Understanding the importance of poison control

This article begins with two stories, so get a cuppa something, just sit down and relax.

Sunday evening, as I was just about to settle down to dinner and the Tony Awards, I was finishing up watering in the twilight. I saw a clump of dead lemon grass next to the living and reached in to pull it out, while watering it. Bam! It hit me like a bolt of lightning, my first centipede bite! I’d heard about these from dear friends and family before and they were right. It’s much worse than a bee sting.

“Dr.” Joshua, my husband, Googled centipede bites, and made me put it on ice. But I hadn’t gotten to the backyard! I was planning on watering during the commercials. So I made a cup of ice water and carried it with me. Sting, ow, sting, hurt. But it felt better with the ice. I kept hoping that the watering and Tonys would be a distraction. Mmmm, not so much. When it seemed like I should give it a rest from the ice water, I found plantain, or lau kahi as the Hawaiians call it. It grows in North Carolina, and every time I had a bee sting, which was rare, but not unusual for a gardener, I’d chew it up and wad it on the sting. It takes out the poison and the pain disappears quickly. I had a chance to do that here recently and it worked. So the routine was: ice water, lau kahi … ice water, lau kahi. I also prayed and used my other hand to comfort the wounded one.

It’s mildly amusing to me that the bite was on the middle knuckle of my left middle finger. I watched how first the site swelled and then the redness and swelling moved mostly down my finger, then to the top of my hand, and over to the ring finger. I’d taken off my wedding ring as I saw the swelling move. Ow, hurt, ow, but I noticed that the hurting seemed to move in the direction of the growing swelling, and lessened at the site, unless I bumped it. Then there was a feeling of a pin prick.

After about an hour I realized that this was not going to go away like regular bee stings. Centipede websites said that acute pain can last from one to five hours and can cause swelling usually no more than 4 inches from the site. And that’s what happened. I went to bed nearly five hours after the bite and while I could feel it, I could live with it. I had taken Aleve. The swelling stopped close to my wrist. But here’s the weird thing. There was no site bite marks, or stingers, or any hole in my skin. Had it ballooned up to close it? Oh well. By the morning I had no pain or even itching. My hand was still swollen.

I had a gift. For the past couple of weeks I’d noticed that the base of my thumb joint was hurting a bit like arthritis, before this event, but now it’s perfectly fine. One time Joshua was stung by a bee on an arthritic joint and it stopped the pain for years! So yay! I also remembered a wonderful Native American Story I’d read in the 70s about how the animals took on some poison so that the people wouldn’t be harmed. I found it and share it with you:

Native American Legends

How Poison came into the World

A Choctaw Legend

A very long time ago, when the world was new, there was a certain plant that grew in the shallow waters of the bayous.

It grew in the place where the Choctaw people went to bathe or swim. This plant was a vine and was very poisonous. Whenever the people touched this vine, they would get very sick and would die.

This vine liked the Choctaw people, though, and it felt sorry for them. It didn’t want to cause them so much pain and sorrow. But, it couldn’t show itself to them, because it grew beneath the surface, of the bayou. So, it decided to give away its poison. It called all of the chiefs of the small people of the swamps — the wasps, bees and snakes. It told them that it wanted to give away its poison.

These small chiefs held a council about the vine’s offer. They had no poison and were often stepped on by the others. They agreed to share the poison.

Bee spoke first. “I will take a small part of your poison,” he said. “I will only use it to defend my hive. I will warn people away before I poison them, and even if I shall have to use my poison, it will kill me to do so, therefore, I will use it very carefully.”

Wasp spoke next. “I will take a small part of your poison, also,” he said. “Then I will be able to protect my nest. But, I will warn people by buzzing close to them before I poison them. I will keep my poison in my tail.”

Water Moccasin spoke. “I will take some of your poison. I will use it only if people step on me. I will hold it in my mouth and when I open my mouth people will see how white it is and they will know to stay away from me.”

Rattlesnake spoke last. “I will take a good bit of your poison,” he said. “I will take all that is left. I will hold it in my mouth, too. And, before I strike someone, I will use my tail to warn them. Intesha, Intesha, Intesha, Intesha. That is the sound that I will make to let them know that they are too close.”

So, it was done. The vine gave up its poison to the bees, wasps, water moccasins and the rattlesnakes. Now the shallow waters of the bayous were safe for the Choctaw people. Where once that vine had poison, now it had small flowers. From then on, only those who were foolish and did not listen to the warnings of the small ones, who took the vine’s poisons, were hurt.”

I just love that story. I can visualize so beautifully the small chiefs’ council, the brilliant white water moccasin’s mouth, the little bee who bravely defended her hive to her death, and the rattlesnake coiled, focused, and rattling its warning.

I was thankful that the surrounding tissue and little warriors in my own body came to help the knuckle, by spreading out the poison and sharing the load of it.

It struck me also how poison is such a big issue for Kauai right now. What has mankind done by creating so much poison and spreading it all over the island? The air carries it. The water carries it. Who will take the poison away from our island so that the people who deserve love and safety won’t be harmed? When did the love of money become more important than the love of Life itself? Who will stand up for us? I know that someone will, because it is pono. Thank you Gary Hooser, Tim Bynum, and the many others for writing petitions, and bills, and trying to do it legally.

Already too many little chiefs and their babies are dying. I cannot help but believe that there will be a reckoning in the world of nature if we can’t clean up our human act. Many kapuna who lived through Iniki said that there had been a lot of conflict on Kauai before the hurricane. Iniki brought everyone together. There is a lot of conflict now on this island.

Whether we believe it or not, our thoughts affect this world. We were given dominion of this world, as a loving king cares for his beloved kingdom. Let us listen and behave nobly with each other, really looking at scientific evidence that is honest, not bought. I remember the tobacco industry and their research. So do the many that are dying today from the many carcinogens in cigarettes.

But maybe the love of money will have to meet the love of money. Already my friends are skipping coming to Kauai because of the poison issue. Who will want to come see a dying island reef or have to worry about which way the wind is blowing or current is traveling? Then will our government officials listen as tourists don’t come, businesses fold, and our economy tanks again? I have friends in Europe who seem to know more about the poisons in the plants and animals that are being grown to eat or fuel our cars than my local friends do. Their governments are forbidding GMO foods, or at least requiring that consumers be told if the foods contain GMO products. Oh it’s not just plants any more. Sometimes I turn my head, too. It is just too painful to look at.

I write a column to help children become all that they can be. All children have a basic need to grow up in a safe, healthy environment. No stones should be unturned regarding protecting them.

Lastly, my bout with poisonous venom made me realize that everyone should have our local poison control number in a visible place, like on the refrigerator, where children can also find it. I remember when my special needs daughter got into something,and we had to look it up 30 years ago. Every second mattered to us. Scary! Kauai’s number is 1-800-222-1222. Be Safe.


Hale Opio Kauai convened a support group of adults in our Kauai community to “step into the corner” for our teens, to answer questions and give support to youth and their families on a wide variety of issues. Please email your questions or concerns facing our youth and families today to Annaleah Atkinson at aatkinson@haleopio.org


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