In 2005, while traveling in Alaska, my mother had one of the most strange and painful experiences I’ve ever heard of. I venture to guess that you’ve never heard of anything like this before, either.
Mom was wandering around in Talkeetna, which is a quaint little town set in the shadow of Denali, the highest point in North America. She wandered into a cafe and saw a giant chocolate chip cookie in a bakery case. She couldn’t resist. She ordered it and walked outside, smiling up at the saturated blue sky. It was such a beautiful day to eat a chocolate chip cookie.
Now, Alaska is a fabulous place, filled with more nature per square mile than most states have in a hundred: luscious forests, a profusion of moose, bears, manatees, and other unexpected wildlife, peaks and valleys and bays and glaciers. It gives you a glimpse of what Manhattan, Chicago, and Los Angeles must have been like before Columbus brought all his friends for an extended party. That transcendent beauty was what my mother was pondering when she bit into her cookie.
Immediately, she felt an intense, shooting pain in her tongue. She dropped the cookie and spit out all that was in her mouth, but the pain continued. She had no idea what was causing the pain, but it continued, even deepened, so she began to walk, looking for help. She remembered that her tour group leader had appointed a street corner two blocks down as an emergency rendezvous, so she began to make her way towards that spot.
While walking, Mom was sure she would faint before she got there. But my mother is nothing if not a survivor, so she focused her mind and forced herself to remain conscious. After what seemed like an eternal march, she finally arrived at the appointed corner. A tour guide immediately took her elbow, saw that she was in intense pain, and rushed her to the ER.
When the doctor finally saw her, he peered inside her mouth with a light and immediately spotted the problem.
“You’ve been stung by a bee,” he said. “On the tongue.”
My mother was shocked. But gradually, she began to piece together what must have happened. A bee must have landed on the cookie. Since she hadn’t been wearing her glasses, she thought the dark spot was a chocolate chip, not a bee, so she bit into it heartily.
“If you had tried to pull it out by yourself,” the doctor said, “the stinger would have broken off in your tongue and we wouldn’t have been able to get it out. But I have special tools that will allow me to extract it completely.”
Two years later, I traveled to Talkeetna again with my mother. She felt vaguely uneasy. She was going to ignore the cafe, but I insisted that we revisit the scene of the crime. I insisted that she buy another chocolate chip cookie. I insisted that she go outside and eat it again. I insisted that she rise above her fear.
So she did. It was a great big chocolate chip cookie. She wandered outside, sat down on a bench, and began eating. It was a fabulous cookie on a fabulous day in a lovely state that has no peer. This time, though, she insisted on one small difference: that she wear her glasses.