perform the apitherapy, she uses tweezers to grab a bee and press it gently where she wants to be stung. "Sometimes I have to tap them on the tush a little bit," she says, "but they're usually pretty willing to sting you."
She started on a regimen of ten stings a day, three days a week: Monday, Wednesday, Friday. Three years and several thousand stings later, Ellie seems to have recovered miraculously. Slowly, she has reduced the number of stings and their frequency – just three stings in the past eight months, she tells me (and one of those she tried in response to swelling from a broken bone, rather than Lyme-related symptoms). She keeps the bees around just in case, but for the past year before I talked to her, she'd mostly done just fine without them...
Posted by Editor at 11:15 AM