This Side of the Pond – Jan. 8

By Sarah Pridgeon

This week’s adventure in transatlantic travel involves infiltration, a pharmacy bill and a new appreciation for the dangerous wildlife of Wyoming. The tale begins a week ago, as I woke from gentle slumber, stretched sleepily, fluttered my eyes wide open and flung the alarm clock against the wall. You know, the usual Monday morning routine.

I staggered to the bathroom to paw at the toothpaste tube before catching sight of myself in the mirror. As I do not have the good fortune to be a morning person, I don’t exactly roll out of bed with the poise of a supermodel, but something about my reflection was even more amiss than usual.

Specifically, I was bleeding. A thin trail of the red stuff was dribbling down my chin from what appeared to be a bite mark on my lip. Meanwhile, two fingers on my right hand were glowing a disturbing shade of pink.

I hadn’t been anywhere unusual the night before and I was fairly sure I hadn’t started any bar fights in my sleep. As far as I could tell, the cat hadn’t mistaken me for a box of treats in the dark and the dog (the one that could be bothered to wake up, at least) wasn’t acting any shiftier than usual.

A shot of coffee later and I was able to make an educated guess about the source of my various maladies. At some point during the night, an unidentified insect must have crawled across my hand, stinging me as it passed and causing me to bite my lip in surprise.

None of this woke me up, but it doesn’t surprise me in the slightest that my reaction to pain was to inflict further pain. The sleep version of me is not very bright; she regularly solves the problem of getting too hot under my blankets by rolling up the comforter and placing it on my head.

Now, getting attacked by an insect in my sleep is nothing unusual – I’ve woken up plenty of times back in Britain to mosquito and midge bites. Not thinking much of it, I liberally applied antiseptic cream to my injuries and went about my morning.

A couple of hours later, however, I noticed that two of my fingers had swollen to roughly twice their usual size. At this point, I hadn’t noticed there were two separate bite marks, so it appeared that my little finger was expanding for no good reason at all.

All of a sudden, the thought struck me that I hadn’t been bitten by an American insect before and I wasn’t sure if it was something one ought to be concerned about. I come from a land without rabies, malaria, plague or any other exotic disease, nor any insects that are particularly poisonous, so a sting from a bug is just a fleeting irritation.

But is that also the case in Wyoming? Was this normal? Should I be doing something specific to prevent side effects? Were serious side effects even a possibility?

I really wasn’t sure. I decided to seek advice from the helpful souls around me, but the first three I asked had no idea and I was met with various versions of, “heck if I know, good luck with that”.

A dear friend suggested I check to see if I could shoot webs from my wrists, as this might have been the beginning of my superhero origin story. As I am still showing no signs of walking on the ceiling, I must regretfully rule that one out.

I contacted my long-suffering husband, who was as yet unaware of my predicament. It being the middle of winter, I asked if he might know what hardy little bruiser could have been hanging around behind my pillow waiting for me to fall asleep.

He narrowed it down to two options, which I found impressive considering he hadn’t even seen the bite marks. It was either a spider on a wander or a centipede that had come in out of the cold.

Were either of these choices especially final, I wondered? Should I be expecting my arm to fall off in the near future? Aside from one person calming my nerves with the fact that, had it been a toxic species, I’d be blackened all the way up to my elbow, nobody seemed to know.

It occurred to me that none of these Wyoming natives had mentally catalogued the causes and effects of bite marks. This suggested I could live without doing so either, but one can never be too sure and, by this time, I’d convinced myself I was feeling a bit dizzy.

I headed to the nearest source of medical assistance: the pharmacy. Here I was told in a blessedly calming tone that I was probably not going to keel over and that some cream or anti-allergy pills would do the trick. I purchased both, just to be safe.

The lovely pharmacist reassured me that the swelling would go down on its own within a couple of days and that it was unlikely to be anything to worry about. If I started to feel unwell, she directed me to the emergency room because I might be having a serious allergic reaction (at which, obviously, I started to feel distinctly unwell).

I did survive intact, I’m pleased to report, though one of my fingers is still red and itchy to this day. I tell you this tale mainly to excuse my appearance over the last week.

If you spotted me wandering the streets recently with oversized fingers and a damaged lip and wondered if I’d been in a scuffle, you weren’t far from the truth. I’d comment that you should have seen the other guy, but I’m still not sure who he was.