The night I thought I was going to die in Guatemala

I don’t write too many personal posts. However, every now and then something crazy happens and it warrants a post about my experience. Yes, the title is dramatic. But this was dramatic, and I honestly did think I was going to die in a dorm room in Lake Atitlan, Guatemala.

So what happened?

I decided to take a little break and visit Lake Atitlan from my temporary home in Antigua. It’s only a few hours on the bus and you get views like this.

 

Needing a mini break and I also wanted to get some treatment after a car accident in the UK a few weeks before had left me a quite a bit of back and neck pain.

Things that go STING in the night…

After having a wonderful weekend and went to bed in my wooden hut on the lake feeling blissed out…until at about 1 am I woke up with excruciating pain in my neck/ shoulder area. I rolled slightly and felt this burning pain again. I then went to touch the spot that hurt in a bit of a blind/ still half a sleep panic to then experience this pain in my wrist. This third wave or agony caused me to shoot up and start flapping around like a crazy person as I realized I was under attack from something that had a nasty bite.

Rolling slightly with the pain I once again felt this burning pain. Then I went to touch the spot that hurt in a bit of a blind/ still half a sleep panic to then experience this pain in my wrist.

This third wave or agony caused me to shoot up and start flapping around like a crazy person as I realized I was under attack from something that had a nasty bite!

WTF…

In my haze, I had no idea what happened. I think I may have managed to throw whatever it was from me. And I have a vague memory of crushing something. But the pain was so intense that was all I could focus on. So I grabbed my phone and checked my bed but I couldn’t find anything. I was safe, although I felt anything BUT!

But what happened next was even more terrifying.

Once the initial shock started to subside the pain continued to get worse and my fear and panic started to really kick in. At this point, I had no idea what had attacked me and therefore what my reaction was going to be. It was 1 am and everyone was asleep. I was in a remote part of Lake Atitlan with no idea where I would find a Dr or medical professional. There was no pharmacy in the area, no hospital for miles and the main form or transport is a boat. Which at 1 am isn’t going to be running. I was also staying in accommodation which had a lot of steps to get up to the main road for a Ruk Tuk or down to the lake for a boat.

My mother always told me…

After thinking all of this through I realized I didn’t have very many options here. But having a nurse for a mother (all you children of nurses know what I’m talking about) I’m also conditioned to know your fine so long as your airway doesn’t start to close. And to never leave home without ibuprofen and antihistamine. Unfortunately, I had neither, the ONE TIME I leave home without my mini first aid kit!

Anyway, I tried to keep calm in spite of the realization that if my airway did start to close, I had no antihistamine and no way of getting and medical help. There were 4 other people around so I bargained with myself that if it did start to close I’d wake them up and one of them would surely have some antihistamine right?

Deciding that I shouldn’t go back to sleep because I might not wake up was easy as I was in too much pain to sleep anyway. If you have ever been stung by a bee or a wasp, times that by 20 and then again 3 stings. That’s how much this hurt.

The pain I can cope with, it was when I realized my lips and tongue were tingling that a new wave of panic set in. It didn’t stop there, the tingling quickly spread to my whole body and I realized this was probably pretty serious. That’s when the googling began.

The struggle of being British…

For the next few hours I split my time between googling what kind of things can bite/ sting you in Guatemala, and can any of them kill you and watching Netflix on my phone to try and take my mind off my looming death. But also reminding myself that I could still breath, therefore I was probably going to live.

After 2-3 hours of still being alive, I decided I probably wasn’t going to die because I would already be dead. Although I still didn’t know what it was that had bit/ stung me by about 5 am I decided I needed to go to the bathroom. I tried to stand but my legs completely gave out and then my whole body started to do weird things. My muscles all contracting and I had no control over my movements.

That was it, the final straw, it was too much and I started shouting to wake up the room (it only took me 4 hours haha).

I did so in the most British was possibly being awfully polite and apologizing profusely for waking everyone up but that something had bit/ stung me 3 times and now I couldn’t walk. They were all very lovely about the situation and even carried me to the bathroom haha. After calming me down they told me they would get me some help as soon as they could, but it was 5 am, so that wouldn’t be for another few hours.

That was enough to calm me down, just knowing help was there.

Scorpiongate…

By this point my google searching had told me what I was experiencing was the effects of being stung (3 TIMES) by a scorpion, IN MY SLEEP.

People can react in 2 way to a scorpion sting:

Localized pain and swelling

or 

Total body reaction to the neurotoxin

This can cause temporary paralysis and your body to do some pretty crazy things. Plus the localized pain. BUT you hardly have a mark on you when the sting happened.

This second was what happened to me. 

I hardly have a mark on me where I was stuck but my reaction was terrifying. The effects normally last for 12 hours. For me, it was more like 24 hours. By the following day, I just had one leg that had a mind of its own and a burning right hand (the site of the third sting) plus my lips and tongue were still pretty numb.

There are scorpions in Guatemala?

I found out after this happened that scorpions are really common at the lake and that most local people hardly have any reaction to the stings, so you are unlikely to get much sympathy!

How do you deal with a scorpion sting?

If this happens to you there really isn’t a lot you can do. You just have to wait it out. It’s a good idea to take some antihistamines just in case you have an allergic reaction to the neurotoxin, which is what would cause your airway to close.

