Australian Seagulls, Spider Bites, and Blue Mountains

by Nora Dunn on February 18, 2010

My visit to Sydney was beautifully rounded out by staying with some friends just outside of the city. And aside from a chance encounter – or rather encounters (37 in total) – with some nasty spiders, all was beautiful.

First, we took advantage of a gorgeous day (the first that wasn’t rainy in ages) to visit the Blue Mountains. Although they weren’t particularly blue (they’re supposed to have a blue-ish hue to them from all the eucalyptus oil in the air, but it wasn’t apparent on this day – likely because of previous rain), they were indeed beautiful.

One of the towns nestled around the Blue Mountains is Leura, with a small population and a huge collection of boutique shops perfect for window shopping. Stop at the Red Door Café for a wonderful meal if you’re in the area.

On the second consecutive beautiful day, we took advantage of the sunshine and visited Wollongong to enjoy prawns on the beach and to meet some Aussie seagulls. Wollongong has miles upon miles of surf-friendly beaches, and after school, it isn’t uncommon to see hoards of students in their uniforms headed for the beach with schoolbags on their backs and surf boards/boogie boards under their arms.

If you have seen the movie Finding Nemo, you’ll identify with the world-wide call of the seagull: Mine, Mine, Mine! Well here at Wollongong while we enjoyed our delicious prawns, the Aussie seagulls crowded us, looking for handouts in typical seagull-style. But this time, instead of Mine, Mine, Mine, I’m sure I heard their own individual Aussie incantation: Mate, Mate, Mate!

No, really. I did.

And if that wasn’t amusing enough, the oversized and gangly pelican that eventually joined our mob of seagulls looking for food rounded out the fun!

And now, for the spider part of the story.

As you may recall, I’ve not had the best of luck with critters that bite and sting. In my first two weeks in Hawaii, I managed to get attacked by centipedes twice, the second onslaught rendering me incapable of walking for a short time.

So with my luck and now being amongst the highest concentration of icky spiders and snakes of anywhere in the world, I had wondered how I’ve survived this long in Australia largely unscathed. Now, I don’t have to wonder any more.

One night, a spider – or spiders – must have decided was I just too delicious for words, because I awoke in the morning with dozens (quite literally) of bites. 37 bites to be exact. Although I don’t know what kind of spider it was, I’m willing to bet it wasn’t poisonous since I’m not dead yet.

But each day since then has been an adventure in discovering how these bites have mutated. First, it was the standard symptoms: itching and swelling. But a week later when I’d have suspected they would have largely dissipated, they were instead mutating in gruesome and slightly painful ways.

Fevers and other internal physical symptoms aside (!), these bites were hours of entertainment. Some of the bites resembled blood blisters, while others turned hard and became raised from the skin. The heat, redness, and swollen hard skin radiating from each bite rounded out the look.

Still thinking this was all quite a bit of fun (indeed, I have a perverse idea of what “fun” is), I showed my war wounds to a few Aussies, who highly suggested I seek medical attention – immediately.

(The pictures below were taken when I was still amused by them, the day before I asked for advice. Just imagine those bites as bigger, darker, and all over my body, and you get the idea!)

Not having Australian medical coverage and having dealt with travel insurance and hospital visits not once, but twice since leaving Canada, the thought of going to yet another hospital sent shivers down my spine. After the Dengue fever fiasco I had resolved that unless I was on the brink of death, I would not file any insurance claims and would pay cash for whatever medical attention I needed.

So instead of going to the hospital, I went to the pharmacy to get a second opinion.

And they told me to go to the hospital.

Defeated, I asked my host if she would like to show me a part of Canberra that not many tourists get to see: the inside of an emergency room. But we didn’t get very far; after being told by ER administration that it would cost $400 for the simple privilege of seeing a doctor (tests and incidentals are extra), I promptly replied that I’d rather die from the bites and reeled out of there.

Instead we found a medical clinic which charged a quarter of that amount, and 20 minutes later I walked out with a prescription for some antibiotics that would kick the heck out of whatever infection seemed to have a hold on me and was now making my body turn an interesting purple colour.

Days later, there is little evidence of the 37 bites of which I was so proud. And truthfully, I’m not even sure they were spider bites, although it’s an educated guess based on previous (isolated) spider bites. My body continues to be pillaged by antibiotics, but overall I survived the incident largely unscathed. I’m actually kind of disappointed I don’t have some grotesque scar to show as a war wound!

Sometimes they say the best travel adventures are mis-adventures. With a smile on my face, I can now say I’ve been attacked by Australian spiders (or something like it; let’s just say they were spiders, shall we? It sounds better for effect) and survived the incident. On to the next adventure – hi ho!

{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

Samantha M. February 19, 2010 at 3:50 am

Thought this may sound like I am fear mongering or fussing you but next time you get bitten by a spider get on antibiotics straight away. I’ve seen nasty weeping sores on a friend from a spider bit before she finally took herself to the docs and have ended up with a big scar the size of a 20c piece where all the flesh went manky and abscessed. The idea of 37 sores like that . . ewww.

