Level-headed response to allergic reaction
An islander’s swift and level-headed action may have saved Rob Forbes’s life. Forbes, a long-time beekeeper, had developed a growing sensitivity to bee stings that led to an unexpected and full-blown allergic reaction on June 23.
Forbes was near Heidi Kuhrt’s home on Fernie Road because she had noticed a swarm of bees. Kuhrt explained, “I had gone outside and seen the swarm. My husband contacted Bees on Bowen and heard that the swarm might be Rob’s.”
Forbes came to take a look and Kuhrt and her six-year-old son Ryan went with him as they are both interested in beekeeping (they had started a hive in a previous year that hadn’t survived the winter). Forbes went to collect the swarm and, while working, told Kuhrt that he had developed a sensitivity to bee stings and was planning to undergo venom therapy. He also told her that he kept an EpiPen in the car. “I’ve been beekeeping for years. When I get stung, I sometimes have a delayed reaction the next day,” Forbes said. “I picked up an EpiPen because I have to go into town to work and see clients and I didn’t want to have a swollen cheek or ear.”
While Forbes collected the swarm, one bee got caught in the leg of his trousers. “It was there for maybe five minutes,” Kuhrt recalls. “Rob was shaking the pants to get it out but that must have agitated the bee.”
Forbes got stung, pulled out the stinger and went back to collecting the swarm. It was only after a couple of minutes that he felt the effect. “I was feeling hot, flushed and dizzy and Heidi noticed that I started to stagger,” he said. “I dropped within a couple of minutes from being stung.” When Forbes first noticed the allergic reaction, he immediately ran to his car where he kept the EpiPen. He took it out of the glove compartment but before he could apply it, he passed out.
That was when Kuhrt took over. She applied the EpiPen and called 911.
“It was a scary experience,” says Forbes, who has completed a master beekeeping course and kept a hive for about five years. And even though he cannot go near a swarm until he has completed his venom therapy, he will not give up beekeeping. “We [beekeepers] have a passion for what we do,” he said, adding the bees are not a threat and bee stings are harmless to those who are not allergic. “Bees are gentle by nature. They mostly leave people alone. Beekeepers get stung more often because we go into hives, we are invasive.”
In his years as a beekeeper, Forbes has never been allergic but he says that he noticed signs of sensitivity. “This was the first time I had a full blown allergy.” Forbes said, adding that he found out in the emergency room that this is a rare occurrence but does happen. “I was lucky on two cases: I had an EpiPen and I was with a responsible person who responded in the appropriate manner.”
In the end, Forbes was not able to determine whether the swarm had been his. “The weather has been so bad and [the bees] were swarming because they had been cooped up for so long,” he said, adding that beekeeping is not as passive a hobby as it used to be and that managing the hives that tend to be affected by diseases keeps him busy.
Kuhrt said that she benefited from taking first aid classes two years ago and that helped her stay calm during the time it took for the firemen and the ambulance to arrive. And the experience did not affect Kuhrt’s enthusiasm for beekeeping.
The idea was that Forbes would take the bees back to his place but Kuhrt is happy that they stayed. “We have the hive now and that’s great because we wanted to keep bees,” she says. “We feel that it is important. The declining population of bees is part of why our planet is in trouble.”