When I was 22, I woke up one Sunday morning in my small twin bed, in my sparsely furnished apartment in Boise, Idaho, and found a quarter-sized spider bite on my forearm. I remember looking at it closely, wondering why it wasn’t painful. A bite like that should be painful. It was deep red around the edges, and raised and puffy in the middle, with two soft red lines that must have been the teeth marks, like a tiny vampire bite.
I poked at the bite a bit, sitting up in bed, and wondered if it was dangerous. It was sizable. As a university student, I had a mediocre health care plan, meaning the only coverage I had was if I visited the doctor on campus. There was an off-campus plan, but it cost a much higher co-pay, whereas the campus doctor was completely covered. I looked at the medical flyer I had on my desk from the clinic and realized they were completely closed on Sundays.
I looked at the clock, 6 am, I should call my mom for advice, but she would still be sleeping. I had church in three hours, and I was supposed to teach a lesson in Sunday School on the parables of Jesus. Was I in any danger, with the bite this size? I looked down at the floor in my room and, with a small shudder, wondered where the spider was, and how big it was.
I moved over to my desk and grabbed the phonebook, wondering if any medical clinics outside the emergency room were open this early. Then I noticed, right there on the front page, an ad for a call-a-nurse line at the local hospital to discuss medical concerns, free of charge.
I grabbed my cell phone and called up the number. After a two-minute hold, a woman answered. She had a vapid, drawling tone to her voice, and I pictured her painting her nails while she held the phone on her ear, disinterested.
“Hello, thank you for calling the nurse line. My name is Leslie. How can I help you?”
“Hi, good morning. I’m Chad. I woke up this morning with a spider bite on my arm. It–”
“Can you describe the bite for me?”
“Yes, I was just about to.”
“Go ahead then.”
“Well, it’s about the size of a quarter. It is red around the edges, and a lighter color in the center. It’s raised a bit and I think there is a liquid in it.”
“And it was a spider that bit you?”
“I think so.”
“Did you see the spider?”
“No, ma’am. I was asleep.”
“Then how do you know it was a spider?”
“I–I’m assuming it is a spider. I don’t know it was a spider.”
She didn’t change the tone of her voice at all, but I heard her sit up and grab something off a shelf. It hit her desk or table with a small thump.
“Okay, hang on, I’m turning to the bites section. Is it painful?”
“No, it doesn’t hurt at all.”
“Hang on, hang on. Burns, here we go, bites. You said you think it was a spider?”
“Could you have been bit by a dog?” I heard her turn a page.
“No, it definitely wasn’t a dog.”
“No! It wasn’t a cat!”
“Could it have been a bat, or a squirrel?”
I sat down in my chair with a mighty roll of my eyes. “A squirrel? You think a rabid squirrel snuck into my room while I was sleeping and bit my arm?”
Her voice took on a tone of impatience. “Look, sir, I’m trying to help you here. There is no need for sarcasm.”
I hesitated for a moment, thinking of arguments. If I stayed on the phone, I had no doubt she would continue running down her list of animals, wondering perhaps if I had been bitten by a snake, a giant mosquito, or a monkey perhaps.
Instead, I hung up the phone and called my mom, who was already awake. She gave me advice to keep an eye on the bite and call her later. Sound, reasonable, and nothing about bats or squirrels.
A few hours later, I was teaching a group of college students in my Mormon congregation about the Good Samaratin parable, and was sharing with them a poem I had written about the scripture. They were all looking down at their papers when I moved my arm just wrong against the desk and felt a puncture. I saw the contents of my spider bite shoot across the desk a few feet, like a tiny water balloon had just exploded. The liquid was completely clear, like water or saline, and had a faint odor.
As the students finished the poem, they looked up to see me gently wiping the desk with a Kleenex, none the wiser.
Fifteen years later, I still have a faint scar on my forearm from that morning’s bite.It isn’t their fault, but I blame the squirrels.