When my Mother got bitten her whole arm swelled up in the about 15 minutes it took to get her to the hospital, and that too was just from the bacteria on the fangs. She was on antibiotics for ages but she suffered no ill effects from the bite.

Of course we live in rural SA so it might be a different type of spider they suspect it was either the white tailed or recluse spider.

Just wondering if you can buy private health insurance so you don’t have to worry about medical bills so much? I know we have private health insurance agencies in Australia, but I am not sure if they would someone from another country or not, but it might be worth looking into.

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Samantha M. February 19, 2010 at 3:55 am

Ack wish I could edit my post, my husband just informed me that researchers haven’t proven that white tipped spiders cause abscesses and I am just repeating the urban myth my mother told me. All I do know is that something that bit her had her on antibiotics for 28 days.

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JoAnna February 19, 2010 at 8:57 am

Eww. No fun! Glad it wasn’t TOO dangerous and didn’t cost you an arm and a leg (sarcasm intended).

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theprofessionalhobo February 19, 2010 at 10:46 am

@Samantha – I’ve heard that story about white-tailed spiders too! I don’t necessarily believe they were white-tails since I’m led to believe that each bite packs more punch than what I suffered from on a bite to bite level. But I did start to experience some discolouration of the flesh that I believe if left unattended could have turned into a nice little rotted flesh wound…

ewww! (smiles)

As for travel insurance, I currently pay (dearly) for something called ex-pat insurance, which covers me anywhere in the world (except the US) if I land in the hospital as an in-patient. Since I don’t qualify for basic medical coverage back in Canada any longer (I’ve been gone too long), I can’t get standard travel insurance any more. So I basically self-insure anything that isn’t critical. With a little prudence (like not paying $400 to enter an ER!), I seem to be getting by okay. But attending to medical problems (small and otherwise) without having a net to catch you as I’m used to in Canada, is a stressful thing!

@JoAnna – Sarcasm and pun appreciated! Whatever doesn’t kill you…er, me…

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niamh February 20, 2010 at 6:00 am

Whew! I was enjoying your post about Leura – the cutest town in the southern hemisphere for sure, when we got to the spiders bit. Euw and double euw! I’m not sure which visa you are on but this is the company I was with in Aus; it covered lots of things!
http://www.austhealth.com/

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theprofessionalhobo February 20, 2010 at 1:19 pm

@Niamh – I’m glad you liked Leura…I loved the Blue Mountains in general, but found Leura in particular to have so much charm.

The insurance you refer to unfortunately won’t fit the bill given our visa situation, and doesn’t necessarily cover much more than my expat insurance does. So far, insuring for emergencies and self-funding the rest has worked pretty well. Thanks for the link, though! It’s great for people here on working visas.

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Glenn Dixon February 27, 2010 at 3:47 pm

If you’re ever in the Southern U.S. don’t let spider bites go that long. If they are brown recluse you will lose skin and muscle, and possibly body parts. Antibiotics won’t help either. Just sayin’…..

Nice pelican shots!

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theprofessionalhobo March 1, 2010 at 3:39 pm

@Glenn – Fair enough. By the time I was turning purple, I had thought better of ignoring it for so long! Ah well – if I can survive 37 bites in the country with the highest concentration of deadly spiders of anywhere, I figure I’m doing okay! :-)

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Bill Jenkins March 29, 2010 at 1:51 pm

FYI, I can’t view this correctly on the latest Montif browser.

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theprofessionalhobo March 30, 2010 at 10:51 am

@Bill – Geez – I thought I had fixed the site to it works with all browsers. How does it show up?

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Glenn Dixon March 30, 2010 at 12:33 pm

Nora,

That would appear to be spam. I did a search for it because I’ve never heard of that type of browser before. Good reason, cuz it doesn’t exist!

Damned spammers…

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theprofessionalhobo March 31, 2010 at 6:04 am

@Glenn – Whew – thanks! I didn’t want to have to do a redesign again! These spammers are getting more and more clever each day…

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Baron's March 22, 2012 at 2:45 pm

Wow quite a story….glad you made it through….

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Wendy October 5, 2012 at 9:26 am

May be it wasn’t spiders but bed bugs or mosquito’s.
Before I travel I take out general comprehensive travel insurance which covers for medical among many other things, Here I use RACV travel, but there are others world wide. And for the sake of AUD200, I think its well worth it, I don’t have private health insurance here as I am usually quite healthy.. as every one knows though, its usually while away that things tend to happen… Hope you enjoyed the rest of your holiday and have many more.

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theprofessionalhobo October 5, 2012 at 10:31 am

@Wendy – Yes, travel insurance is very important! I’m not sure if it’s usually while away that things tend to happen, or that things can happen any time and the financial consequences can be more catastrophic while you’re away.

Here’s some info on travel insurance:
http://www.theprofessionalhobo.com/2011/11/financial-travel-tip-4-%E2%80%93-travel-insurance/

…And some info on expat insurance:
http://www.theprofessionalhobo.com/2012/03/expat-insurance-travel-insurance-for-full-time-and-long-term-travelers/

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