The Case of the Deadly Wetsuit (lengthy)

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Posted by tleemay on May 10, 2003 at 20:35:34:

I got a call from a friend of mine this afternoon. He
lives in the Bay Area and called to tell me he has
been in the hospital for two days (so far) of bed
ridden observation.

Michael (not that one) and his new bride were preparing
for their dream honeymoon dive trip to Aruba.

It was last Thursday evening and they were packing their
stuff for the trip leaving this up coming Sunday. He and
his wife of 12 days went to their garage and pulled out
their two gear bags with their stored gear in them.

I dove with Michael a couple times in years past in
Hawaii and Bimini on extended weekends while working
on the road. Michael is big on warm water diving, but
never really got into the temperate water thing. Michael
bought all new dive gear and 2 mil suit for his wife who
has been a diver for almost two years now. Michael
himself dives 20 to 30 times a year usually in Hawaii or
Mexico. He's been certified since 1996.

Sue opened the gear bags and started to sort through
Michael's stuff. It had been stored in the garage since
last August when he was last in Maui. Since Sue's stuff
was less than a month old and recently fitted, it went
into the travel bags first. Michael, however, wanted to
make sure his skin suit and 2 mil shorty still fit him.
He appeared to have gained some weight recently and
wanted to make sure everything fit properly or else he
would have to hot foot it down to Wallin's and get a new
set before they left.

The Body Glove suit was about 3 or 4 years old. It was
still in good shape, just slightly faded from all those
UVs. Michael stripped to his skivvies and slipped the
suit on. It fit OK. It could be slightly larger, but
he decided it would be OK for the trip later that next
week. With slight difficulty, the suit came off and into
the travel bag it went. Sue made some comical comment
about whales and neoprene to which they both laughed.

It was now almost 9pm, almost an hour after Michael and
Sue checked their gear and they were watching TV in
their living room. Sue noticed Michael was getting
pretty red in the face and wheezing. Michael is not a
heavy guy and does work out in the gym 4 days a week.
She described him as being short of breath, skin tone
going from flush to pale in a matter of seconds. Michael
told her that he was getting dizzy and was having a hard
time breathing.

Sue's mom is a nurse in Redding, so a call went out to
her first. It took less that 30 seconds after talking to
mom to make the call to 911. Sue's mom said it sounded
like he was having a severe allergic reaction to

The ambulance showed up in their Los Altos driveway
about 7 minutes later. Michael was still having a
problem breathing and the flush/pale skin was now
showing hives and splotchy skin. Michael was also
complaining of tightening shoulder and thigh muscles.
The paramedics and ambulance took him to the local
hospital. Only one thing was going through Sue's mind,
she had prepared for dinner a creole shrimp dish that
evening. She was starting to believe that Michael was
having a allergic reaction to something that was in the
dinner. She told the Paramedics that and it was noted
down in their field patient notes. Of course Michael
said that he has no known food or other allergy.

Sue rode with Michael to the emergency room holding his
hands and stroking his brow softly. She said her biggest
fear that time was that Michael would lose
consciousness and never awake. I have never met Sue, but
I could tell in Michaels' voice and description that she
is a very strong woman and she was scared.

In the ER, a battery of blood screenings toxin tests
were performed. Drugs were administered to Michael to
mitigate the symptoms of this reaction. The doctors
were still not positive what the reaction was from, or
if it Was really a reaction at all. By 2:30 am, the
toxicology report came back from the lab. The reason for
Michael's illness became clear.

Black widow toxin was present in Michael's bloodstream.

Sue said she almost fainted when she heard the results.
She was tremendously relieved that it wasn't her cooking
that put Michael in such dire straits.

A physical search of Michael's body was performed and
a very small slight red bump, less than half the size of
a BB, as Michael described it, was discovered ankle high
on the back of his left leg. The doctors took a needle
and removed some of the tissue at the bump for lab
analyzation. Michael was starting to feel better but
still suffered from a major body rash, tight muscles and
high fever. He began to sleep off and on. He finally
went out completely around 4am. Sue and her friend who
came down to calm her during the ordeal went home for
the morning.

Doctors had since moved Michael to a regular hospital
room but kept him wired up to the heart and respiration

At Sue and Michael's home, the first thing Sue and her
friend did was look for black widow spiders. She looked
in the living room where Michael was laying when the
reaction first started. Nothing. They looked in the
garage where Michael pulled down the bags with the
dive gear stored in them. Nothing. The started sorting
through the gear they pulled out and there they found
it. A dead black widow spider about the size of a
quarter located on the inside left cuff of Michael's 3
mil suit, the same suit he tried on and modeled the
previous evening. Sue picked up the spider with a paper
towel and took it to the hospital a few hours later
after a very brief nap.

The report came back from the lab that same morning
stating that the red bump on the back of his left ankle
was indeed a black widow spider bite. The toxin and
other tell tale compounds were were concentrated at the

It appears that Michael's suit had a black widow spider
living in it. When he slipped the suit on, the spider
must have bitten Michael out of defense, or spite, of
having it's home disturbed. Michael probably killed the
spider when his leg slipped into the suit and pulled it
out, crushing the spider to death.

Michael suspects he will be out of the hospital by
Sunday afternoon or Monday morniong. Their Aruba trip
is now on hold, and Sue went to Home Depot today and
purchased no fewer than 9 cans of insect room fogger to
completely gas the house, garage, and all it's contents.

And that closes the case of the deadly wetsuit.

Now go check those stored suits and remember, let's be
careful out there.

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