The patient: “Heather,” a woman in her early 60’s, who has endured allergic sensitivities as long as she could remember. Her troubling symptoms varied, from skin rashes to intestinal cramping.
Why she came to see me: She initially came to have her diet and allergies evaluated after not having any success with a myriad of other health care providers over the years. She experienced skin allergies as well as food reactions that came and went without any rhyme or reason. For example, she would react to certain foods at one time and then be tolerant a few weeks later. She developed a skin rash to a wool sweater one season and then the next year tolerated it without a problem. During one of our follow-up visits, I asked her about what other issues she had and she mentioned a persistent cyst on her upper back.
How I evaluated her: The suspicious cyst was located near her shoulder blade adjacent to her spine. It was relatively superficial and the size of a nickel. On palpation, it presented as moderately tender with evidence of some deeper fluid accumulation. At the surface, there was evidence of scar tissue around what appeared to be the opening of a sebaceous gland. (Sebaceous glands are the oil-producing glands that surround hair follicles).
How we addressed her problem: I explained to Heather that even though I had residential training in minor and orificial surgery, the State of Connecticut did not permit naturopathic physicians to perform surgery. I could, however, use a scalpel to remove superficial scar tissue from the area overlying the cyst. This procedure is called “wound debriding,” or removing non-vital tissue, and thus technically not surgery. (Note: If it looked either deeply complex, requiring surgical removal, or potentially cancerous, I would have referred Heather to a dermatologist.)
Upon clearing away the overlying scarring blocking the opening to the cyst, I was able to begin to massage out fluid and a small-but-suspicious dark mass the size of a BB. What followed was entirely unexpected. A thin thorn-like spike approximately 1/3” in length emerged and I extracted it with tweezers. It was the remainder of a honey bee poison sack and stinger!
Heather remembered being stung in summer camp when she was eight years old, but never did more than take Benadryl at the time. A few years later she experienced a dramatic reaction to allergy desensitization “therapy” provided by a local allergist who pronounced her “strongly allergic” to bees and gave her an epi-pen after seeing her upper arm weep serum where he had administered her “therapeutic” injections.
I was able to express the remaining contents of the cyst and bandaged the wound.
The patient’s progress: What surprised both of us is that in the ensuing months, Heather’s chronic allergies began to improve, and a nagging muscular stiffness that she had most of her life in her upper back waned as well. Quite amazing that a foreign body, inserted in one’s youth, can play havoc over one’s entire life.