  • Try not to move about too much (you will likely not be able to anyway) as this will move the toxin through your body. I found every time I moved all of my muscles contracted in a weird way and it felt awful, so I tried to stay as still as possible.
  • Drink a lot of water. Drinking wasn’t pleasant for me as the muscle in my throat contracted every time I swallowed which terrified me as I struggled to take a breath. I had to sip the water slowly. Water is really important to flush out the neurotoxin though.
  • I also took activated charcoal. Don’t take this with the antihistamine as it will cancel it out. But activated charcoal helps get rid of poisons in the body. I’m not sure who well it worked but it made me feel better! It’s also great for a hangover apparently.

How to avoid getting stung by a scorpion

  • Always check your bed, shoes, and clothes. Just give them a quick shake out.
  • Put a few drops of tea tree oil around your bed. This should act as a deterrent.

What did I learn from this experience?

  • Guatemala has scorpions and I do not react well to their neurotoxin
  • Next time I think I’m dying I should probably wake people u sooner
  • Never ever leave home without antihistamines
  • Make sure you have activated charcoal in your first aid kit
  • ALWAYS check your bed and drop some tea tree oil around it
  • I’m pretty tough, getting stung 3 times by a scorpion and not completely losing my mind, crying and booking the next flight home is proof of that.

I leave for Lake Atitlan again tomorrow, wish me luck!

ps don’t worry Mum I have plenty ibuprofen and antihistamines this time 😉

 

If you need a cheap flight to anywhere check Skyscanner first! Or download their App here, and don’t forget your insurance!

 

18 Replies to “The night I thought I was going to die in Guatemala”

  1. omg! I don’t know how you didn’t wake anybody up sooner. I would have been in serious panic mode. I didn’t know people could survive a scorpion bite without any medications. I always assumed they were deadly. And good tip on bringing antihistamines and dropping tea tree oil around the bed.

    1. Honestly, I didn’t either! I didn’t even know they had scorpions here haha. I do now… Glad the advice is useful!

  2. Wow Claire what a hell of an experience!!! You must indeed have been terrified!!! I have found a scorpion in by bed in Nicaragua last year, I spotted it before getting and ever since I check what’s underneath the sheets before getting in. Did not sleep too well that night with the though of the tiny black creature around. As for now, enjoy the rest of Guatemala, such a wonderful country!!
    Marcella

    1. It’s the stuff of nightmares right haha. So glad you found it before you got into bed! My friend in Costa Rica found one in his underwear! Good job it fell out before he put them on!

  3. Glad to hear it turned out alright! I’ve seen a scorpion in Senegal in the camp we were staying in but thankfully the villagers spotted him before we did. I’d never heard of activated charcoal, what are the benefits?

    1. From what I gather it draws out poison in the body. I’m not 100% sure if it will work on a scorpion neurotoxin. I’ve read mixed things on it. But it’s worth keeping some with you anyway as it’s perfect for foodpoisoning..and a hangover haha.

  4. Sandy N Vyjay says: Reply

    This is a scary situation indeed. In the middle of nowhere and not even knowing what bit or stung you! But kudos to you for not panicking inspite of the sever effects of the sting. i know many a time a scorpion sting can be fatal, if the venom gets in the blood stream.

    1. The third string went right into my vein! I wonder if that’s why my reaction was so bad. Such a strange experience, it has taught me a lot!

  5. This sounds so scary, I didn’t know there were scorpions in Guatemala. It is good that it went well at the end. I wouldn’t know what to do either. But after reading this I definitely understood a little more. I try to always bring first aid kit and have a working travel insurance. Thank you for sharing your story and giving such useful tips 🙂

    1. So glad to help! A mini first aid kit is a must!

  6. Oh my goodness! How SCARY is that?! My hubby is always freaking out about bugs and creatures and I usually wave him off — but man, this has me having second thoughts! I am glad you got help and are okay. Thank you for the tips!!!

    1. Not going to lie, I’m bringing a mosquito net back with me next time I go back to the states!I don’t think I’ll ever not check around my bed again!

  7. Wow!! This is terrifying. And I’m so surprised you didn’t wake people up as you got stung. I’m a total wuss and would have screamed after the second bite. But it is really good to know how to deal with this. While I always have antihistamines with me, I never bring the charcoal, so that’s definitely going in my bag from now on. So glad that you came through it well, and for your next trip back to the Lake, you are ready. PS I’m totally looking around my apartment in Los Angeles now for scorpions even though that is completely irrational. 🙂

    1. hahaha. I am always on the look out for scorpions now too! I’ve seen 4 in my house this last few weeks. It’s hard not to freak out!

  8. Veronica P. says: Reply

    You reminded me to pack a new medical kit! I am so sorry that you had to go through this nightmare!

    1. Always have a mini medical kit haha.

  9. Holy crap! That’s insane! I’ve never been stung by a scorpion, and based on these descriptions, I don’t want to! It seems like quite the myriad of experiences you’ve had in Guatemala! I just recently read about your earthquake experience. Good to know that there are a few things that can start to help.

    1. It’s been life changing that’s for sure! Apparently, according to Mayan tradition being stung by a scorpion means big life changing transition. So it looks like I’m in for quite the transformation with my three strings haha. I’ve also spoken to people who hardly had a reaction at all. Crazy!

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