Bugs. Spiders in particular.
Not really the topic one expects when they are browsing a photography blog.
But trust me, it’s relevant. (Ask me how I know. Or, just keep reading… 🙂 )
I’m currently on another round of antibiotics from my second spider-bite-turned-cellulitis in 6 months. Both times I was bitten while taking pictures.
As horse people, we are used to dealing with the nuisance of flies, gnats, and mosquitoes, on a regular basis during the warmer months. We buy the next, best fly spray on the market, hang traps, and cover ourselves in repellent.
It’s important to have bug spray – for both the horse and person – on a photo shoot during warmer weather. Stomping, wiggling, head shaking, and tail whipping can all cause problems when trying to create a serene portrait.
But it’s important to remember that bugs don’t completely disappear when the temperature drops. And wearing pants, boots, and long sleeves may not be enough protection.
Last year, at the end of October, I was in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia visiting a high school friend. She had just bought a new horse, so of course I had to go see him – and take pictures. (Even if it was in the middle of the day with terrible lighting!)
^^ I mean, he’s pretty cute, right?
I noticed a red bump about the size of a dime on the back of my calf that night, but ignored it. It didn’t hurt and I was on a rare mini-vacation after all.
The following day, about 24 hours after I had been to see the horses, I noticed my leg had started to really hurt. I checked it out, and that dime sized bump had turned into the size of a baseball. It had quickly turned into cellulitis – a serious skin infection – and ended up spreading to cover almost my entire lower leg.
I’ll spare you the details, but it was not fun and I was unable to walk much for 2 weeks. It is one of the most painful things I’ve ever experienced – and I’ve been through 23 hours of labor! I still have a quarter sized mark on my leg with a dent in the calf muscle from where the tissue died.
The consensus – from both the doctor at the urgent care clinic I visited and my regular doctor when I got home – was that a highly venomous spider had bitten me – most common guess was a brown recluse.
Now, it has happened again – albeit to a much lesser degree, thank goodness! During one of my photo shoots last week for The Traveling Dress Project, I was bitten by something several times on my other leg.
I noticed I had several itchy spots the next day, purchased some Caladryl, and didn’t think about it much. The spots itched like crazy, and did grow in size a bit, but otherwise didn’t seem alarming. I figured I had crashed a spider party, or come across some other bug that wasn’t happy to meet my foot.
4 days later I woke up with what I immediately recognized as cellulitis and headed to an urgent care clinic once again. (Why do these things always seem to happen when regular doctor’s offices are closed??) The irritated area had doubled in size, measuring almost a foot across and a foot tall and was hot, swollen, and painful.
This time, while the doctor did think it was bug bites, it was probably from a run-of-the-mill spider or bug, and not one of the more venomous kinds. Luckily, aside from being ridiculously itchy, it’s not interfering with my ability to walk or get normal things done this time.
^^Could have happened in a few different places I shot that evening, but the cornfield is a pretty solid guess.
People get bit by bugs all the time of course, and it doesn’t always turn into a bigger issue. But supposedly once you’ve had cellulitis, particularly in a lower leg, you are more susceptible to it from then on. And all it takes is a little bit of bacteria – which is naturally on a person’s skin on a regular basis – getting inside the body through a cut, scrape, or bite.
Both times I was at locations I had never been to, walking in fields, areas of tall grass, and near buildings that weren’t used very often. As an equine photographer, those are things I do on a regular basis.
Cellulitis is common and easily treated, but if left alone, can be life-threatening.
It’s a good idea (especially now that tick season is starting as well!) to check yourself over after outdoor shoots and look for suspicious bumps. It doesn’t matter whether you were the photographer or the model, or how much clothing you had on – at my shoot last week it was freezing out and I was bundled up pretty good.
Keep an eye on anything you find, keep them clean, and if any of them suddenly grow, get hot, painful, or swollen, get to a doctor.
Antibiotics are generally the best way to take care of cellulitis, but while I was waiting for them to kick in, I whipped up a home remedy that really took the pain and swelling out of my leg that I’ll share. The ingredients are known for having antiseptic, anti inflammatory, and healing properties.
- 2 tsp Bentonite Clay (Sometimes used in poultices for horses, it helps draw stuff out.)
- 1 tsp Honey
- 1 tsp Turmeric Powder (I happened to have it in pill form, so I just emptied a few capsules.)
- 8-10 drops Tea Tree Oil
- Water as needed to get a consistency that will spread over the area, but not drip.
I applied it for several days and left it on for 30-60 minutes depending on what I was doing, and it helped tremendously. Side note: Turmeric will leave an orange tint to the skin for a day or so, and can stain anything you use to clean it up, so don’t use your favorite towel!
Happy shooting, stay safe, and watch out for spiders!