Survival Guide: The Sting
Art by Istvan Banyai
National Geographic Emerging Explorer
Location: South Sinai Peninsula, Egypt
We were working on the west coast of the Sinai Peninsula, where ancient Egyptians once processed copper (important for their finery). They smelted it in little pits, and we were trolling for evidence—ash, bits of copper slag—in foot-and-a-half-wide holes.
Scorpions like holes. We had to put our arms in the holes to dig out the smelting residues. We always performed critter checks before an excavation, but one morning I put an arm in and felt a sharp pierce. When I brought my hand out, it was red and already swelling. Here yellow-colored scorpions’ stings mean more or less instant death; about eight other local scorpion species’ stings are somewhat less lethal but excruciatingly painful. I’d just been stung, and there was no way to tell by what. I knew I had to keep my heart rate low so that any injected poison wouldn’t course through my blood. I tried staying calm.
Our Bedouin site monitor had an interesting way to treat bites: He coughed up phlegm, spit it on my arm, and rubbed it in. Then he took out a lighter to cauterize the wound. I stopped him just in time. Then the ambulance arrived. When I told the driver I needed to go to the hospital, he started in on a love poem to me instead. At the hospital the doctor looked disdainfully at my wrist and said, “It is nothing.” After I persuaded him to hook me up to a precautionary IV, a nurse brought some antivenom. I rolled up my sleeve, but she pointed to my bottom and said, “This is where shots go in Egypt.”
The IV’s morphine left me limp. When our site inspector heard I’d possibly been stung by a scorpion, he rushed to the hospital. Finding me motionless, he thought I’d died. I hadn’t, obviously. But I still don’t know what got me—I never saw it coming in that sandy pit.
Related: Satellite Archaeology
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