TMC Nurse Shares Bee Swarm Story to Raise Awareness

In a matter of seconds last July, Jodi Gabriel went from sharing a pleasant walk in an eastside wash with her two German shepherds to being covered by bees.

The TMC nurse case manager recalls walking along when all of a sudden something hit her hat. Assuming it was a fly, she swatted at it.

That was clearly the wrong move.

“It wasn’t a fly. It was a bee. And within seconds, I had literally hundreds of them all over my body,” Gabriel said.

Gabriel is talking about her recovery, most recently in a KVOA interview, in the hopes of raising awareness, now that the weather is warming up and the chances for bee encounters are increasing. Tucson Fire Department spokeswoman Trish Tracy said her department has handled two swarm calls this week, as April nears.

Even in the midst of the attack, Gabriel remembered a safety tip she’d seen in the past to cover her nose and mouth to keep her airways clear – something her nursing training reinforced. Also wanting to protect her eyes, she pulled her shirt over her face and ran for help, releasing her dogs and telling them to run. They were recovered after the attack.

She knocked on the door of some neighbors she’d never met before, who ushered her in, still covered in bees.

At some point, she just became numb to the number of stings she had accumulated. It wasn’t until later, when she was getting emergency treatment, that she saw stingers covering her arms and abdomen. Altogether, she had about 200 stings, she estimated.

Gabriel, highly allergic to bee stings, still has welts that haven’t healed and hasn’t  been able to return to her walks in the wash.

“It’s a lesson to all of us to be kind to the bees,” Gabriel said, adding she suspects her dogs uprooted a colony and her swat helped trigger their aggressive reaction. She suggested  hikers and cyclists might consider carrying a bandanna with them to help provide cover in the case of a swarm.

She credited her neighbors’ kindness with her recovery. “I’m really thankful. They really did save me.”

Tracy, of Tucson Fire, said Gabriel did the right thing by covering her face and running.

Dr. Scott Lowry, an emergency room doctor at TMC, said bee sting cases still remain fairly rare, but they can be serious, particularly if patients have allergies and find their airways closing.

One important tip: When removing a stinger, take caution not to squeeze, since it releases more toxins, he said. Instead, take a credit card and scrape the stingers off the skin.

The Centers for Disease for Control suggests the following steps to deal with bee season:

  • Avoid perfumed toiletries and don’t wear cologne or perfume;
  • Don’t swat at a stinging insect, which may cause it to sting. If attacked by a swarm, run to get away and go indoors if possible.
  • Do not jump into water to escape attacking bees. Africanized bees can hover above the water and sting when you surface for air.
  • If you are stung, don’t use tweezers to extract the stinger, but brush it off with a fingernail or credit card.
  • Don’t scratch, since that might increase the risk of infection.

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Tucson Medical Center | 5301 E. Grant Rd. | Tucson, AZ 85712 | (520) 327-5461
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