THE ITSY BITSY SPIDER - Man has deadly reaction to black widow bite

  • Published
  • By Tim Barela
  • Torch Magazine
He sat in the hospital waiting room clenching his teeth and clutching the sides of his chair as each muscle spasm sent shock waves of agony through his entire body. Dripping with sweat, he worried that with the venom's entry point on his stomach, it only had a short distance to reach his heart.

Derek Nash, a 36-year-old petroleum engineer in Houston, had been bitten by a black widow spider while he slept.

With its round, black body and red hourglass marking, the black widow is America's most recognizable spider. It delivers a neurotoxin that could force the toughest ultimate fighters to tap out and lay them up in a hospital bed for days. Though its bite is rarely fatal, it's still not an arachnid to trifle with.

Nash had awoken at about 4 a.m. and immediately knew something was wrong. It didn't take him long to locate the puffy red bite on his stomach. He was staying with his parents at the time, so they woke rushed him to the hospital.

"Derek isn't the type to complain so when he woke us in the wee hours, we knew it was serious," said his mother, Teresa Nash. "The only other time he complained to me of an ailment, he had to have an emergency appendectomy."

At the hospital, Teresa said her son was trying to be the tough guy and kept down playing the pain to the doctor.

"But when the doctor would leave, he'd double over and nearly pass out," she said.

Nash admitted the pain got to him.

"I was a competitive swimmer in high school so I'd experienced cramping and muscle fatigue before," he said. "The spider toxin causes a similar sensation, but it doesn't go away ... there's no relief."

Doctors didn't administer an antivenin, as some people have a worse allergic reaction to that. They watched him closely to see if his body would fight off the neurotoxin naturally.

"They gave me some pain killers and a sedative, and I lost a day ... I was out for like 20 hours straight," Nash said.

He spent three days -- at times twitching uncontrollably -- in a hospital bed, but was able to overcome the bite and recover without antivenin.

"It was not a fun experience," he said. "I never want to go through it again."

The Air Force has experienced its share of spider bite mishaps with the black widow and the brown recluse teaming up to do the most damage, according to the Air Education and Training Command Ground Safety Division. In the past few years a black widow sent a 28-year-old Airman to the hospital and caused him to miss 17 days of work. A brown recluse sent a 47-year-old Airman to the hospital for 10 days where he had surgery to clean and drain the wound on his calf. He spent another 24 days on quarters recovering.

"Most spider bites that happen in the Air Force can be prevented by wearing the proper protective equipment such as gloves and not reaching into dark, hard to see areas without clearing them first," said Robbie Bogard, AETC occupational safety manager. "Of course, keeping your work areas tidy and good pest control procedures never hurt either."