On December 23, 2009, I was bitten by a Black Widow spider. It was quite a confusing, peculiar experience - especially considering that my husband and I didn't realize I'd been bitten until after I was released from the hospital, so we had no clue what was going on.

I've talked to a few other people who've been bitten and they had much more minor reactions. Whether this is because they were bitten on extremities (lower legs and feet) or there is some other reason, I don't know. I've described below what happened to me.

4:30 a.m.

I was sleeping with my left arm over my head, resting on my pillow, when an odd tickling, burning sensation on my left tricep woke me up. I rubbed at the area and tried to go back to sleep, but soon, that part of my arm began to hurt pretty badly. Annoyed, I got up to put a cold washcloth on the area, but while standing in the bathroom I suddenly felt nauseated and light-headed to the point where I had to sit down quickly before I passed out.

I told myself, "Quit being such a baby. Everything seems worse this early in the morning," took a couple of Tylenol, and went back to bed. The only theory I could come up with to explain the arm pain was that in my half-asleep state, I'd rubbed my arm much too hard and damaged the muscle.

6:30 a.m.

My left arm still hurt, though there were no visible marks on it, and the pain had traveled into my left side. To add to the fun, I was quite nauseated. No way was I getting back to sleep and I was bent out of shape because I'd taken the 23rd and 24th off work and was going to be sick on my vacation day. I got up and told my husband, Chris, that something weird was going on with my arm and I thought I was coming down with the stomach flu. I'd long since thrown up the Tylenol, but it wasn't helping anyway.

At about 7:00-ish, my left hip suddenly started aching, shortly followed by my right hip, then my lower back. I've got a 25-year history of lower back problems, including a disk that herniates every so often, so initially I figured that I must have aggravated the disk.

This was a confusing array of seemingly unrelated symptoms, but none of them appeared to be particularly serious. I went back to bed and Chris went to work.

7:00 a.m. - 9:30 a.m.

The nausea, vomiting, and arm pain continued, while the back pain got much, much worse. It didn't feel like a herniated disk anymore and my abdomen was so tight that breathing was a painful ordeal. This was pretty close to the worst pain I've ever experienced. My first fleeting - and completely irrational - thought was that I had Dengue Fever. Of course that wasn't possible since that illness doesn't occur in this part of the world. Next, I worried that my disk had herniated and a piece of it had broken off and become lodged in my spinal column somewhere. While researching disk herniations I'd read about that sort of thing happening.

Whatever was going on, I now needed medical attention. I couldn't reach Chris and wanted to avoid calling an ambulance, but the nearest hospital is an hour's drive away. There is a small clinic not far from our house however, so I drove myself there. In retrospect, that probably wasn't a bright thing to do.

10:00 a.m.

Upon my arrival at the clinic, the nurse practitioner who saw me took stock of me and my symptoms: 45-year old woman with nausea and left arm pain radiating down the left side and into the back. That just screams "cardiac" so EKGs followed rapidly. They showed no heart problems, but whatever was going on, the clinic wasn't set up to handle it, so they called an ambulance and I was shipped off to the nearest hospital.

That was one long ride. There was a clock right above the ambulance doors and I kept looking at it to find that only a minute or two had passed since the last time I'd looked. The EMT with me did a fine job of starting an IV drip on a bumpy road, which was a big plus.

11:00 a.m.

Chris met me at the hospital. By the time I reached there, I had a low-grade fever in addition to the other symptoms. My blood pressure was 130/90. No one asked me about it, but my blood pressure, on a good day, is about 100/60. I told my story to the doctor from the first symptom to my current condition. He promptly ignored most of what I'd said and pretty clearly decided that either a) my disk had herniated again and I was being a complete wuss about it, or b) I was a drug seeker. 

Either way I wound up with IV morphine, which was a real blessing. They tried to discharge me at some point during the day, but I passed out in the hallway, then started vomiting. That earned me an overnight stay. 

The Rest of the 23rd

I don't remember most of the rest of the day. The morphine, which I'd never had before, provided some amount of comedy. I kept saying things that made absolutely no sense. This happened several times - I remember the nurse giggling - but I only remember what I said on one of the occasions. I was giving Chris instructions for medicating our cat Goo (Arlo), who was being treated for renal insufficiency and hypertension. I listed the medications and their amounts, then said, "And make sure his wine is chilled and you put on those videos he likes." This was followed by a short pause, then the statement, "That didn't make any sense."

Christmas Eve Day

I was released on December 24 and spent most of the rest of the day sleeping. At some point, I answered the phone while my husband was outside and had a conversation with Goo's vet, none of which I remembered the next time I talked to him.

That afternoon, the mystery behind all the weird symptoms was solved when Chris found the flattened corpse of a Black Widow in the bedroom and did some internet research. I must have killed her when I rubbed my arm, then flicked her body off when I got out of bed. Why she was active that late in the year and why she bit me, I'll never know. As unpleasant as my symptoms were, she definitely got the short end of the stick in that encounter.

Christmas Day

I don't remember much about it, thanks to the medication I was sent home with. We had a "make-up" Christmas later.

The Next Two Weeks

Most of the pain subsided after the first couple of days, but the remaining symptoms took about two weeks to clear up. They included: confusion, difficulty concentrating, nausea, pain in the lower legs, and severe itching at the site of the bite.

We had read that Black Widows leave characteristic bullseye-shaped bite marks and wondered why I didn't have a mark. Strangely enough, the bite marks showed up a full week after I was bitten. Yep, "marks": she got me twice.

Here is what the marks looked like one week after the bite:

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And here is what they looked like two weeks after the bite:

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A lot of folks think that Black Widow bites are much worse than they actually are. Fatalities are really rare. Had the medical staff that treated me known that I'd been bitten by a Black Widow, I doubt that they would have treated me any differently. After we found out what had happened we did let them know, since that knowledge could help someone else down the line. That and it was my way of letting the ER doctor know that I wasn't a wuss or a drug seeker.


In July  of 2010, my mother was bitten by a Black Widow while fishing around in some bushes in her yard. Her symptoms were different from mine and included a badly swollen arm, high fever, and hallucinations. She didn't realize what had caused the problem until later, either. 

It's a bit strange that both of us had gone our whole lives without being bitten, only to both be bitten in a seven-month period.