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Best Letter We Didn't Run This Week

Who knew giant brown spiders were so controversial? Our story No Worries About Giant Brown Spiders elicited a number of responses from readers who say that they indeed have encountered hobo spiders south of Corvallis.They even sent pictures. Awesome. Who doesn't love spider mail? (FYI: me).

Our article featured Dr. Melissa Scherr of the Northwest Entomological Research Center discussing the lack of scientific evidence that hobo spiders cause necrotic bites. According to the Mayo Clinic, bites from other bugs are often misdiagnosed as spider bites. In fact doctors say that most "spider bites" are actually pus-filled abscesses, often caused by MRSA (I linked to about.com for that because all the links to doctors' pages featured links to photos of gross loooking abscesses and I chose to spare you the trauma I just went through. But go ahead, Google "spider bite abscess" and see what happens.)

Scherr saying hobo spiders have not been documented south of Corvallis kicked off controversy among spider watchers. But wait, please DON'T send me more pictures of your giant brown spiders, instead, use this handy sheet and a microscope to prove your hobo point (and duly noted per an observation from an astute reader: freeze spidey for at least 24 hours first to prevent him from jumping back to life mid-miscroscopic examination). 

This letter came in last week, but due to its length did not make it into our letters section (200 word max people!). But I think the descriptive language — a slorping pork sausage finger that later came to look like whipped cherry Jell-O, and the unique cure, via a kitchen spice — render this letter blog-worthy. 

Dear Eugene Weekly,

An article posted in the Register-Guard Oct. 3, 2012 titled "No Worries About Giant Brown Spiders", and written by Camilla Mortensen, referenced Melissa Scherr, of NWERC, on the subject of certain local spiders who may or may not be venomous, specifically Hobo spiders.  There are several items of what I believe to be misinformation contained in Paragraph 3 of this article, to which I ask to draw your attention.  I think that it is ingenuous at best for Ms. Scherr to say that Oregonians tend to fear Hobo spiders because of a "belief that they have a venomous bite that causes necrosis", but that "spiders like this rarely bite us."  Rarely as compared to what?  People are "rarely" bitten by bears, pit bulls, or sharks, either, yet are still considered to be a serious risk to humans.  We are not natural prey for any of these predators, but they all have biological mechanisms that can cause serious damage to human flesh. 

A male Hobo spider bit me on the back of my right pointer finger about 4 years ago.  At the time, I was working in the family practice office of Dr. Joanne Holland, MD, in Drain, Oregon, and living on her farm outside of town.  We had a patient who had been bitten on the back of the neck, and had received treatment from the ER at Sacred Heart Hospital.  I think Dr. Holland has had two other patients also bitten by Hobos under treatment, and then there's me.  I read as much of the on-line available information as I could find, then down-loaded, collated, and printed out a little Hobo spider handbook to provide cautionary information to the Community.  It left me with a fairly well informed awareness of what to look for in identifying and dealing with them.  Thus, when a spider next to the light switch on the bathroom wall confronted me, I was pretty sure I was looking at a male Hobo spider.  Silly me, I thought I'd use the toilet first, and kill the spider second.  I was bitten while in the act of throwing on the light switch.

Yes, I saw the spider bite me- sort of.  It happened so fast, the spider jumping forward and back again, that I was not sure if I had seen it, but just in case it had happened, I watched my finger closely.  Unlike Black Widow, Brown Recluse, or Yellow Sac spider bites, which produce immediate sharp pain like bee stings, there was no pain.  Sure enough, in about 15 minutes, what looked like two tiny pimples appeared.  Over the next 24 hours, the pimples grew, became more and more virulent, and eventually merged into one large misshapen dome.  The surrounding flesh grew increasingly swollen and hot to the touch, and I began experiencing sever nerve sensitivity, mental confusion, and chills.  By two days after being envenomed, all four of my fingers and the thumb, plus about half of the palm, had swollen to twice their usual configuration.  I could not touch my left finger to thumb around the right pointer finger that had been bitten, the skin turned translucent, then transparent, and the flesh underneath liquefied.  It looked like I had dropped a pork sausage in to boiling water, with bubbles and liquid slorping around under the skin.  I cannot accurately describe what it felt like, the mental anguish, nerve pain, nausea, and hypersensitivity.

 To cut a long story short, Dr. Holland an I elected to try a non-standard treatment regimen, and rather than follow a standard heroic procedure, and remove the necrotic mass down to live flesh, we left it alone, merely covering the finger in a loose cotton bandage for protection.  When the skin finally ruptured, the liquid gelled and turned a cottony white.  AMA said cut that out of there, but I did not allow it.  Instead, I left the necrotic mass in situ, and coated the entire finger in powdered turmeric, the kitchen spice.  It is also a very powerful anti-biotic, anti-viral, and anti-fungal agent used throughout Asia.  My finger formed what looked like cherry Jell-O whipped in a blender surrounding the white mass, which I identified as "granulation tissue", the mechanism through which the body regenerates lost flesh.  By leaving the necrotic mass intact, it encouraged the formation of granulation tissue, which gradually displaced the necrotic mass, and filled in the bone-deep crater with the real me.  My finger is still with me, at about 90% mobility and strength, although the skin over the bite area is very thin and scarified.  My overall metabolism was radically altered, and I now find myself much less able to bear cold temperatures than pre-bite. 

So, what has caused me to write to you today is the huge female Hobo spider I have sitting in a Mason jar on my counter.  I found this Amazon at the top of my bedroom wall, right over my head.  The body is fully 3/4" long, and the long, central legs span more than 2" front-to-back.  She is big enough to see her eyes, and the leg hairs are quite visible.  I caught her about 5 days ago, hoping for a more qualified ID, but have so far not found anyone who can help.  I am, however, 100% sure that this is a female Hobo spider in my jar.  Since my bite, Dr. Holland has used hormone-baited sticky traps, and caught several inside her Medical Clinic in Drain.  This is the first I've encountered in my house in Eugene, but she is a prizewinner, better than twice the size of the male that got me.  I have taken some not very good pictures, and have not yet done anything with the spider in her jar.  She has spun web all over the bottom of the jar, and unless someone tells me otherwise, I intend to set her loose in an un-populated area in another day or two.  If you wish to contact me at lonergan2@yahoo.com, I can send you the e-file of my pics.  My cel number is 541-xxxx-xxxx, and DR. Holland can be reached at 541-xxx-xxxx.  I hope you will correct the misinformation that you appear to posses to account for my evidence.  Hobo spiders ARE definitely to be found South of Corvallis, they ARE aggressive, they CAN and WILL inflict a potentially very serious bite, and it WILL cause Arachnoid Necrosis.  I’d be happy to share what information and experience in this matter that you find of interest. 

Best of days to you and yours.

M. Lono Burke