Only God has a tally of how many spiders make their home in Costa Rica. All are poisonous to one degree or another. My first experience was with a black widow (or so they thought) on a photo shoot in a coffee field in Cachi. More interested in the photo than where I was going, I backed into her. Realizing that I had been bitten, I finished the photos I needed and drove to Cartago for anti-venom. The bite area was swollen and turning color. The injection did its magic, but the skin through the area of the bite and the course of the venom eventually turned black, peeled away then came back healthy.
On Saturday, Dec. 21, we were preparing to leave for our home near the Playa Naranjo ferry. I was working next to our small koi pond in Cartago. This area is a protected area between the house and the rancho, about four square meters. The electrical pump is near a plant. The spider was either on a plant or next to the electrical outlet. I never saw the thing but immediately felt it.
Initially it was not painful. When I looked with my reading glasses the magnified lenses could not see it. I felt it though. The first finger began swelling, but I felt no pain. It increased in size 15 percent, then the hand began to swell as well. That I did not say anything at first was my first mistake. I thought a good cleaning and hydrogen peroxide would make it go away. The right hand increased in size, shape and the pain. From mid-arm to finger tips it felt like some someone was stabbing me needles. My wife, Silvia, took me to emergency at Hospital Max Peralta in Cartago.
After one buttock shot plus a week supply of steroids four times per day from the pharmacy, we were on our way in two and a half hours. I was amazed. I thought that would take care of it. I underestimated this critter.
This was day one…
Before leaving, we had a birthday party to attend. With the pain building like a nuclear fusion, I was becoming a caged, nasty animal with long fangs, red eyes and crazed disposition, but we had a family party that was a MUST ATTEND.
It was a wonderful tribute to a man’s 70th, but I was not having a good time. The pain, rather than subsiding, was increasing. Neither the finger nor the hand could be touched. If someone so much as brushed it with a dress fabric, the contact sent me into pain spasms that lasted longer than a minute. About 5:30, I asked if we could go, but Silvia wanted to stay a little longer. At 6 p.m., the mariachis had not arrived nor had the cake been cut. To leave would have been rude. It was a great party with family and friends. Tylenol 3 with codeine was not making a dent.
One week later, the pain was intense and occasionally extreme when I bumped it. The finger could not be touched. At times, sharp shooting pains would almost freeze hand movement. From the first to second joints were as red as Rudolph’s nose.
The first joint was bent like a fishing hook and could not be straightened. I religiously took my pills but nothing was working. Silvia had a planned family meeting in Condovac, so I would be on my own while my wife joined her sisters.
On Sunday Jan. 5, after 15 days, I had experienced enough pain from the spider that I drove 26 kilometers to Jicaral for treatment at the clinic. It was a pleasant, modern facility with no waiting line.
The first joint was still radish red and badly swollen. When the nurse took hold of it, I literally jumped out my seat. The nurse was very pleasant as she told me to sit and returned with a needle and syringe. As if I did not understand Spanish, she said this will hurt. She could have been speaking Chinese. I knew what was coming. I started singing when she put the needle into the finger. First, “Feliz Navidad” then “We wish you a Merry Christmas”. She was laughing, squeezing my finger while I was seeing a gusher of blood arching into a bowl. I sang louder.
When it was over they gave me a soaking solution to drain the poison and pills. Just what I wanted, more pills. She told me to soak it 15 minutes every six hours. I soaked it 20 for good measure. I could feel the solution working. It drew like a leech but, at first, I did not know from where.
Three days later, the first digit that the spider tried to destroy, was still there but undergoing change. It has been 20 days since it sank its fangs in me and other than the nurse opening the wound to drain the accumulated blood, nothing much had happened. Yesterday, after using the draining solution, a hole had opened. Blood and puss began to ooze from the bite area. The reason, I suppose, that the pain has been intense is the movement has covered a distance of ¾ inch. The body was pushing the poison across the finger from right to left and out the hole. What caught me by surprise was that I could see the stream of poison when I wiped the wound because it was black like a two millimeter hair. It was very obvious. Following the opening there was an immediate reduction of pressure/pain.
On the fifth day (19 days after the bite), the hole continues to leak fluid. It appears that a second hole may open by the cuticle and fingernail. When I apply pressure the bone between the first and second joint crack like they were broken. Cartilage damage? The finger is still bent and twisted from straight to right about two degrees then left again. The swelling and redness has receded some.
I will never again go without gloves in the Cartago gardens. Here, on the Nicoya peninsula, we have scorpions like house pets. I discovered a one-foot snake skin this morning next to our car.
With spiders everywhere, when working in obvious areas where it is possible they exist, the best advice is to wear gloves. I forgot and learned the hard way that even a domesticated home is a nesting ground for an unwanted critter.