As the old saying goes, sometimes you are the scorpion and sometimes you are not. More often, however, you are the 20-year-old ecology student who found the scorpion with your foot.

Ceini—who was rubbing my spasming calf muscle—said, “Well, at least now you have a great story to tell.”

“You can definitely win the Most Badass Bowdoin Abroad Experience Award,” Graham chuckled. “If this doesn’t kill you first.”

We all laughed, though my peers and I were out of our depth in the rural South African bush. Could scorpions kill you? How necessary was a trip to the hospital? With no Internet access, no cell phone service and no car, the decision was made for us. We would stay at the Tshulu camp for the night.

Philly, our South African game guard, squashed the scorpion with his boot. He placed the body in a Sasko bread bag to assess the creature from behind a plastic barricade. The scorpion had a big tail and small pinchers.

“Did you know this area has some of the most poisonous scorpions in the world?” he asked. “But those ones are smaller. You should have really watched where you were stepping.”
We later found out the scorpion was actually the most poisonous in southern Africa. The Parabuthus granulatus kills about four to six people in South Africa every year—usually children, but I digress. I received a smaller dose of the toxins, saving me from an expensive helicopter ride to the not-so-nearby hospital. It was an unfortunate circumstance with very fortunate results. For that, I am grateful.

As I sat in bed that night, alternating from one odd position to the next to quell the pain, I began to think about how peculiar the whole situation was. Of course the only serious scorpion sting in my abroad programs’ history occurred at our most isolated travel location. Of course the scorpion was the most poisonous species in the region. And of course I was stung while procrastinating to avoid writing a 20 page literature paper. Karma is cruel.

Though the situation included all of the factors that could go horribly wrong, it did not. I never went to the hospital. Instead, I subsisted on an absurd amount of ibuprofen—a limited and precious resource abroad. 

We should have tried to denature the venom with hot packs; we instead tried to numb my hypersensitive nerves with ice. I could have, and probably should have, presented systemic symptoms up to eight hours after the sting. I should have been hospitalized for six days, with a steady stream of nerve block pulsing through my veins. But it wasn’t necessary. In that moment, I was both lucky and cursed.

The burning and stinging sensation travelled up to my knee. I found myself contemplating how I ended up running into a scorpion while wearing shoes and a headlamp. The necessary precautions were not enough to fend off the insidious savannah fauna. So what went wrong?

I replayed the scene in a loop as I paced the floor to increase circulation to my limb. Instead of looking at my feet with the headlamp, I was illuminating the path further ahead. My negligence opened a prime opportunity for the scorpion.

The venom made one notion clear. Looking too far into the future can cripple you in the present; preparation does not imply protection.

As the last of midterms roll through, it is important to remember precautions, like studying, only go so far. I plan to take a pause from work to appreciate the view, the chirping of crickets, sun rays peeking through the clouds, and laughs shared with my professors.

If we can disregard the path ahead and focus on where we are now, we may just avoid the threatening tail of the scorpion at our feet. If the scorpion stings, the toxins may take a few days to process. But I promise, the pain subsides by the time you finish watching “Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story” for the fourth time. (For clarification purposes, in addition to a shortage of ibuprofen in the African savannah, there are also limited movie options.)

To quote seven-time American Dodgeball Association of America All-Star Patches O’Houlihan, “If you can dodge a wrench, you can dodge a ball.” Instead, I would recommend skipping the wrenches altogether. Preparation is only effective to a point and obstacles will tackle you regardless. So you may as well stop to smell the pine trees along the way. Just watch your step.

Elana Vlodaver is a member of the Class of 2016.